71: How Running Helped Me Heal

71: How Running Helped Me Heal

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Reboot Your Life

How Running Helped Me Heal

I’ve learned that finishing a marathon isn’t just an athletic achievement. It’s a state of mind; a state of mind that says anything is possible.

~John Hanc

It was a week after my mom had died, and I didn’t know how to go on with life. Instead of going to work or the grocery store, I covered myself with blankets, wishing that I, too, could disappear. I was twenty-eight years old, and my mom had been fifty-four. It felt like I had been robbed.

So when I received an email from a friend about a 5K benefiting pancreatic cancer research, I ignored it. It seemed too close to the heart, as pancreatic cancer was the disease that had taken my mother away from me. But something about my friend’s words — “I can help organize the whole thing” — stuck with me. I felt obliged to agree, if only to accept her support.

Together, my friends and I walked in honor of my mom. I tried to ignore the shirts of other participants, many bearing pictures of the loved ones they had lost. They were a painful reminder that my mom was no longer there for me to vent about life’s everyday annoyances, or to see me get married or have kids.

My friends and I grabbed lunch after, and I actually enjoyed myself. But I immediately felt guilty.

In the weeks to come, I managed to reenter the world of the living. I knew my mom would have wanted it that way. She was the type who never got defeated. In fact, when she was pregnant with me, the doctors had warned her that as a diabetic, she’d be risking her life to have me. “But I was going to have you, no matter what,” Mom told me. It was this very spirit that helped me get by.

Besides, keeping myself busy was preferable to driving myself crazy with things like wondering what would have happened if I had had the chance to say goodbye. It haunted me that I had gone to work on her last day instead of taking time off to see her, although I knew she wasn’t feeling well. But Mom had instilled a serious work ethic in me, discouraging me from ever taking a day off.

A year later, to my surprise, I signed up for the same 5K. It seemed like the right thing to do. I checked our team’s website daily, feeling a twinge of pride each time a donation ticked up our total.

The majority of our team walked the 5K, but several members ran the 10K. When the race ended, I noticed the runners all had one thing in common: They were beaming. They made it look so rewarding — and effortless. I wanted in.

So I enrolled in a 10K two months later. Considering I could barely run a mile, it was ambitious. But my boyfriend and I devised a training plan so I wouldn’t come in last. I followed it religiously and didn’t let anything get in my way — not even a trip to San Francisco.

Running up and down the city’s hills, I was flooded with memories. I had lived there after college and my mother had visited often. I passed Bloomingdale’s, recalling the time she and I had gotten into a screaming brawl there, much to other shoppers’ dismay. It had all started because my sister and I had a spat over the fact that I had been thirty minutes late meeting her somewhere. “Why can’t you guys just get along?” Mom had asked. I turned on her, too.

I was about to beat myself up when I remembered what Mom had once said after her diagnosis. “I don’t want you to feel guilty about anything.” Her paper-thin hands had held me tightly. She knew I could be my own worst enemy, always eager to blame myself. A weight lifted from my shoulders. I ran with a surge of energy.

In the following months, I found myself laughing with friends again without feeling the remnants of guilt. And I was able to sleep without having nightmares about my mom’s final moments. Life felt lighter.

When race day arrived, I gave it my all — not for myself, but for my mom — and for all she had taught me and continued to teach me. As I ran, whenever I felt like slowing down, I pictured her cheering me on, as she had done at all of my soccer games and recitals as a kid.

Crossing the finish line, I was filled with her love and a sense of peace. So much so that shortly thereafter I signed up for a half marathon.

~Kristin Julie Viola

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