Monday, September 13, 2010

Oh My Aching Muscles!!

Yesterday I completed the Jimmy Fund 26.2 mile walk from Hopkinton to Boston to raise money to cure cancer and it was quite a challenge..but well worth it.

When I received donations many were made in memory of loved ones that had been lost to cancer. I started out my morning by writing the names of those loved ones on my t-shirt. Roberta Nealon, Tim's aunt, was above my heart. I knew I would need her encouragement to make it through the day. My grandparents, Emma and Charles O'Brien were just to the left of that. On my sleeves and the back of my shirt were Roseanne Messina, Anne Ranney, Charles Powers, and Evelyn Donovan. I felt it was important to honor them as I walked.

Team Weston Nurseries started off at 6:40 am from Center School in Hopkinton. We were all eager, bright-eyed, and had a spring in our step. Two members of the team had walked before and two of us hadn't so it was a good mix. I didn't realize it at the time but it was also a good mix of height...two tall people with natural long strides and two shorties with little legs. It was great to have a shortie pal throughout the walk because there were times we just couldn't keep up with the pace our daddy long legs pals were setting. We did stay together, at least in pairs, throughout the walk.

The night before, Tim asked me if I had assembled a list of things to talk about in case the conversation dried up...after all, it was going to be a long day. As you know, I am an avid list maker, but this had never even crossed my mind. I knew conversation would never be an issue nor would it feel awkward if there was silence.

And boy did we talk! We talked about my sabbatical and the lessons I have learned so far, our jobs, our kids and the challenges we were facing with them these days, friends and family, trips we would like to take, and home improvements we would like to make. We talked about the houses we walked past, how long both Natick and Wellesley were, how our feet and muscles felt, what kind of snack we would like to eat at the next station, and how often we were taking potty breaks. We caught up on our hollywood gossip and somehow Tanya Harding came up. It was at this point that a man behind us joined in the conversation. We learned that he was walking with a group of 120 people and they have been walking for years for a friend that has lukemia...and he was with them yesterday. He said his wife started the walk early, beginning at 9 pm the night before from Sutton to Hopkinton. She and a friend arrived at 5:30 am, took an hour break, and then started out again at 6:30. And she was ahead of us on the walk. She walked 52 miles to raise money for cancer. He seemed to enter our conversation just when our muscles were starting to ache and his wife's story was a great inspiration at that moment.

We kept the mood light by asking each other "Hey, when was the last time you walked to Framingham?" or "Hey, when was the last time you walked to a game at Fenway?" Also helping with the mood were the incredible volunteers that are stationed at each mile. When Karen told me you could actually gain weight on the walk I couldn't imagine how (and I really was hoping to look like a super model by the time I was done). There is so much food and at each station and they are staffed by people thanking you for walking and telling you what a great job you are doing. Around 11 am we hit Wellesley, had lunch, checked for blisters (none, thankfully!), and lubed our feet up again for the second leg. As we were waiting in line for the bathroom my friend Denise spotted a man wearing a t-shirt with the name and picture of Tim's aunt, Roberta Nealon, who passed away exactly a year ago yesterday. I didn't recognize him and went over to introduce myself. Turns out he worked from Tim's cousin and has been walking for Roberta for the past few years. It was as if Roberta was there with us..connecting us. It was a great moment.

It all sounds so wonderful and magical, doesn't it? Well, here comes the truth. There was some magical mixed in with a whole lot of pain. Around mile 7 it felt like someone was drilling a hole through my left hip bone with a dull drill. I walked it out around mile 10. Phew! Then, around mile 15 my muscles from my waist to my ankles began to rebel and became very tight. It was hard to walk. Every step hurt. I kept thinking I could just walk it out like the earlier hip pain but that didn't happen. I stopped at each mile station and tried to stretch out. It would feel good for a minute and then my muscles would say "Ah..you're kidding right? We aren't going any further...and we mean it." At one point I attempted to lie on a grassy patch to stretch and I was ONE MILLIMETER away from laying in dog poo. Honestly, that would have been a deal breaker for me. No way I would have walked with poo on my person. No. Way.

I started to hear murmurings of Heart Break Hill and immediately got sweaty like an italian sub. The girls looked me in the eye and said "Don't look up...just look at all the pretty houses. Got it?" In all honesty, it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be although I think if you are running the marathon, it is 1,000 times worse than walking it. I was walking with Peter at the time and I told him that I didn't want to hold him back. He is so tall that one step for him equals two for me. I knew it must be tough for him to go so slow and I didn't want to impact his ability to scale the hill. But he said "I won't leave you, don't worry." Once we made it up, it did feel like a great accomplishment.

With 5 miles to go, I thought I would not be able to make it. I had to stop mid walk and stretch it out. We stopped in front of a stationary store and there were some beautiful calendars in the window. Denise said "Look at the pretty calendars...focus on them...pretty...pretty..." It was like something you would say to a 5-year old having a meltdown...and somehow it worked. At this point, my body began to shut down. "Low Battery: Glutous Maximus"...."Warning: Musclus behindus knee capus shutting down"....and "Powering Off: Ability to Lift Legs". I felt like I was lugging around two tree trunks. I had no ability to even lift them up on the curb. Do you know how many curbs there are in Boston??! You would think they would lower them for the day but no...I think they made them higher. With every step up I would grunt. I didn't mean to...it just came out.

