20 September 2014

Run, Then Walk

I don't run anymore.  I have not run competitively since 1997 and have not been on the road at all since late 2000.  It is a part of my life that I miss very much.  There was a time, in fact, that I ran at least five day a week and five or six miles during each run.  I ran 10K events and was training for a half marathon, when I had my first knee accident.

I was doing a project on the campus of  Nashotah House Theological Seminary in early summer 1996 and took a mid-afternoon break for an eight mile run around the two lakes (Nashotah is Menominee language for "Twin Lakes").  It was a beautiful afternoon and great weather for a long, strong run.  I had been out for about ten minutes and had worked into my conditioning speed.  I was on a road I had been on many times as a student twenty years earlier and relaxed too much in my sense of well-being.  Looking around, I missed the small pot hole which caught my left foot.   At an 8 min/mile pace, it took just a couple of seconds for me to pitch sideways and twist my left knee.  I heard the snap and crack sound; and I knew immediately I had probably torn the meniscus cartilage.  After some agonizing minutes on the side of the road, I limped back to my campus residence, started the "RICE" routine, called my wife and secured an appointment with an orthopedic surgeon in South Bend, IN...where we were living at the time.

Ultimately, this injury led to arthroscopic surgical repair and 8 weeks of physical therapy.  It was three months before I could attempt running again...which I did.

In May 2000, I was at a hotel in Bethesda, MD.  The North American Conference of Cathedral Deans were gathering for our annual conference, which was being hosted in Y2K by the National Cathedral in Washington, DC.   I was descending the stairs from the lobby to the mezzanine to register.  Someone called my name, and I looked around to find the source of the voice.  I missed a step with my right foot, hit the following step sideways and twisted my right knee.  "Snap....crack."  Nothing to do but sit right down and move through the familiar, agonizing pain of another meniscus tear.

Since I was on sabbatical, I limped this injury until my return to South Bend three months later.  Thereupon, I submitted to another arthroscopic surgical repair.  This time, the news was not so good.  "Sorry, my friend," lamented my surgeon, "this ends your running days...unless you want the knees replaced within the next couple of years."  I didn't.

What I did do was to make a rather radical shift in how I did aerobic exercise.  Being aerobic is almost essential for a person who has the kind of genetic heart condition that I happen to own.  This condition is why I was never able to run fast.  My coronary arteries are inefficient....overly large with wavy walls.  Coronary Artery Ectasia is the medical name.    Remember Star Trek, when Capt. Kirk would ask Chief Engineer Scott for more power from the engines?  Oft times, the answer from Scotty would be, "But, Captain, I giving you all she's got!"   That's Coronary Ectasia.  From the time I was a kid, I could run but would hit the wall of capacity long before anyone else.  Inside, my heart was screaming at the arteries for more oxygenated blood.  They could only respond with "Sorry, but we're giving you all we got."

I learned...long before I knew I had this condition...that I could run all day, IF I would hit a particular pace and simply stay there.  Therefore, I was always a strong, reliable runner at about 7:30 or 8 min/mile paces.  I would never win a race; but I would always finish with room to spare.  My coronary condition was diagnosed in 1995.  It made me angry, because I had spent years enduring the taunting of coaches and peers about being a "slow boat."  440 splits and dashes were hell for me, and I could never sustain those required speeds for longer than a few seconds before simply running out of gas.

Then there was the grief of Y2K.  I would sit in my living room on Wayne St. in South Bend and watch the early morning joggers and serious runners, as they moved down the street and around our neighborhood.   I would head for the gym for laps in the pool, a fast 30 min pace on a stationery bike or elliptical rider.  I still seriously miss "road running."  Fourteen years later, and I still watch others taking on the challenges of suburban streets and countrysides with the occasional lump in my throat...my moment of grieving.

My second love was swimming.  I was a very strong swimmer and grew up loving the water.  Weeks on the Gulf at Longboat Key; the lakes and pools of my hometown Winter Haven (Florida).  During my years in the Boy Scouts, I did several mile swim events, and was certified in about every swimming activity offered.   Then, things changed rather radically.

While in the Navy, I was doing work that required me to stay relatively fit.  I accomplished that in part by weight lifting.  One day, I was due to be at an evolution (Navy term for an event involving nautical, mechanical or tactical engagement on the part of assigned crew) on our submarine base in Scotland.  I was trying to finish a workout at the shore facility.  I made a mistake in a lift and nearly popped my right shoulder out of joint.  This, and a later accident, would set up a degenerative arthritis condition that would require a total shoulder joint replacement in 2010.  An infection in the replaced joint would necessitate a long and painful series of surgeries at Mayo Clinic, Rochester, MN, and a new joint with different physics for movement (called a "reverse").  I no longer have rotators due to the infection.  "I hate to tell you this, my friend," said the surgeon (one of the best in the world at this kind of work), "but your swimming days are over....at least the strokes that involve joint rotation."  The familiar grief made its way into my throat, and I felt the tears rolling down my cheeks.  I finally rationalized that at least I would have use of the arm, which had been in question at one point.

Now that we live near the Gulf of Mexico in a condo development that has a pool, I have taught myself how to swim with a modified breast stroke and back stroke.  I have developed a workout program that keeps my joints strong and stable.  I am aerobic 3-5 days/week.  I still have my original knees.  It may be that I have to have a prosthetic left shoulder in two or three years (there is no cartilage in that joint now....part of the original accident series with weights).  Unless you actually spend a great deal of time around me, there is no way you would know that my "conditions" exist or that I have any real limits.

This life journey has taught me many things in 63 years.  I am seriously and richly blessed.  I have often over-extended myself and exceeded limits and capacities...physically and in terms of psycho-emotional well-being.  In those excesses, I have injured both myself and others.   I have learned to grieve in a healthy way, make adjustments, take responsibility, forgive myself (still working on this) and make amends to those I have hurt.  I call this "life in the center."  My mentors, Edwin Friedman and Ed Whalen called this "homeostasis."

The military has a way of coming at resilience:  "Adapt.  Improvise.  Overcome."   I am very glad for those years in the U.S. Navy Submarine Corps.  I have been blessed to be able to look at life from a lot of angles and very thankful that, along the way, I have had some wonderful guides, teachers and friends who really "pulled up alongside" and shared both wisdom and encouragement.  Perhaps it has allowed me to have more years to continue to give back and pull up alongside some who are working their journeys.

Love and blessings,