78: The End of Excuses

78: The End of Excuses

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Power of Positive

The End of Excuses

Don’t make excuses — make good.

~Elbert Hubbard

I was standing on a dumpster the day my life changed. I was twenty-five years old and had lived under the cloud of self-loathing for so long it felt normal. “Look at you,” I would cry at the mirror in disgust.

I had been overweight for over half my life and although on the outside I seemed happy, when you loathe what you see every time you look in the mirror, it’s hard to experience true joy. I punished myself daily for not being able to convert my low self-esteem into motivation. I yearned desperately for the strength to take care of my weight.

I found it on May 6th.

My husband was attempting his first marathon and I was there to scream wifely support and take photos. Family, friends, and onlookers, all with the same agenda, swarmed every inch of the sidewalk and I battled for space. I lugged my flabby, overweight body up onto a dumpster for better viewing, and after regaining my breath and balance, fixed my eyes on the deserted road ahead. My husband would be wearing a neon-pink cap and I had my camera ready. Within moments, the first athletes turned the corner, unleashing a wave of supportive cheers from the waiting crowd; I, however, stood speechless. There was no pink hat anywhere to be seen — there was, however, a sea of wheelchairs.

I watched one man in particular. His arms moved liked pistons in a well-oiled machine, his sculpted shoulders and bulging biceps compensating for the legs he didn’t have. Grit and determination consumed his face, sweat drenched his red, white, and blue bandana, and his gloved hands spun the wheels like lightning. Some people would see an athlete, some a hero, some a paraplegic. I simply saw a man with no legs tackling a marathon. As I stood there, I had no words, just tears.

Within minutes, the next group of runners made the turn and the buzz of excitement intensified. My husband would be further back, but out of loyal support for my first-time marathon runner, I searched for his pink hat just in case. Within the sea of heads, a mass of striking gray hair caught my eye. He was taller and paler than the other runners, yet his long legs strode effortlessly. As he got closer, my jaw dropped. He had to be at least seventy years old. I was flabbergasted. How could this man almost three times my age be running a marathon, and be in the leader’s pack? How could that be?

A lifetime of pathetic excuses overwhelmed me then. I had witnessed a man with no legs and a man almost three times my age competing in a marathon. My weakness disgusted me. I made a life-changing vow to those two strangers: I would commit to a new life of exercise and healthy eating. I wiped my eyes just in time to grab the shot of my pink-hatted hero as he ran by waving in frantic excitement — I was crying for the both of us.

The first time I ran, I thought my knees were going to explode and I was going to throw up right there on the track. I survived one pathetic lap before dragging my flabby, blotchy legs back to the car. Tears filled my eyes at the prospect of the huge struggle that loomed ahead: Eat less, exercise more.

I pulled myself together, ignored my throbbing legs, and rather than chastise myself for what I had not achieved, congratulated myself on what I had — I had run one lap. I had not gained the weight overnight and I would not lose it overnight, but every step was a step in the right direction. I refused to live the rest of my life under a cloud.

The next morning, I forced myself back to the track, parked, took a deep breath, and pushed my unwilling body out into the bracing winter air. After one painful lap, my heart raced, my stomach churned, and my knees still throbbed, but I ran a second lap. I knew that exercise had to become part of my life. Breathless and sweaty, I got back in the car, but this time I smiled; instead of feeling dread, I felt impatient to conquer three laps, then five, then ten. I knew what I had to do and I was ready. Driving home that day, I reflected on my two strangers and the dumpster. Was that the secret? Did everybody need an epiphany to “suddenly” start exercising and lose weight?

My professor was in her sixties, looked twenty years younger, and ran three miles daily. Inspired and intrigued, I shared my story then asked her what made her start running. Her response astonished me.

“I was out walking one day and it started to rain. I didn’t want to get my hair wet so I ran home. When I got there and realized what I had done, I figured if I could do it once, I might as well do it again. That was thirty years ago.” I laughed in disbelief; I had found my answer.

I did not lose my forty-five pounds of misery overnight but I did lose it, and I have kept the weight off for more than two decades. Lest you think I have extraordinary discipline or incredible willpower, I do not. What I do have is a regular exercise program, a healthy diet, some self-imposed rules, and a warning-bell weight just in case. And on the days when the going gets tough, two strangers who ran a marathon against all odds remind me of the one thing I don’t have — excuses.

And for that, I am eternally humbled and forever grateful.

~Janey Womeldorf

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