Cancer, Favorite Posts, Featured, On My Mind, Race Recaps, Running

Opinion Piece: Thoughts of a Once-Dying Man

It’s me again with my semiannual contribution to our “family” blog.  Kudos to Kacee for keeping it alive and well!  It’s about time for me to give you some updates and give some thoughts on things that have been going on.

First off, I have to say that I am a much happier person these days.  I can also happily report that I feel very close to how I felt pre-radiation and post-surgery.  My ability to correctly taste food, the absolute worst thing about my radiation treatment, is probably around 80-90% of normal and if that were the only thing that had improved, I’d be a very happy guy.  There are still a few things that I’ll eat and kinda cringe but for the most part I can eat food and be able to expect a palatable flavor.
Lately I’ve been able to be much more active and I’ve tried to take advantage of it.  Running is back on the agenda but who knew a person could be this out of shape!?  Literally sitting 24/7 for 4 months is a bad idea if you plan on doing anything that requires even a tiny bit of strength or endurance.  Yes, I’m working on getting my leg to adjust to the recent orthopedic remodel and yes there are some other aches and pains from compensating for months but the biggest limiting factor at this point is purely aerobic fitness.  My post-surgery PRs include a 1.6 mile run and, on a separate occasion, a 7:44 mile.  I was tasting blood after that one for hours.  I have to admit, I see why you non-runners hate running.  It sucks…at first.  Luckily I know how amazing it feels to be able to fly through a forested trail at 6 minute pace with only the sound of your own breathing to keep you company and I’m aiming to get it all back again.  Feel free to join me on Strava here or in real life if you’ve never experienced what I’m talking about and want to give it a go.
I suppose I’ll use that to segue into the “opinon” part of my post.  As I mentioned in my previous post in November, I never felt preoccupied with death during this entire experience and that feeling has continued still.  However, despite this God-given reassurance, getting cancer and feeling like death would be a sweet release, it made me consider my life, life in general, and its meaning on a fairly profound level.  Since I wouldn’t wish the painful part on anyone, let me give you my thoughts and if you’d like to know how the experience has changed my life you can skip the hard part and still maybe learn a little of what I’ve learned.
To some, running may be just a pastime or a physical exercise activity solely meant for the purpose of bettering one’s health.  On the surface, like any sporting event, it has no obvious value to society as a whole.  Some enjoy it, some hate it.  Some really hate it.  However, as I’m sure other runners would attest, there is significant personal-improvement value in running, specifically and especially in its mastery.  I have been doing some private coaching lately via my online coaching site as well as helping some family members, including Kacee, try to “perfect their craft,” if you will.  There may be some that look at these stay at home moms, working professionals, and far-from-elite runners, among others, as a group of individuals who are somehow “neglecting their families” or wasting their time and need to “grow up.”  To these people I work with who are striving to achieve their very best, I want to publicly applaud you for putting yourselves out there and going for it.  I also want to discuss why we all should be doing the same.

Recently I was speaking with a close friend of mine and we were discussing the future of a few great collegiate distance runners who were nearing graduation.  “Going pro” in track & field is not only extremely rare but basically never glamorous.  It’s a hard life with small financial returns awarded to an incredibly small percentage of deserving athletes.  Speaking in general terms, my friend wondered why more runners in Utah don’t attempt to continue their sport and said “you Mormons are too practical!!”  I have to say I agree, although I don’t think it’s just a Mormon “problem.”  How many of us give up our dreams because life gets in the way?  How many of us fail to reach our own potential because we think that somehow by failing ourselves we are somehow helping others?  I know I’m treading a fine line here but I want to say that these recent experiences have helped me really see the practical implications that go along with the commonly accepted – but rarely applied – principle that we are here, living on this Earth, to make the most ourselves.  Let’s throw out a scripture from the Master since it is Sunday and it is Easter:

14 For the kingdom of heaven is as a man travelling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods.
15 And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey.
16 Then he that had received the five talents went and traded with the same, and made them other five talents.
17 And likewise he that had received two, he also gained other two.
18 But he that had received one went and digged in the earth, and hid his lord’s money.

I’m sure you know where I’m going with this but think for a minute, is this just a spiritual law?  Is Jesus only referring to “righteousness” here?  Is it remotely possible that He could be speaking about scientific knowledge?  What about artistic talents?  And who knows, maybe, just maybe, physical ones?  I want to make it very clear that I feel we all have been given 5 talents, some maybe just 2 or even 1 but we all have the responsibility to develop them and it is in the process of developing of those talents that we reap our reward.  No, being a pro athlete isn’t going to get you a VIP pass into heaven.  And no, Einstein won’t get special treatment just because people have heard of him and he figured out Newton was wrong.  However, often when we push ourselves to master any subject, we gain invaluable knowledge and experience which refine our character.
Now, I’m no feminist.  Just ask Kacee.  But, I think it’s worth noting that far too often women seem to fall victim to this idea that they can’t improve themselves, often thinking they’re here to raise children, and no more.  Raising children is arguably the most honorable duty in this life but it doesn’t need to be the only thing in a person’s life either!  I was so proud of Kacee for selflessly quitting her job to devote herself to the raising of Ames but I’m just as proud of her because she pushes herself to achieve things that are mistakenly reserved for bygone days.  She wasn’t satisfied with her collegiate PRs and decided to do something about it.   She wanted to run a sub-18:00 5k.  She knew she could but it just never happened in college.  For months now she has been cranking out 60-70 mile weeks all while still being the best mom in the world.  Just 2 days ago, we drove out to San Francisco (with my sister Heidi, mother of 3, who is also training hard) to race in an elite collegiate race at sea level to give her the opportunity to make this happen.
Guess what?  17:45.  To see the fulfillment in her eyes and knowing the work she has put into developing her talents was amazing to see.  Has she neglected her son?  Absolutely not.  Has she developed an amazing ability to confidently press onward even while experiencing immense pain?  Yes!!  It is fantastic to see her develop eternal skills all while in the pursuit of her dreams and have amazing experiences to go along with it.
I need to give a quick shout out to one of the amazing people I coach, Brooke Davies.  She was a great runner at UVU recently and now teaches at Provo HS.  She came to me saying that she has lofty goals in the steeplechase and decided that she isn’t done chasing them.  Here’s how she describes it in her fantastic blog post:

Many of you might be like… what? Like a road race? I thought you were sick! What is going on? Didn’t you graduate? Why are you racing?

Well, I’ve secretly been training for about 2 months. When I say secretly I mean I haven’t told too many people. Why? Because it’s SCARY.

Towards the middle of January I finally mustered up the courage to finally train, actually train. I wanted to go for it. I wanted to see what my body could do, and reach my potential. But that is scary because that means I can fail.

I have a LOT of work to do. But I’m doing it. No matter how crazy, or how little sense it makes, I’m going for it. I want that PR, I want my potential, so I’m going for it. I want my kids one day to know that their mom did everything she could to become her best, reach her best, and do her best, in everything. That she overcame fear, failure, and bounced back to get what she wanted.


Now…how did that Parable of the Talents end?  The servant who only received one talent said on the day of reckoning “I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine.”  His lord responded by saying “Thou wicked and slothful servant.”  But to those two servants who, despite different levels of monetary endowment, he said:

Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.

Do not be afraid to reach for something.  Use your time here on Earth, however long or short it ends up being, to make the most of yourself.  Let your kids see you achieve your goals and who knows, maybe they’ll learn how to do the same.