April 22nd marked the one-year anniversary of the passing of my ex-husband and the father of my two beautiful daughters. The year since John’s death has been a hard one and watching my daughters grieve, each in their own way, has been difficult. Still, as I’ve reflected on the time we were together, I’ve often smiled thinking about the special gift John once gave me.
From the time I was six months old until I met John, my life had been controlled by asthma. As an asthmatic child and teen, my doctors discouraged physical activity. I never played sports in junior high or high school. I never participated in gym class. I simply was not active, as physical activity usually left me gasping for air as I drew painful breaths into my lungs that could not escape normally upon exhale.
The more active I would try to be, the more painful breathing became. This was long before inhalers were available. My life became sedentary. In high school, I focused on academics and working in a retail store. I avoided most physical activity other than occasionally skiing (I grew up in Maine, after all!).
When I met John in college, he was a lifelong athlete. Football, basketball and other sports consumed his time; academics were second. He worked summers at a golf course and later played golf. He was all about physical activity that I viewed as merely “play.”
We began dating and later married. One spring day, he told me he wanted to teach me how to play tennis. Throughout that spring and summer, we practiced through the pain as I learned the game. Though my lungs hurt each time I hit the court, we kept playing and I kept trying.
Eventually, John suggested we try running together. The accomplishment I felt at having stuck with tennis gave me the encouragement to agree. And so I started running, slowly at first and struggling to catch enough air through my fiery lungs but, again, I did not give up. I kept trying. I learned that my lungs could take it! The more I ran the stronger my lungs became.
Such was my confidence built by these smaller successes that I decided to train for a road race. I set my sights on an improbable 10K set for June on Market Square in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Training felt good, but as the race date drew near, I became anxious. I felt good in practice runs, but would my lungs do their job when it counted most?
The day of the race arrived. The adrenaline was flowing as I waited for the sound that signaled the start of the race. My feet started moving with the crowd and soon the runners began to thin out. Imagine my surprise when, for the first time in my life, I was able to push my body and keep up with the pack! I became an athlete that day. I ran and ran and I kept running. As the finish line appeared, tears began to flow. I did it! I ran a race. My lungs were strong. I could count on them!
That was nearly 40 years ago and I have stayed physically active ever since. Though I am no longer able to run due to painful neuropathy, I am grateful to still cycle, swim and remain active, even on life’s difficult days. I’ve reaped the benefits of an athletic lifestyle and am happier and healthier for it. And so I often think of John with deep gratitude.
On the first anniversary of his passing, I want to thank you, John, for introducing me to a different way of thinking and being. Thank you for helping me to discover that I could be an athlete too, in spite of a limitation I had previously thought impossible to overcome. By believing in and inspiring me, you gave me an enduring gift that expanded my life in a multitude of positive ways and remains with me today.