A Lutheran Says What?

Sermons and random thoughts on God, the world and the intersection of the two

How running saved my life November 15, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — bweier001 @ 6:20 am
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I have seen a lot of blogs about running lately. Some of you who know me well, have already rolled their eyes knowing I am about to launch into a post on running. It’s ok, you can admit it.
One was about someone complaining about runners or more specifically about runners who post the “13.1” or the “26.2” stickers on their cars. It bothers him that people are proud of their accomplishments. Whatever. I have run several half marathons (9 maybe?) and 3 full marathons and a smattering of 5k and 10k’s. I don’t have any stickers on my car; not because I am not proud of my accomplishments or that I don’t see myself as a legitimate runner. Accomplishments or pride is not why I run. And don’t think its my way of saying that competition doesn’t matter-oh it does. I am highly competitive, especially with myself. But running for me has more to do defiance, fear and grief.
I ran a little as a teenager and a young adult. My first run was with my dad at the age of 10. My dad ran to stay in shape for the Air Force and when my dad asked me to come with him, I was excited as I loved to spend time with my dad. I ran track in middle school and then ran VERY sporadically in young adulthood. Mostly for just a little while after the birth of Kayla and Andrew until the need for sleep overcame my vanity for losing the baby weight. But then came my third child Benjamin.
He was a surprise in every sense of the word. My husband and I were not planning on more children and even (TMI alert!) were taking “precautions” that no more babies would be coming. But on a day in mid February we realized that birth control is not 100% effective. It’s a little embarrassing at 30. To quote my mother, “Aren’t you a little old for this?” Apparently not.
Benjamin was born on Oct. 13th, 2003 and on Oct. 15th after a couple of stressful days in NICU was diagnosed with a congenital heart defect. Officially, “incomplete Shones complex.” Shones is a combination of four defects: supravalvular mitral valve, sub-aortic stenosis (narrowing) aortic valve stenosis and coarctation of the aorta. Ben “only” had three of the four. He was missing the coarctation of the aorta BUT instead had a sub aortic membrane, so….
Ben had his first open heart surgery at the age of barely seven months. He did wonderfully and recovered almost miraculously. One week to the day of his surgery this spunky seven month old popped up on all fours and began to crawl! Yes we COMPLETELY freaked out. Turns out the doctor was cool with this. It drove Mike and I crazy to watch. Such as parenting a special needs child.
But after this surgery I had a epiphany that I had a SPECIAL NEEDS child. OMG! I can never get sick, be incapacitated, or die. I need to be able to care for Ben FOREVER. I looked in the mirror and realized I needed to drop about 25 pounds to be healthy pronto. So I began to run. I dragged a couple of neighbors with me. We would run to the end of the block and then walk a while then we would pick a point in the distance and run to that. We began to run more and more with less walking. My friends dropped off but I kept going. Spurred on by rapid weight lose (I was 31 people-still had metabolism) and feeling better I ran everyday. My best friend who lived too far to run with me was running independently too. On her 30th birthday (I was already 32, sigh) she decided she would run for 30 minutes without stopping. So not to be outdone by someone younger I did too. Soon this was the norm.
Ben’s health deteriorated and by January he needed another open heart surgery- a Ross-Kono double valve switch. Yes that is as serious as it sounds. His aortic and pulmonary valve would be switched and part of his sub aorta removed. This surgery did not go well. He had critical complications such as a damaged tricuspid valve as well as having two strokes. After two and a half weeks he was able to come home for about three days before he went into congestive heart failure at home. He was placed on a ventilator and we awaited a donor tricuspid valve. One donor valve fell through but two days later we had another donor. That morning, Ash Wednesday, Ben went into surgery. Personally, I think he and God had a conversation and because this mama “don’t raise no fools” Ben looked into the face of Jesus and picked that. He died at 9:33 a.m. on Ash Wednesday. I knew the exact moment he died before the staff even told me. I went cold from the inside out. I cried out, “He’s gone.” Leta, my best friend, looked at her watch and yes, that was his time of death.
I ran laps around the hospital every morning while Ben was in ICU. It gave me a focus. And the endomorph-in’s probably helped me too. After Ben died I was despondent. After his burial and memorial service I found that I didn’t want to get out of bed. Ben’s case manager nurse Lesley, and I had become friends. She would call everyday and ask if I was out of bed. The answer was usually “no.” She would tell me that she would call back in a couple of hours and she wanted to hear that I had gone for a run. I don’t know why but I would listen to her and I would go for a 30 minute run. Sure enough, I felt less like killing myself after a run. Huh.
At Ben’s memorial service, Lesley suggested that maybe we could train for the Portland marathon and raise money for the Legacy Emanuel Children’s hospital. (Yes, the irony of a pastor’s child being at a hospital named Emanuel is not lost on me.) I foolishly agreed. I needed a grief project. So Lesley would call daily and I would run. Then we began to run together from time to time. Then we had to extend our runs even longer. An hour, two hours, three hours. With each mile, we talked about our lives, our grief, our issues and at the end of 12, 14, 16, 18 miles-we were new people. Tired people but new people.
I was eventually put on an antidepressant by my therapist (I highly recommend therapy for depression and if you are offered medication take it! It’s awesome!) but it was my running that truly saved my sanity I believe. On my runs I would process the shit that had invaded my life, my grief, my anger at God, my anger at myself (why did I not take better care of Ben?) and anger in general.
But with each step, each mile, each long run, I was getting my life together. I was getting my emotions together and putting a life back together.
When we ran the Portland Marathon eight months after Ben died, It was more than just a running race. It was a defiance of life over death, hope over despair and love over all. My church had joined the cause and put together Team Ben and about 20 of us ran to raise money for the hospital and for Ben’s surgeon who was a Syrian and ran a hospital in Armenia for those in that region who could not afford open heart surgery. Dr. Hagop did not have a house, a car, a girlfriend or any real possessions. He lived in his hospital in Armenia, came to Portland to operate and make as much money as he could to pour back into his hospital. He was a globally renowned pediatric heart surgeon-one of the best in the world-and he could have been a very rich man. But instead he put every dime he made into a hospital for kids who needed it most. We were proud to over the course of three years raise about $12,000 for his hospital. That’s open heart surgery for about 4 children in Armenia. Over the same three years Team Ben raised $18,000 for Emanuel Children’s hospital.
Running is not necessarily about fitness, or racing but it is about life. I often will say that running saved my life-my physical life, my faith life, my whole life. Running is how I remember that life is not about me. Everyday I run and pray for friends, family, co workers, and think about my family, Mike, Kayla, Andrew and Ben. Running is a reminder that I CAN run when others can’t and how I will I live today for the sake of others and the world.