In 2007 our family attended the Lake Edens Arts Festival and everyone avoided me because I was so grouchy. There were multiple theories as to why I was in such a bad mood, but the answer was surprisingly simple. Though I didn't know it at the time, I had pretty severe plantar fasciitis, so my feet hurt all the time, and my swollen knees were causing me so much pain that I had taken to tying bandannas just under my kneecaps to remove some of the pressure. I had turned into an immobile, miserable, lurching bear who just wanted the people I loved to decide where they wanted to go so I could get there and sit down.
This is me from December 2008, with my college friends Melissa James and John Sloop, enjoying a reunion in Asheville, NC. I'm the old-looking fat guy on the left with the pained expression. John and I had been hiking with our wives earlier that day, and my feet were hurting so much in this picture that I couldn't keep them both on the ground simultaneously, switching off alternately because standing on them felt like perching on ice picks.
I weighed 275 pounds in this picture, the highest weight I ever recorded. I had gone from an active, happy person to a sedentary, stoic grouch who thought not talking about what was wrong with me was doing my family a favor. I had given up on running, then basketball, then everything but cycling.
The nadir represented in this photo was also a turning point. I came home convinced that if there was some way I could fix what was wrong with my feet, knees and ankles, I was going to do it. Period.
The good news? Plantar Fasciitis is simple and inexpensive to treat. In January 2009 my doctor prescribed a twice-daily program of stretching and icing. For most cases, she said, the treatment would work in three month or less. My case was so pathetic that despite disciplined adherence, seven months later I was back in the doctor's office to discuss surgical options. She suggested I stick it out a bit longer, and she was right. By fall both my feet were normal again for the first time in more years than I could remember.
And just as a person can get on a vicious cycle, so too can a cycle spin in the other direction. As my feet improved and my weight dropped, the burden on knees began to lift. Each little thing that improved improved all the other little things. And so on.
By March of 2009 I had the doctor's approval to begin walk-running. That is to say: Go on a walk, and occasionally break into a short trot. I had Janet there to walk with me keep my mind off my still-aching-but-not-quite-so-bad feet, and occasionally I would lurch along for maybe a quarter of a mile, tops. By steamy summer I was grinding out one and two miles at a time on the fitness trail at Hampton Park, but in early spring that was still just a dream.
So when I listened to friends talking about running the Cooper River Bridge Run in April 2009, I decided to make that my goal. I'd run it only once before, in 1995, and running it again in 2010 would make for an even 15 years.
My training was sporadic, interrupted by multiple trips to other cities, but by September I was finally running 10k distances. My schedule got worse, though, and there were entire snowbound weeks in December and January when I didn't run even once. To make matters worse, I put on 15 pounds of holiday and winter weight and was able to run off only about five of those pounds in February and March.
Yet on Saturday morning, I weaved my way through a crowded field to finish the CRBR in just under 63 minutes. I was thoroughly disappointed with my time (I'd been training at a 55- to 57-minute pace), and the best thing I can say for myself is that I managed to pass the guy in the gorilla suit in the final five yards (the guy in the Elvis jumpsuit dusted me at Mile Marker 3).
But if you saw me on the course, you might have noticed that I smiled much of the way. Just being there again, after 15 eventful years and all that stupid, self-inflicted, chronic pain, was, well... just a joy.
I know there are millions of stories more inspiring than this one, so all I'm really trying to do here is deliver a simple message via my mistakes and epiphanies. Here goes. When given a choice between happiness and misery, choose happiness. When given a choice between health and pain, choose health.
Oh, and this one: Sometimes the price of feeling better is looking foolish. Consider it an investment.