It was at this point we decided to list Things That Would Be Worse Than This right Now. We came up with things like "Getting in a car accident and having my arm ripped off..." Yes, that would be worse. Or "having intestinal distress and not being able to get to a porta potty in time"..Again, yes, that would be worse. We did have a tie...we couldn't decide if it would be better to gnaw our own legs off or continue for the next 5 miles...that was a tough one to call. Then we see this little girl, about 5 or 6, obviously going through cancer treatment...and she is walking. Her Dad asked her if she was tired and she said "No, I'm going to keep walking." Clearly, fighting for your life and watching your child fight for their life was so much more worse than what we were going through. We were humbled by that and fell silent.

At mile 3 we decided to play the question game. "What was your favorite Christmas present ever?"..."What food could you not live without"..."What is your dream job?" That really helped pass the time and then before we knew it we were about a mile away. We could smell the finish line it was so close. It was at this point that we got giddy. There we were...walking stiffly, limping, dragging our limbs, and laughing like crazy loons. I imagine this is what happens to people when they get stuck in the dessert and think they see a mirage. We started talking about what we would do when we got there..."Have a soda!"..."Get some clam chowder!"..."Take our Tylenol!" It felt like we had been away from civilization for years.

We crossed the line at 3:00....8 1/2 hours after our start. We received our medals through a line of volunteers saying thank you and telling us what a great job we did. I, for one, could barely walk. We shuffled over to get a snack and then thankfully Denise's husband offered to drive all of us back to Hopkinton. While he went to get the car, because quite frankly, we couldn't walk another step, we waited on the curb. Peter dropped his backpack and the whole world stopped. Who was going to be able to pick that up? Luckily Karen had sat down so she wouldn't fall down so Peter kicked it to her and she was able to grab it. The bad news was Karen couldn't get back up but luckily Peter had it in him to pull her up. We got in the car and were basically silent except for an occassional groan when one of us moved. We got back to the school and Karen, Peter, and I had to get out of Denise's car to get into their car.

Peter attempted to roll out but landed on the ground. We couldn't help him. Partly because we were laughing so hard but mainly because none of us could move. It felt like it took us 10 minutes to shuffle to the car. Shuffle, shuffle, ouch, groan, shuffle, shuffle. They pulled up to my front walkway and Tim and the kids were waiting for me. Peter, Karen, and I were laughing so hard at my attempt to walk. I could barely move. Tim and the kids were both congratulatory and horrified at the same time. I know the kids were thinking "What happened to my mother...and will she stay like this forever?!" I half cried and half laughed my way to the front door.

And this is where you realize how great your family is. I shuffled to the kitchen and Tim pulled a chair out for me. The kids bent down and took my shoes off carefully. I wasn't sure what to expect...well, quite frankly, although my feet felt fine, I was afraid I would find bloody stumps. But they looked great...blister free! Jack carefully put slippers on my feet and then they gave me the signs they had made me. "Congradulations Mom! We are so proud of you!" and "Now you get a relaxing rest of the day with me waiting on you because you deserve it!" They went up and ran a nice hot bath for me, Tim got me a glass of wine and my book, and they left me alone. This is where some trouble started. I couldn't figure out how to get in the tub. It would require me to somehow lift my legs over the side. It took me a good 10 minutes to get my clothes off and then another 5 to get myself in the tub. But once there, it was wonderful! I felt pain free and wanted to stay there forever. I knew if I stayed too long though I was going to drown. Between the hot water, the few sips of wine I was able to take, and sheer exhaustion, I was about 5 minutes away from lapsing into a coma. It took me another 5 minutes to get out of the tub and I had to give up on drying off...I just couldn't even move my limbs. Getting pj's on was a miracle. I attempted to sit but couldn't bend my legs so they I tried laying down but couldn't figure out how to make that work either. I was out of breath by the time dinner was ready. Mmm...take out pizza.

I attempted to walk unassisted but it wasn't happening. I had Mimi walk in front of me like a train and pull me along. I shuffled like Ozzy Osbourne to the kitchen table. I ate some pizza and then said "I have to go to bed!" I thought I was going to fall asleep head first on the table. Mimi fired up the Ozzy train and off we went to my bedroom. I thought it would feel great to get in bed but my skin actually hurt when I laid on it. It was so uncomfortable. As I tried to get comfortable and turn I would just groan in pain. Finally, I just passed out.

Karen had told me all along that the day after the walk I just had to get up and move. I got up around 8:30 and attempted to get out of bed. Holy Tightness. Whatever muscle or ligament that is behind my kneecap felt like it was just going to snap like a bungee cord. I managed to roll onto the ground and do some stretching and then I crawled to my closet and put some clothes on to go for a walk. I decided to stay local and just walk my 'hood in case I had to crawl back. I didn't want to have to be crawling on the main road...too many people could see me. I walked with the speed of a one-hundred year old arthritic woman. And I'm not kidding. I did manage three laps and felt more like a 90-year old when I finally went home. I sat and had some cereal. BIG mistake. It became apparent that I should not sit for the remainder of the day otherwise my muscles became so stiff I was unable to move. I spent the day shuffling and puttering around and it worked. I feel pretty good now and am determined to get back to my usual 3 mile walk around town tomorrow.

As painful as this was in the end, I am amazed at this accomplishment. Besides labor, it was the most physically challenging thing I have ever been through. And I'll do it again, despite it all. I will do it because if I can help in any way to find a way to cure cancer, I will do it. I don't want to have to write any other names on my shirt next year and I don't want to have to see more children fighting for their lives walking next year. Thank you to everyone who sponsored me on the walk and who sent kind words of encouragement. I am lucky to have such great friends!

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