JOINT EFFORT

JOINT EFFORT

From Chicken Soup for the Dieter's Soul

Joint Effort

Have you strength enough to take this first step? Courage enough to accomplish this small act?

Phillipe Vernier

In the shelter of an ATM kiosk, eight soggy strangers and I waited for the rain to stop. We were in Nashville with thousands of others for the Country Music Marathon, now on rain delay. We were grouped by speed, and I was in the back with the walkers. Lightning flashed. When the danger passed, we’d be the last to know. The rest of the Joints in Motion team waited somewhere up the street. In training, we’d faced lousy weather together, but now we were apart and facing a full marathon of 26.2 miles. I hadn’t planned on starting it with my windbreaker clinging to me and sore feet squishing inside my shoes.

Before I started Joints in Motion training, I had lost twenty-five pounds. It wasn’t the first time. This time, though, success was critical. My doctor had me on medications for high blood pressure and cholesterol. Reducing sodium and walking for thirty minutes at work hadn’t helped. Weight loss did. My doctor took me off both medications. I wanted to keep it that way. How? I decided that fitness was the key.

Joints in Motion was perfect for my needs. I wanted to finish a marathon, a huge goal and one that would burn a lot of calories. The program provides weekly training with a coach and workshops on proper nutrition, shoes, clothing and exercise. We even had access to a sports doctor if injured. Best of all, I had a team to keep me motivated. In exchange for meeting a fund-raising goal for the Arthritis Foundation, we’d get free registration and transportation to the marathon, hotel, a prerace pasta dinner, breakfast before and a team party after the event.

How better to get in shape, make friends, travel to fun places and help others at the same time? Our Nashville team ranged from college students to forty-somethings like me. Most paired up with runners who trained at similar speeds. However, I was the sole walker. I walked a fifteen-minute mile, twice the speed I’d walked with my coworkers.

Each week, the mileage grew. Cold rain fell during one run, soaking me through my poncho to the skin. Then came winter, and one memorable run at the only park where the trails weren’t covered in ice. At ten below zero, the wind sliced through us. Everyone else finished. They thawed out inside the warm cars, drinking coffee. Coach Dave came out to check on me. “I don’t think I can do anymore,” I said. He went the last two miles with me, a bagel in one hand and cocoa in the other.

The miles increased into early spring, until the trial run for the marathon: the twenty-one miler. We followed a course along the Mississippi River through little towns. By now, the muscles in my legs and hips were well defined. I found the balance of proteins and carbohydrates that would give me enough energy for distance walking. I looked better in my clothes, thanks to having more muscle and less fat. I had the proper equipment and training to achieve the marathon. Would it be enough?

At the pasta dinner before the race, spirits were high. We sang funny songs to honor our coaches and the volunteers. The next day, however, brought unpleasant surprises. First, the rain. Then, a forty-five-minute wait for shuttles to the race start. We’d barely make it on time. But the starting time came and went. The crowd waited for the weather alert to pass, with contenders for the Athens Olympics in front, and us walkers in back. Half an hour later, we ventured onto the road. The throng of people surged forward. The marathon had begun. I jogged to the five-mile mark and then I faded back to my comfortable pace. I didn’t want to burn out early.

I saw my friends occasionally. At eighteen miles, a woman had her knee wrapped at a first aid station. After that, I was on my own. The crowd thinned. Pain and fatigue set in. The long, wet wait that morning and jogging had worn me down. I plodded on, unable to keep up my pace. As mile twenty-one neared, I struggled.

The rainy morning turned into a steamy afternoon— over eighty degrees, warm for April in Tennessee. Some people succumbed to exhaustion and were transported to the finish for medical care. At mile twenty-three, sweat dried into a salty crust on my body. I drank some warm sports drink. My stomach was queasy. I nibbled a few pretzels as I hobbled along. A car slowed down alongside me. The volunteer thought I was in trouble. “Are you alright?”

“Yeah.”

“You want a ride?”

I shook my head, unwilling to use my energy to speak. I wouldn’t quit now. My mind was foggy; my legs jerked like a wooden puppet’s, but I kept on. Some remaining walkers quickened their pace in the last mile, but I just willed myself to keep moving. Over the slapping of feet on pavement, I heard an announcer. I staggered toward the sound. I finished in six hours, fifty-one minutes.

I have finished two half-marathons and numerous shorter walks since then. Most are for charity. Some I do with the friends I made on the Nashville team. I’ve mentored another Joints in Motion team, training with them and helping raise funds. Now I’m the one giving out Powerade and encouragement at the twenty-one milers. I may even do another full marathon.

To keep my cholesterol and blood pressure at healthy levels, I need to keep excess weight off. Healthy eating and walking have helped me do that. The body is like the old car we bought that had spent the past five years sitting in a driveway. The belts, brake shoes, water pump and more had to be replaced, simply because the car had been idle. Likewise, the body breaks down if fluids are pooling instead of pumping, levers are stiff from disuse and whole systems are allowed to rust. If I am always training for another event, I am keeping in my active habits. At the same time, I am making friends and helping people who I will never meet. It’s a win/win for everyone.

Debra Weaver

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