How Running Saved My Life
by, 23-Aug-2014 at 00:25 (558 Views)
I've been a long distance runner for more than thirty fiveyears. I ran competitively with runningclubs in the early nineteen eighties. Iran my first marathon in 1981 and clocked a 2:51 time at the finish line. However, the story doesn’t begin there.
Going back two years earlier to 1979, it was a completely different time in mylife. I had just lost my partner tosuicide, my best friend was killed in a car accident, and another friend hadkilled herself because of a personal crisis. She died pregnant. For myself, Iwas prone to depression and had also survived a suicide attempt.
Grieving the loss of a partner back in those days was themost horrible, isolating experience one could ever imagine. It was a gay relationship and, like so manyothers back then, it was a very closeted affair. When my partner took his life, I had no oneto talk to and no one fully understood the magnitude of my loss. I grieved aloneand in solitude.
I began drinking heavily, going through a 26 ounce bottle of Southern Comfortevery night just to escape the pain. I was suffering from severe depression,smoking a pack of cigarettes a day (not to mention a fair amount of weed) andjust didn’t care if I lived or died.. There was a constant risk of gettingfired from my employment because I just didn't care about it and I often cameinto work with a hangover from the night before.
Eventually I sought out doctors to try and cope with it all. I didn't want todie the way my partner did, but I didn't want to live any longer in such astate of misery and despair.
I saw several doctors but I didn't feel they were very helpful. I guess I waslooking for a magic answer to end the suffering and they didn't seem to haveit. I didn't want medication, I didn't want counselling, and I didn't know howto cope. One doctor suggested I go out and exercise, maybe get a bicycle ortake up jogging. I thought this was nonsense, but since nothing else wasworking I decided to give it a try. I live a block away from the Rideau Canal where everyone goes biking, running orwalking. I felt like an idiot going out for the first time, running a fewsteps, huffing and puffing, and having to stop, but for some reason, I wasdetermined not to give up. By the end of the first week I was able to run nearly four miles without stopping… and I was feeling stronger.
Running saved my life during that time of turmoil. It gaveme the strength and courage to get off the alcohol, to grieve my losses, toquit smoking, take pride in my work, and, most importantly, to find hope in mylife instead of despair, Two years later, through hard work and determination,I crossed the finish line to my first marathon, placing fiftieth in a field ofnearly eight thousand people.
It was an incredible achievement for me. It was at this point that I started puttingmy past behind me and setting goals for myself. I grew up in a home where I wasmade to feel stupid and inferior by my father. I was bullied, beat up andlaughed at throughout my school years. After that, I spent a lot of years doing menial work because I believedit was all I was capable of doing. When I crossed the finish line at themarathon, it changed how I felt about myself. I realized that I had donesomething a lot of people could not do. It also sent a message to the peoplewho were laughing at me when I started running, betting that it wouldn't lastmore than a week before I caved in and hit the bottle again. After themarathon, it didn't matter what these people thought anymore; I wasn't doing itfor them, I was doing it for me.
I started feeling differently about myself. Against the advice of family and friends, Igave up a good paying job with long term security and good benefits and I beganmaking plans to go back to school and take up social work. I wanted my life tobe more meaningful than what it had been up until then, and after surviving somany losses, I wanted to go back and help others. I realized that running amarathon was a matter of discipline, dedication, and hard work. If I could applythese same principles to my education, then maybe I could get similar results. If I had not been a competitive runner, Iwould not have had the courage to go back to school, and I would not be doingthe work that I find so fulfilling and rewarding today.
Running gave me self-esteem, something I never had growing up with my father.It helped me overcome depression without the need for medication. And after losingso many people who were close to me in the late seventies, I truly believe thatrunning saved my life. For me, it wasthe beginning of a journey to discover who I was and what I was capable ofdoing.
Whenever I'm at the starting line in a race these days, I look around at thethousands of competitors who all have their own philosophies of the sport. It's the stories that bring them there thatare so compelling and inspiring, not the time in which they cross the finishline; I saw a young man, for example, running the entire route carrying a signover his head proclaiming 'I survived brain cancer,’ an injured war vet fromAfghanistan running swiftly and confidently on newly acquired prostheses, aheart attack survivor who took up running because he wanted to live long enoughto dance at his daughter’s wedding. These are the real heroes in our sport whodon't get the recognition they deserve. These are the stories of the humanspirit that take place every day in our own communities and across the world.Unfortunately they don't get reported by the media because they aren'tcompeting for gold medals, yet they are every bit as uplifting andinspirational as any Olympic or world championship event.
(adapted from a previous post)