awareness

Swimming Lessons

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Summer, Jersey Shore. Our family reunion.

At night we had dinners at homes by the bay. Seafood, pizza, pasta, coolers of beer, laughter.

All day was sand, sunscreen, and the mighty Atlantic.

We only came every four years. Each time the ocean seemed drastically different. There was the year when swarms of jellybean-sized-jellyfish crowded us ankle deep day after day.  The year I brought my young children and it was just too cold and rough for them to swim.  And I can’t forget the time I was in my late teens and went swimming with my dad.

My dad was disabled my entire life.  His progressive, severe rheumatoid arthritis took him from hobbling, to cane-dependent, to wheelchair-bound.  His broken body betrayed his wandering, roller-coaster riding spirit many times, but still, he always kept pushing his body as far as it would go.

This day, he had probably taken 20 minutes to carefully shuffle across the scorching sand with the help of a cane and a patient cousin.  Slowly, carefully, taking a break every ten yards or so, but he had to get to the water.

Oh, how my dad loved the water.  It was the one place he felt free.  He could float, glide, swim, and move unencumbered by the lumps, aches, and pains of his joints.  In the water, he would float, belly, toes, nose bobbing above the waves, his smile as wide as the unending coastline.

The beach was its usual crowded and the water its usual choppy.  If there was a yellow flag warning, we didn’t heed it.  Nothing could keep my Dad from his floating freedom in the briny sea. My Dad and I descended the steep wet sand and out we went to swim.

We floated.  We talked.  We dog paddled.  We enjoyed the sun.  Minutes passed, or was it hours?  Time to head back in for a sandy snack. We looked up and the coastline was distant.  Farther away than I had thought it would be.  Much farther. So we tried to swim in, but no matter what we got further and further away from the shore.

The waves, once so joyful to float over, became relentless.  We were tired.  Our arms and legs were no match for the tides dragging us out.  I was staying under a bit longer each time than I should have.  Panic started to set in.  We were running out of solutions.  Fear set in. Fear took over our minds.

My Dad was still floating but he knew we were in trouble, too.  He was struggling to stay afloat himself.  My Dad, a better swimmer than I, was still no match for the undertow.  He wanted to help me so much, I am sure, but he could hardly help himself stay up.  How could he help me when his own life was in trouble? Both of us were running out of energy.  If I grabbed onto him to give my body a break from the effort, even though he was better in the water, we both would surely drown. Our will to live was dwindling by the minute.

Wave to the shore, he said.  So many of our family were watching us.  So I waved, flailed, used every ounce of strength to try to signal.  How can I tell them we are in trouble?  I screamed. Crossed my arms, all kinds of signals. My dad doing the same. Nothing worked.  They all just waved back, likely figuring we were just having fun with my dad’s swimming skills, well-known in our family ranks. My cries of “help us” got lost in the ocean breezes. Our cries were in plain sight but could anyone hear us?  Was anyone even listening? Nobody understood our fear.  No one seemed to care.

It seemed like hours but my dad’s cousin Tom finally figured out we were in over our heads.  He bravely swam out and somehow dragged us in from the riptide.  I still remember an aunt screaming “smile!” and snapping a photo as we slumped out of the water, past exhaustion.  No one knew we had been within an inch of drowning.

Fast forward twenty-something years, this story hits me in new ways in my daily life. Am I now the one on the shore? Are people struggling right in front of me that I pass by, unknowing? Are they at the brink of drowning and I miss their signals?

I think of my father.  The better swimmer.  How much he must have hurt inside, knowing he couldn’t help his daughter without both of us losing the battle against the breakers.  How can you help someone who is drowning when you are are not fully afloat yourself?  When you are pummeled by the endless waves, just trying to stay afloat?  A lesson in this.

I can point and draw attention. Signal to those who might be able to help. But will they hear the silent or distant cries? If I wave my arms will that make a difference? I can keep her company like my Dad did for me…  Keep her calm. Try to set her mind at ease in the middle of the fear I know well…the fear of the ocean getting the best of me and dropping into the unknown. Keep paddling.  Don’t give up. I know you’re tired.  Help is coming.

