Finishing Is Just the Beginning
I’ve been meaning to post some of my reflections from the MS Challenge Walk and am just now getting around to it. Here is my first.
When I signed up for the MS Challenge Walk back in January, the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation sent me a bright orange t-shirt that said “Join the Movement” on the front and “Challenge Accepted” on the back. Something in those words “Challenge Accepted” kept me motivated on the days when going for a training walk was the last thing that I wanted to do.
Little did I know that the t-shirt I received on the last day of the Challenge Walk before all the walkers walked our last mile together would set forth a similar challenge: “Finishing Is Just the Beginning.” I guess a part of me thought that when I crossed that finish line on April 29th, I would be finished with this particular challenge. What I didn’t realize until I did cross the finish line was that the nature of the challenge I undertook changed in the course of those three days. What began primarily as a physical/financial challenge – to walk fifty miles in three days and to raise a minimum of $1500 for the MS Foundation’s work – ended up as more of an ongoing commitment – to continue to do all I can to make a difference in the lives and the prognosis of people like my brother who struggle with the effects of MS every single day.
So what happened over the course of those three days and those fifty miles that changed my outlook? Believe me, a lot can happen in fifty miles!
I was reminded that we cannot successfully maneuver life’s challenges alone. I was fortunate to find two excellent walking partners when I arrived at Palm Key. Karen and Wanda were our housemates for the weekend. All three of us were first-time walkers. When they found out that I came on my own to walk, they invited me to join them. (My support system was there, but they were waiting for me at various water stops along the way.) The three of us made a great team. We took turns setting the walking pace. When one of us became tired, sore, or discouraged, the other two kept the encouragement coming until the bad feelings passed. If one had to stop to nurse a blister or a sore foot, we all stopped. When one of us overcame a bout pain or discouragement, we all celebrated. Sure we can try to go it alone, but life’s challenges are much easier to tackle if you place yourself in good community.
Another eye-opener from the walk has to do with an expression I’ve heard all my life: never judge another until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes. There were times during the walk when my feet hurt so badly (only three blisters, but I did develop a nasty case of tendonitis), my leg muscles were so tired that they felt like rubber, the heat was almost overwhelming, and fatigue threatened to take control. At first I did what any human would do: I felt sorry for myself and complained a bit. Then it hit me. These symptoms were all very similar to ones my brother has described – pain, muscles that won’t cooperate, inability to tolerate heat, extreme fatigue. These, plus many more, are an expected part of the life of a person with MS. Me? A few days of rest and I would be just fine. My brother will be dealing with these things indefinitely. In fact, his symptoms are likely to worsen over time. While I never negatively judged a person who suffers from MS, until I walked 50 miles in his shoes I never really understood the inner strength and determination that it takes for him to cope with his lot in life. I still cannot fully understand what he faces each day, but my respect for him now borders on awe.
Finally, I learned a little bit about the power of perspective. When you start out the day knowing that you have twenty miles to walk, you have to break it down into smaller, more do-able chunks. Two miles to the next water station. Four miles until lunch. One more mile and then we’ll sit down and rest for five minutes. Six miles until the finish line. As someone once said, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time!” Even the impossible becomes possible when you take it on one step at a time. I realized how much my perspective changed on the last day of the walk. As we sat around the breakfast table waiting for the buses to pick us up and ferry us to our starting point, someone said to me, “It’s been two long days. Do you think you can make it?” My response, which surprised even me, was this: “Of course I can make it. Today is a short walk – it’s only twelve miles!”
Finishing is just the beginning. The event is over. The real challenge has just begun. As I educate myself about MS, I will better be able to educate others. As I raise awareness by the tag that will soon be on my car or by the t-shirts or jewelry I wear, maybe I can persuade more people to join the fight. As I join others in raising money through future events, we come closer and closer to finding the cure to this mysterious nemesis that plagues so many, including one I love so dearly.