Someone posted something today on one of the online running groups I’m part of. It was a picture of a very obese woman riding a bicycle, clearly outfitted for a triathlon, with a caption of something about encouragement, not negativity. It’s one of a hundred memes of that nature that we see online.
But this one got me thinking. Got me remembering. I started thinking about all the impressive, inspiring athletes I know. People who have done impressive things. People who have overcome things. There was the guy I ran with for a while in race who was running his first 50-miler; he had diabetes and had to run with an insulin pump pinned to his pack; he had also just been diagnosed with MS. There’s my friend who still rides her bike every day she can, despite her spine and femur being eaten away by a recurrent breast cancer. There’s my friend Scott, who got on a treadmill a few years ago when he was very overweight and smoking; he started walking; he kept going; he stopped smoking; he lost weight; he started running; he kept going; he now is a triathlete, and encourages anyone to get in better shape. There’s Denis, who won the Virgil Crest 100M race in a dizzying sub-20 hours. Or my friend Jim, who was the last finisher of that same race, showing admirable tenacity. There’s Charlie, of the World Tri, and Steve, who ran around Lake Michigan….And so many more. I have no shortage of inspiration when I look around me.
But the most inspiring and impressive feat of physical fitness and pure determination, is some guy I never met. Years ago, there was a guy at a pool. He was at the pool every day, walking in the shallow end. He was morbidly obese – of a scale you might see on TV as a shocking “you won’t believe this” story. But every day, he was at the pool, walking. No one spoke to him. People looked at him with horror, or mostly tried not to look. But every day, he was at the pool, walking.
He managed to get himself to the gym every day. He went into the locker room and probably struggled to change clothes. He slowly walked, holding onto whatever he could for support, and got in the pool. And he walked. Slowly. For an hour.
I have always thought the effort and determination to just get there – to endure the stares, the disgusted looks in a locker room filled with perfect (or wanna be perfect) bodies, the presumable jeers from jackasses thinking themselves to be funny – was probably equal to the physical strain.
I used to smile at him and nod if we caught each other’s eyes. But mostly, he just looked forward to where he was going. I regret that I never went out of my way to talk to him. I wonder what happened to him. I admire him – a man just trying to make his life a little better. And I remember him.