33: The Beast

33: The Beast

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: What I Learned from the Dog

The Beast

When the world says, “Give up,” Hope whispers, “Try it one more time.”

~Author Unknown

A morning rarely dawned so perfect.

I inhaled the brisk air and felt my heart sprint into an enthusiastic rhythm. Though cool, the Colorado sun warmed my back as it rose over the horse farm not far from my house. The slightest breeze danced on my skin. Just enough to keep a runner from overheating, I mused. My ever-faithful jogging partner, a sleek black Labrador named Nika, pranced and pulled, mirroring my eagerness to start our run and embrace the day.

Paws and peds covered the first several blocks with tangible enthusiasm. We raced forward with determination, like Superwoman and Wonder Dog, ready to leap tall buildings and race speeding trains. Convinced of our invincibility, we pushed harder, ran faster, demonstrating our skill and impressing passing motorists and gawking neighbors with our unmatched prowess.

Until we hit “The Beast,” my less-than-affectionate name for a massive, nearly two-mile long steep climb.

It’s funny how soon I forget the burning pain in my legs and vice-like grip on my chest between running days. Only a few paces into the Beast’s incline and it all came back with sudden clarity. I gasped for air, my vision narrowing to tiny pinpoints of light. Far short of superhero status, my enthusiasm and springy steps evaporated, abandoned somewhere at the base of the hill along with my bruised ego. A vision of the newspaper and cup of coffee waiting on my kitchen counter appeared as a glorious beacon, tempting me to relinquish cape and tights and turn back toward home.

With a glance I noticed Wonder Dog wasn’t doing any better. Her thick, pink tongue had grown five or six inches. It hung limp out the side of her mouth, leaving a wet trail of drool for the paramedics to follow. She continued to faithfully follow me, putting one paw in front of the other, but without her former eagerness and conviction.

Her weariness touched me. And in that moment, I felt a sudden—though small—spark of renewed determination to press on. I couldn’t allow this seemingly insurmountable mountain to get the better of us. In an attempt to boost both our spirits, I managed to squeak out a quick accolade: “Good girl, Nika! Keep going... you can do it!”

I didn’t think about what I was saying. It was automatic... a human-to-canine pep talk as we struggled to scale an impossible peak. Of course, I was talking to a dog. She didn’t have a clue as to what I was saying, Wonder Dog or not. Still, at the sound of my voice and the warmth of my optimism, her ears perked and shoulders pulled back. Sluggish paws picked up their pace and the wagging tongue found its way back into her mouth. In a fraction of a second, she glanced my way and almost smiled.

“I’m cheerleading a dog, for heaven’s sakes!” I needed to pull myself together. Still, I couldn’t ignore the profundity of the moment. With a few simple words, I changed our course. One moment we were on the verge of quitting. The next, our feet picked up the pace and we pressed on. Though weary and discouraged myself, with a few kind words I impacted a dog’s ability to go further. I’m sure I could’ve accomplished the opposite with ill-chosen comments and a harsh tone. Instead, the Beast was brought down and Superwoman and Wonder Dog flew like heroes the rest of the way home.

Life is full of beasts to conquer. For some, it is the seemingly impossible climb of cancer and chemo. For others, their beast takes the shape of parenting a toddler. Or teenager. Uphill climbs come in all shapes and sizes, common only in their ability to defeat, discourage and tempt tired travelers to quit. Sometimes all that’s needed is a few aptly spoken, well-timed words of encouragement from a fellow runner. Someone who sees the struggle, dares to jog alongside, and cares enough to say: “Keep going! You can do it! You’re not alone—I believe in you!”

Nothing brings down a beast like a little dose of hope.

~Michele Cushatt

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