I can make suggestions, try to guide her toward the shore.  Keep working until someone with the strength comes out and meets us, or we find our way back to steady footing.  There’s no happy ending if we both drown, so I try to be a lifeguard the best I can, in the literal meaning of that word. Even the best swimmers get in trouble sometimes.   Every lifeguard wants to save everyone in distress, but the lifeguard also has to stay afloat herself.

In life we have to swim daily. Sometimes the waters are calm and other times they are dark and stormy.

In life we all need saving at times. Sometimes it’s life saving medical treatment for an ailment. Sometimes it’s saving from a bad relationship. Sometimes it’s saving us from our mind, troubled past, or even financial stresses.

We must all remember life is always worth living. Today, tomorrow, and the next day. If you ever think ending your life is the only choice it’s merely the only perceived solution to an insolvable problem. As somebody who was saved, somebody who is a lifelong helper, I am shouting out to the ocean and the world to say don’t give up. Somebody is coming to save you. Don’t let fear take control. Wait another day. Do the doggie paddle of life. Think of my Dad. He was handicapped, wading in the water and he didn’t give up. I didn’t give up because of his spirit. You don’t need to give up either.

There are always people who care. Some may not see the signs in plain sight. You might need to establish a drowning sign. A key word. A hand signal that is universal. Don’t delay – make sure your tribe knows your drowning symbol whether it’s at the beach or closer to home in daily life.

Suicide is real. It impacts those near and far. It does not discriminate. It’s impacted my life and this is my offering of hope to those I may know in need, those I may never know are struggling and those who already lost the battle. I honor you by sharing my story today.

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fitness and nutrition, friendship

Just Show Up and Jump In

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“Our third teammate unexpectedly dropped out at the last minute with a sick kid.  Can anyone make it?”

A post to our gym community in the wee hours of a December Saturday morning.  I thought about it, but plans were already in motion for a day of chasing my daughter and her friends as they volunteered to help with a younger girls’ lacrosse team.  I sent my good wishes…hope someone can step in!

Then the text came in, just to me:  “Can you do the comp today and then come get the girls?”

A pause.  A stomach clench. My only job was transporting my kid and her friends and and now a friend was offering to take all that over so I could help on the team.  So how could I say no?  More stomach clench, I texted back.

“Ummmmm ok.  If that’s the best solution.”

(Inner voice of doubt saying:  “There must be a better solution!”)

From that moment, the whole day took a turn.  What are the workouts?  Do I need a shirt? I was already on the way to the gym…thank goodness I wore black shorts.

I turned the car around to head toward the competition site. The doubting voice crept in again…I haven’t eaten well!  How many burpees?? One rep max complex?!? I haven’t showered and shaved! I can’t do those weights!  I haven’t practiced!

WHAT. HAVE. I. DONE?!?!?!

Well, I was helping friends. I could do at least something and I would give my best. Just show up and jump in, I told myself.  Just show up and jump in. Every time I wanted to turn the car around, I’d tell the doubting voice to pipe down. Just show up and jump in.

And so, I got there about 15 minutes before the first workout.  Quick chat. Waited in the bathroom line, switched shirts, did a few stretches and bam, jumped in and competed.  Looking back now, it is awesome to be fit enough to just get there and give it a go.  Granted, I couldn’t lift as heavily as I would have liked to, but I jumped in and did what I could.  My two Ginger Thruster teammates did the heavy lifting, and lift they did! It was awesome to watch and be a part of.

By the time our first workout was over, some people were just seeing the early morning SOS post.  My friend Milagros asked if I needed anything – extra coffee and water, really.  She showed up with all that, plus some snacks and some needed encouragement.  Another part of the network coming together to solve a need.

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We pushed ourselves. We laughed a lot.  We fought for all the reps, strained for every pound.  I’ve never done so many jumping pull-ups in my life. It was a great day.

