Going uphill and facing the wind, I quickly do the math. Emma (my three year-old) is just over thirty pounds, Franklin (the baby) is about twenty, and the double jogging stroller must be at least twenty more. Seventy additional pounds, I push, and climb. I look down at my legs and see my quadriceps at work. I feel strong and alive, even if strained. I hold on to the handlebar tightly. I am thankful for its support and balance – especially as I transition to a downhill stretch. Now, I feel like I am flying. Slightly out of control but with awareness of my precious cargo, I run (no, fly!) down the hill faster than I could travel if I were running alone. And suddenly I wonder to myself, how did I ever run without a jogging stroller?
It wasn’t always so. I started running in college. Probably like many young women, it started as an exercise regime, then outlet, then challenge, then necessity – both physically and mentally. I had a running buddy in college and occasionally we did races but it wasn’t about the races. It was about the companionship, the release, and the runner’s high which became addictive. The mind-body-soul connection that only running could provide became a daily requirement.
After college, my daily solo runs became a time for quiet reflection. At times it felt selfish to indulge in my own thoughts for so long. It was my version of journaling – all in my own head, all on my own time, always the route that I chose. The singularity of the venture became as important as the physical and mental components that had previously ruled my exertion. The runs grew longer and longer and I suffered injury upon injury. It started with one knee (typical) and before I knew it my IT band, hip, and ankle were also victims. Running took a back burner. Thankfully there was a fiancé and a wedding to plan, aerobics classes to teach, law school applications, and lessons to plan for my students. Life was full in other ways.
When my college sweetheart turned husband died suddenly after a brief and traumatic illness, I could barely stand alone on my own two legs. My powerful running legs and spirit were useless and crushed. My community of support literally and figuratively held me up. I could barely breathe, let alone exert. The hurt in my heart was so profound and heavy that it felt as if there was no room for air. I felt like I was barely alive. At times, many times, I wished my heart would stop so that the agony would end. My soul was in distress that was so deep and dark I could not imagine it ever ending.
I am not sure what inspired me to lace up my running shoes one morning. Perhaps it was my new angel’s suggestion in a dream that I did not remember. I ventured out feeling both heavy and light at the same time. The heaviness was internal – dark clouds in my mind, a heavy and broken heart, a soul which felt no joy or peace. Though I was out of running shape, months of being unable to eat made me lighter than I’d ever felt as a runner. This paradoxical combination lead to one of the most liberating runs of my life. And so it began, again – my running and my living.
The daily ritual became the physical manifestation of what was happening inside of me. Runners know that running is, or becomes, a metaphor for life. My experience was no exception. I literally had to put one foot in front of the other just as I told myself to take one day – hour – minute at a time. You can do this. My heart pounding and blood pumping was a reminder that I was alive and had to continue living. The sweat and pain showed that I was human and still able to feel pain even if it was eclipsed by the pain of life’s experience. Alone and lonely I ran.
Years passed and the loneliness of the runs subsided. The challenge and the rigor captured me now and I was, again, hooked on running (and soon thereafter, a triathlon). And then one day, on one of my solitary runs, I caught myself watching (no, staring at) a young couple running together with a jogging stroller. The man and wife took turns pushing the stroller but their steps remained in sync and connected. Isn’t that stroller so heavy? I could never give up my “me time” to run like that. Is running any good if you can’t focus on your thoughts and your body – does she miss her solo runs? As if it were another suggestion from my angel, in that moment I gained a strong sense of peace and an unexpected knowledge that I was getting a glimpse of my future.
Today, my runs are rarely solo ventures. I push the weight of the stroller just as I carry the weight of my loss. But, I do not focus on the feeling that I have been robbed of something – rather, I am thankful for the strength that I have now to push and carry. And though I never could have predicted this, some aspects of my running are easier now – the downhill stretches, the “excuse” to stop and check on a little person (and catch my breath), the audience for my singing. Some days, I take turns pushing the stroller as my now husband and I synchronize our steps just as we have synchronized our hearts and our lives. The metaphor is complex and simple at the same time – through the seasons of life, the peaks and valleys, the losses and gains, the strength and the sorrow … the current of running has not abated.
So, I lace up, buckle them in, walk, run, sprint, fly and thank God for my life, my legs, my cargo, and my jogging stroller.
Guest post written by Suzzette DeMers. Suzzette lives in Virginia where she is a wife, mom of two, teacher, lawyer, and aspiring friend. She believes that a perfect day must include coffee, sweat, sunshine, belly laughs, books, and no laundry.
Photo by Laura Lawson Visconti.