13. A Really Long Walk

13. A Really Long Walk

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Shaping the New You

A Really Long Walk

Little by little one walks far.
 ~Peruvian Proverb

“Wow, the Golden Gate Bridge sure is pretty! And seeing it up close, through the fog—well, that’s quintessential San Francisco, as far as I’m concerned. Whew, I’m tired. One foot in front of the other. Why am I doing this again?” My thoughts were jumbled as I climbed the hill through the Presidio. What was I doing here?

As a group of us made our way up and up, someone watching called out, “You’re almost at the top of the hill. Once you get to that bend in the road up ahead. . . you can see the top from there.” We groaned in unison. Still, we were nearly halfway done, I noticed, as we passed the 6- mile marker. Only 7.1 miles to go, I thought, until I walked across the finish line of my first half-marathon. In spite of my tiring legs, I smiled. I was really doing this. Two years of hard work were about to pay off.

Twenty-four months earlier, I found myself in a doctor’s office for the first time in a number of years. I was nervous and anxious, yet there I was, waiting for my first physical exam as an adult at the age of thirty-two. But I knew what I would hear: I was overweight. Actually, obese would be more accurate. Getting on the scale and whispering to the nurse to keep moving the weight marker higher and higher was bad enough. But when I got my blood test results and learned that my cholesterol was sky high, I was angry. Mostly at myself, because I knew it was my fault, and that I was the one who had let things get so bad.

According to my body mass index (BMI), I was morbidly obese. And not only that, but my health was now at risk because my cholesterol was so high. I was running the very real risk of having a heart attack, and as a relatively young woman, that was awfully hard to accept. I had a decision to make: I could stay mad, or I could try to channel that anger into something useful. So I took a long, hard look at my lifestyle, and decided to make some serious changes.

Out the door went all of the high-fat indulgences that had become a regular part of my diet. And following them out the door was me, when I realized that I would have to combine dietary changes with exercise in order to lose weight. Walking was something I could do without a lot of preparation or expense, and so I walked. Short distances at first, just a mile or so, in jeans and sneakers. Within a few months, I had worked my way up to three miles at a time, and for my birthday, my parents bought me a pair of walking shoes. It was hard work, and I was completely overhauling my life. I paid attention to what I ate and read everything I could find about nutrition. I changed my sleeping habits so that I could wake up early and walk before I went to work every day. My life was changing, and I was changing, both mentally and physically. I had seen myself as someone who would always be overweight, but I was starting to see that it was possible to become a different (and hopefully better) version of me.

By the time I went back to the doctor six months later for a follow-up, I had lost 70 pounds. At my next physical a year after I’d started, my cholesterol was down to the normal range, and I was more than 100 pounds lighter. I was walking nearly every day, and I loved being active. I was doing things I’d never done before: hiking, biking, climbing a flight of stairs without feeling out of breath. As happy as I was with my new active lifestyle, though, I wanted to do more. I soon discovered that there were people out there who walked really long distances, and some of them even competed in races. And then I found it: a half-marathon to be held in San Francisco the following fall, two years after that fateful doctor’s appointment.

Still, it seemed a little crazy: 13.1 miles? Me? I’d never challenged myself physically like that before. But if I had learned anything through this process, it was that having a goal which would be a stretch to reach could make me work harder than I ever had. So I started training that summer, and by October, I was on my way to San Francisco, nervous but also excited about the possibility of achieving something I wouldn’t have dreamed of attempting just two years earlier.

I remember lots of random details about the race day: waiting in the dark for the starting gun to go off; the early miles as the sun rose; the big hill in the Presidio; my father cheering me on at the finish line. But mostly, what I remember is that despite the pain and the sweat, I was exhilarated. I had traveled a really long way during those past two years, and now I was doing something big: chasing away the fears that I would always be overweight, putting one foot in front of the other, and walking. All the way past the obstacles and the doubts in my head to a new, active, healthier me.

~Peggy James

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