One great thing about this competition is they have a box member who is an amazing photographer, Davison Wheeler.  He generously shared nearly a thousand photos of the day, including the ones in this post.  It’s equal parts amazing and humbling to look at the people competing – their stamina, their strength, their skill.  When scroll through to find I the pictures of me, what I noticed is that I am often cheering for my teammates.  I may not be able to lift a huge number of pounds, but I try to lift spirits when I can.

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And a lot of that comes from just showing up and jumping in.

 

 

 

 

fitness and nutrition, friendship

The Friendship Relays

Six women.  Seven o’clock. Early one Sunday morning.

Six different paces. Six different goals.

One had to be done in 50 minutes.  One wanted to run two miles.  One wanted to run six miles.  Others somewhere in between.

Most, but not all, preparing for a half marathon this fall. Several working on upping their speed.  Some working just to get (back) into running.

An out-and-back course. One endless hill – gentle slope on the way out, daunting mountain on the way back.

How do we do this, as a group?

Meeting early, we parked.  Everyone adjusted their respective technologies…mileage counters, music.  The fast group took off, three in number.  The wide, empty road with generous sidewalks meant we could see them for a long, long time as they took off at an ambitious clip.

One of us, at a moderate pace, moved right along brightly.

I was in the slow, steady tortoise pair with a friend.  We chatted the whole time.  Neither was overly winded.  And before we knew it, a mile had gone by – and then she said, “that’s the first time I’ve ever run a full mile without stopping.”

WHAT A VICTORY!  And I had no idea that was happening!  Such a great moment, and we could still keep going.

She was the two-miler this day, so we turned around and paced ourselves back up the hill.  Once she was back to the car, I took off down again, only to see the three hares flying up the hill together.  The 50-minute limit gal was in that group, and they made the most of it. Screams of KEEP GOING WE’RE ALMOST THERE as they were so close to running to the top! Inspiring!

I plodded down the hill, singing along to the Beastie Boys, Aretha Franklin, Ariana Grande, knowing we had a friend still out on the course.  Over a mile passed until I saw her.  She was working her way back up.  I pulled out my headphones to check in – so hot, it’s THICK out here, I said – then kept moving along toward my goal distance.

Turned back for home, finally. And all I could see was UP.  That hill looked SOOOO long.  I’d be going at it for a mile and a half (a while and a half!)  Endless. And even though I’ve been doing really well most days with just continuing to run, I stopped.

To walk.

And I was so mad at myself.  Just knowing the hill was so long, it was enough to make me walk.  Just for maybe 45 seconds.  Then back into running. Still, though. A mental setback.

One lonely moment.  Grudging, trudging entered my mind.

Then, I turned a corner only to see three figures in the distance, two in dark and one in bright, walking down the hill toward me.

It was the other three women still on the route.  Coming back for me.

In that moment, gears shifted.  Seeing them, I could have run for days.  My stride picked up.  I sang a little louder.  Moved a little faster.

We met and they turned and we finished together, telling stories and giggling.

It IS possible for everyone to meet their goals.  Even if the goals (and the gals) are wildly different.  Even if they seem incompatible.

It IS ok to “take the long way” or to double back “relay style” as part of your path, especially if it means more time with someone you enjoy.  Bonus points if you help them meet their goals, too.

It IS awesome to push yourself to keep up with those moving at a faster clip. Even those who seem the strongest, most invincible among us, have weak points of doubt or moments when they might feel like slowing down.  You could be the voice of encouragement at that moment!  Yes, YOU!

Even if you are done with your work, have met your goal, and completed your task, going back out to help the people still on the trail when you can is a beautiful show of support.  Being last can be challenging, even lonely, even if everyone’s goals are different at the start.  And then next time, when you have to begin again, or turn for home and all you can see is a great big pile of UP, that long hill climb might be a little less daunting, knowing you won’t be forgotten.

Six women. Six paces.  So many fluid groupings, lessons. Challenges faced, goals achieved.  All on one sunny Sunday morning.