I have a friend, Mary, who I met through the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training (TNT) back in 2008. Mary is someone that everyone likes. She is intelligent, witty, and what I would call “a good person”. I don’t think there is a mean bone in her body. More importantly, I think Mary is a terrific role model for anyone looking to get more active and improve their health.
Mary’s mother was a physical education teacher. Mary, on the other hand, was not very athletic, more of a couch potato. When her mother died from blood cancer, Mary was motivated to join TNT. She signed up to run a marathon and raise money to help fight the cancer that took her mother. By her own admission, Mary hates to run. But Mary trained hard and on race day she finished her first marathon.
Like many people who join TNT, she got caught up in the comraderie and signed up for a few more seasons with TNT. She completed the Disney World Goofy Race and a Half Challenge – a half marathon and full marathon on consecutive days. It was a huge achievement for her but one she had to work hard to do. Through it all, Mary still hated to run.
Then Mary’s father passed away. He had difficulty adjusting to the loss of his wife. He had come to live with Mary but his health started to decline. A few years after Mary lost her mother to blood cancer, she lost her father. Mary felt that blood cancer took them both. Mary signed up again to run for TNT in memory of both her parents. This time it was more difficult for her. Work disrupted her training. On race day she fell in the middle of the race and ended up being picked up by the sag wagon. It was a low point for her.
As Mary puts it, she was “two feet too short for [her] weight” and “didn’t feel healthy.” That’s when Mary decided to take a different approach. She found a gym that gave semi-private training and had a very supportive staff committed to helping their clients reach their fitness goals. While some gyms might have thought Mary was a lost cause, these people embraced her and helped her be successful at what she could do. The end result was Mary began enjoying exercise, which reinforced her commitment to keep at it. She lost over 40 pounds, and more importantly, she gained self-confidence. Mary went back and ran that marathon she dropped out of two years earlier. Instead of a DNF (Did Not Finish), she got a PR (Personal Record) for the marathon. This year she ran the Disney World Dopey Challenge (5K, 10K, half marathon and full marathon over 4 days) but she still is not a fan of running.
Recently her gym put together a team to do a bike ride to raise money for the American Diabetes Association. Mary joined their team and planned to complete a metric century ride (normally 62 miles but, for some reason, the Diabetes folks made their metric century 68 miles). The ride was this past Sunday. I was out on my weekly long run when Mary passed me early into her ride. I yelled out to her and she beamed me the biggest smile as she rode by. I can’t say that I have ever seen her wear a smile that big during a marathon. I think Mary has found her sport. I run; Mary rides a bike now.
The lesson we can learn from Mary is that when it comes to exercise, you need to do what you enjoy. Otherwise, you probably won’t exercise. Maybe it isn’t running. It might be yoga or biking or hiking or going to a gym like Mary’s. Whatever it is, the important thing is that we all just need to keep moving.