I am not a victim.

Four years ago today, my family and I were in a horrific car accident.  I almost died.  My wife and kids could have died as well.  The driver of the other car is dead.  My family was shaken to the core.  Everything we knew was turned upside down in an instant.  I have spent the last four years trying to recover everything I lost that day.  I have experienced great pain and suffering, but I am not a victim.  No experience but death could have prevented me from taking my current situation and  moving forward.  I could not control where my recovery started, but I could choose where it went from there.  God has given us free will, and free will is very powerful.  I can only be a victim if I allow myself to be one.  If I choose to let the pain and the setbacks identify me, than that is exactly what I am doing.

On Thanksgiving I ran the entire 5K Turkey Trot.  Just under four years ago, I laid in my nursing home bed, paralyzed, and told my family and friends that I was going to run it.  I am not sure how many people believed me.  I know my doctors didn’t think it could be done. It took me a lot longer to get that goal than I had thought, but by the grace of God and through perseverance, I succeeded.  It was a massive struggle to get there, but I learned so much about myself through the experience, that it was actually a blessing.

I am not a victim.

This blog is now one year old.  I wrote my very first post last Thanksgiving.  What a strange process all this has been.  Between the blog, magazines articles, TV interviews, newspaper articles, and speaking engagements, I have had the chance to share my family’s story with well over 1 million people this year.  This fact is very difficult to wrap my head around.  These opportunities have given me the chance to talk to many wonderful and inspiring people.  By simply giving a little of myself, I have received ten times in return.

I am not a victim.

I have come a long way over the past four years.  The first few months after the accident, I would think that all of it was just a bad dream and that I would wake up.  Now I feel like the time before the accident was the dream.  I remember those months right after the accident like it was yesterday, yet time has moved on.  Time is a funny thing.  It seems to go by so slowly on a day-to-day basis, but at the same time you question how your little babies grew up so quickly and why your hair is turning gray.  Only time will tell where my road to recovery will take me.  All I know for sure is that I will preserver. My family will always motivate me to overcome any adversity.

I am not a victim.

Running from nothing…

When I was in a coma right after the accident, I had many strange visions and dreams.  I have put them into writing and I hope to one day share them as part of my book.  In one of these “dreams”, I was running down a country road. It winded through the woods and there was a small brook to the left of the road.   It was an early fall morning.  The air was crisp, but not to cold.  The leaves had begun to change and the morning sun was shining through openings in the canopy.  I could feel my heart beating heavily, but my legs felt as light as a feather. When I looked down I could not see my feet.  I knew my feet were there because I felt the road beneath them.  As I ran, I kept wondering where this road would lead?  I had never seen this road before, but it felt like the perfect place to run.  Eventually, a deer ran across the road in front of me.  It was a doe.  I wanted to stop and look at it, but I couldn’t.  My legs just kept running.  My body didn’t seem to mind.  I felt no pain or shortness of breath.  I just felt cool air in my lungs and could smell the wet leaves.  I was very content and happy…

This past Monday, I did something that some doctors said I would never do again.  I ran.  This run did not stop at 200 yards because the pain and swelling was so bad, as it had with every other attempt I had made.  No, I ran a mile in 12 minutes.  Before the accident, I was able to run a mile in under 6 minutes, but still I ran.  Words can’t express how happy I felt.  I could have gone farther but I think I was so taken back about running a mile that all I wanted to do was bask in my glory!   In just a matter of 12 minutes I had overcome another adversity.  Not with months of slow progress, like my other goals, but with almost instant gratification, I ran.  I waited to wake up from the dream…

Running has been a very important part of me for most of my life.  Running was the one sport I truly excelled at in high school.  I chose the college I attended because of their track team.  My trauma doctors would tell you that running played a big part in me still being alive.  I was running 40 to 50 miles a week at the time of the car accident.  My heart and lungs were strong (both were very damaged in the accident) and my body fat percentage was low.  Not since college had I really cared about running to win.  I was happiest when I was running by myself.  Even before the accident I found joy in testing my limits of pain.  I have always believed that running prepared me to not only survive the accident, but also, had taught me to deal with the trials and pain of my recovery.

I have missed not being able to run.  To have it still taken away from me after hundreds of hours in the gym rebuilding my body, was a very bitter pill to swallow.  Knowing that the surgery at UNC on my left leg has given running back to me, is nothing short of another gift from God.  The emotions that I felt after running for the first time in almost 4 years are impossible to describe.  I have worked so hard, for so many months, to get aspects back from my old life.  Getting a gift like this, so instantaneously, is almost too much for me to understand.  It truly feels like another miracle.

Just like a kid with a new bike or an adult with a new car, I need to test this new leg, and figure out what it can do.  Tuesday I was back running on a treadmill and I ran 1.25 miles.  My pelvis and back hurt, but they always hurt.  Both my ankles and knees hurt. These were new pains, but I knew that they were from running on Monday.  All my lifting and elliptical training didn’t prepare my joints for the pounding of running.  I wanted to do more, to go farther, but I knew I shouldn’t over do it.  I needed to rest my legs, but I wasn’t sure how much longer I could hold back.  Thursday at lunch I was back at it.  I decided I would try for a mile and a half.  The first half mile was pretty painful.  My nerve damage in my left leg was fighting back and I had noticed earlier that day that the muscle fibers in my thigh were not loosening.  At the half mile mark, I was just hoping to at least make it a mile.  But by the time I hit the one mile point, I was in “the zone”.  I use to hit the “zone” somewhere around mile six before the accident.  The “zone” is the point when you are no longer thinking about running,  your breathing is controlled and in rhythm and your heart beat seems to be in perfect cadence with your stride.  Before the accident, when I was in the zone, I could knock out ten or more miles without even realizing it.  When I looked down again, I was about a quarter-mile short of 2 miles.  The thought of running 2 miles was too much to process.  All my focus was gone.  I sped up the treadmill and I ran as fast as I could.  I didn’t want my body to give out before I finished.  In my mind, running faster meant it would be over sooner.  In three days I had doubled my distance.

Will I ever be a distance runner again?  I don’t know.  (I am sure I won’t be a sprinter again!)  Part of me keeps waiting for something to go wrong. For another setback to stop me.  By my standard, this has been too easy.  At the same time, if I find out next week that I can’t run anymore, at least I now have “real” memories of running after the accident.  I would, however, like to find that road from my “dream”.  I really would like to know where it ends…

365 days of My Motivation

I am starting a new project. It is called 365 days of My Motivation. The plan is to post a photo of something that has motivated me each day.  I have been working on the logistics for the past week.  I needed to make it simple to up load the photos so that I have a fighting chance of doing it every day. I think I have it worked out. (It will still be a challenge, but if I can make it through the first month, I should be able to create the habit.)   The photo that I upload for that day will appear on the right side of my blog’s home page.  You should be able to click on the photo to see other photos from other days.  The photo will also be posted to my Facebook wall as well.  I haven’t been able to figure out how to post them to my fan page, so you will need to just friend me here if you want to see them on Facebook.

I am hoping that this exercise will not only help me to stay focused on my recovery, but also remind me why I continue to push myself.  Sometimes I get so caught up in the process of getting better that I forget why I am doing it.  As my family and I continue dealing with additional health issues from the accident, I have found photos to be a very motivational, and some times emotional, reminders of all the wonderful things we still have in our lives.  I hope sharing the images I capture each day will inspire you to look around and see what is motivating you.

Look to the right to see today’s photo…

There are a few other days there as well.  (I said I have been testing it for a week.)