Welcome to the Hope Shot where I will explore mental health and addiction recovery from the perspective of the eight dimensions of wellness - Mental, Emotional, Physical, Spiritual, Social, Vocational, Occupational and Financial. It is my personal belief that every person has an incredible potential to grow in each of these areas. The key is understanding how to tap into it and realize one's goals.
“…because we know that suffering produces
perseverance, character; and character, hope. “
Romans 5:3-4 NIV
Last weekend I participated
in the Ride for Roswell charity event to support the work of the Roswell Park
Cancer Institute in Buffalo, NY. This massive day-long event included 7,380
cyclists, 2000 volunteers, and raised $4.6 million. Proceeds from the ride
support cancer treatment and research at one of the leading institutions of its
type in the United States.
I’ve participated in the
Ride several times in the past but this year I had a lofty goal. My plan was to
complete the 102-mile “Century” ride. Having never ridden this far in my life, and
at the age of 55, I was certainly pushing my limits.
In preparation for the Ride
I trained virtually every weekend since early April. I was aided by two
friends, Dane and Mark, with whom I shared the same enthusiasm for the sport.
Over the three months or so, we covered a variety of distances, culminating in
an 80-mile ride three weeks out from the big day (unfortunately, due to knee
issues, Dane was unable to participate in the Century ride).
I knew that the Century was
no easy feat. I completed two marathons in 1999 and 2003 (Marine Corps and Columbus),
so I was well aware of what it takes to finish such a demanding event.
Conventional wisdom says that to endure something so difficult one has to have
a will of steel or a mind that can handle any physical pain that may occur. But
my experience was somewhat different.
I began the Ride in good
shape. Everything was in good working order. After the second rest stop, Mark
and I fell in with a group of accomplished riders from Jamestown, a city south
of Buffalo. We were moving. I later found out that while riding with the group
we were averaging 20.5 miles per hour.
The course went from the
University at Buffalo Campus north to Lake Ontario and then back southwest to
the finish. It was at the 80-mile mark, however, that I began to have difficulty.
My left hamstring and quad began to have intermittent muscle spasms/cramping.
Then, I was having difficulty engaging my left cleat into the pedal. It kept
slipping out. My pedals are designed as such that it is virtually impossible to
ride at any decent pace if the cleat isn’t “clicked in.”
Fortunately, I managed to
get the cleat connected enough so I was, for the most part, able to ride. But
as a result of the issue, my left foot was pointed inwards and my knee kept hitting
the crossbar. I was not doing well.
And this is when I began to
try to connect with any resource I could muster to complete the event. I looked
at the cross I have on my forearm as a reminder that Christ was with me in my
suffering (and yes, I was suffering, albeit temporarily). I prayed. I thought
of family members who are facing their lives with a cancer diagnosis and how my
pain pales in comparison with theirs. I played song lyrics in my head. Whatever
I could do to just keep going forward.
To make the rest of a what
ended up being a six-hour on-the-bike experience short, (seven total including
rest stops) I did compete the Ride. It wasn’t a glorious and triumphant finish.
The last mile was truly an excruciating experience. My arms were tired from
leaning on the handle bars. My leg kept cramping and both legs were fatigued.
My knee was sore from hitting the crossbar. I was spent. But finish I did.
This experience, like the
two marathons I completed years ago has provided me with a profound sense of
accomplishment and knowledge that I did not complete any of them without the
help of God.
I liken this to recovery.
When I consider the circumstances surrounding the onset of bipolar disorder and
life since, I cannot deny the presence of something Greater than myself at
work. I mean, at one point early in my illness, I could barely get out of bed.
But even back then I believed. I believed that through God’s infinite grace and
a measure of hard work and support, I could recover. And I did.
I have a Road ID bracelet I
wear when I ride. It has my name, as well as that of my wife and older daughter
with both of their cell numbers along with a medical condition I have
(neurocardiogenic syncope). One other thing on the bracelet is the Winston
Churchill quote, “Never Give Up.” And that is what I live by.
In the course of my 37 years
of living with a mental health condition and co-occurring addiction disorder, I
have had to learn to persevere despite what could be considered a multitude of
challenges and obstacles. But because of these experiences, I have been able to
develop an unshakeable faith that has supported me through the many valley
experiences in my life.
I am also a firm believer
that each one of us is capable of doing far more than we think we can. Maybe
that’s why I’ve taken on endurance sports like running and cycling. For me, it’s
about stretching beyond my self-perceived limitations. And with each
accomplishment I can go that much further.
That said, I really don’t
see myself doing another Century (at least right now). I was able to check it
off my “bucket list.” I’m dealing with some bodily issues that resulted from
the ride that may preclude me participating again. This is not to say that I
will not participate in a shorter ride; the 62.5 mile “Metric Century” may be
more my speed.
But one thing I know for
sure is that God was with me on that day. I was given strength to finish that
last mile despite how painful it was. It was yet another example of no matter
what I am facing, whether it be a physical challenge or otherwise, I am not
alone and I do not need to carry that burden all by myself. I do not know what
the next challenge will be, but I am better prepared for whatever is to come.