Back when my Great Aunt Ida was a spry 96, she shared a dream with me. “Elizabeth, you’ll never believe it,” she said, while perched in her recliner, her cane by her side.
I dreamed I was in a park…Barefoot. Running! I could feel the grass. The wind. The sensations were so real. Oh, to feel that again…
I always hated running. In fourth grade, I finished the mile in 11 minutes. I could sashay across a soccer field faster than I could run. My stepbrothers said I ran like Forest Gump… with his braces on.
But years later, I met this really cute guy. We were inseparable, except for when he’d go on never-ending runs. So, I laced up and tagged along. I knew he really liked me because he’d walk with me after the first mile. Or he’d wait for me when I'd have to run into the Beverly Hills Mercedes dealership bathroom en route. I started building stamina and I stopped drinking coffee before heading out. We got engaged and jogging became my bridal boot camp.
Then, my brother-in-law Josh died suddenly. He was active to the extreme. He biked across the entire country. There was no slowing him down. And then, all of a sudden, he was gone. It was devastating to my family. Running became my way of coping with intense anxiety.
Over the years, Ida and Josh would come to mind when I'd rather sit on my ass. They reminded me how lucky I was to have the chance to wash sweat out of my hair.
There were uphill runs when I thought: If something bad happens in the future, you need to be strong. You need to be able to call upon this strength someday when you can’t get out of bed. Stock up now. Go! I chalked this crazy talk up to my anxiety disorder. But that inner voice was prescient.
This spring, when there were no external signs, just an occasional knee ache when I ran or hiked, I got an x-ray that revealed a rare, aggressive, rapidly growing, benign but potentially metastasizing Giant Cell Tumor in my right femur. My orthopedic oncologist Dr. Rex Marco said that it was the earliest case he had seen. They usually go undetected until they destroy the knee joint. We found it early because I was so active. Because Ida and Josh were always pushing me out the door.
My extensive tumor surgeries were a breeze (Attention! Flowers! Morphine! Breakfast in Bed!) compared to my long, drawn-out recovery; I was housebound and unable to drive or walk for 113 days (not that I counted). I had a geriatric toilet seat like Ida's, the up high kind with the handles. When I threw Ida's 100th birthday party, she teased that I could borrow her walker. I swung around on crutches instead.
To stave off crazy, I devised my own workout plan: a hodge podge of Sit and Be Fit and Pilates. I could do sit ups and I could do one-legged push ups with my bum leg in the air. I minimized muscle atrophy and I stopped crying.
And then, on June 17th, my family honored the 4th anniversary of Josh’s passing. Natalie Taylor, his wife and my sis-in-law, designed a special crossfit workout in memory of him. [See video below].
June 17th was the exact day that my orthopedic oncologist prescribed I could walk unassisted for the first time. I couldn’t do the workout in memory of Josh, but I could put aside the cane and walk.
Once I got my sea legs back, I limped into the weight room at my gym. I kept my eyes down and shuffled over to the pull up machine. The personal trainers saw me and stopped what they were doing. And they clapped. For me! They don’t know my name. But the ponytail girl who worked out every day for years, and then, disappeared in February, and then, came back on crutches to do rehab in the pool, was finally back in the weight room. It felt like that moment in RUDY when he finally gets to charge the field. Rudy. Rudy. Rudy. Ellie. Ellie. Ellie.
I swear, if you get out there and sweat; you’ll be surprised to find all those who are rooting for you. So, GO! Do it for those who can’t. And think of it as stocking up on your strength reserve. You’ll never know when you’ll need it.
Watch this incredible video of the workout in honor of my brother-in-law. My sis-in-law Sarah gives an explanation at the beginning. You can see her at min 0:52 and my brother-in-law David at min 2:26. I point them out, not just to brag about their sick abs, but because here is resilience in action.
Natalie Taylor explains the workout here...
...as a living breathing person, I have the capabilities to put my body through this workout. Sometimes I have moments where all I can do is think about the athletic feats my husband would have conquered had he been given more time here. But he doesn’t get that opportunity. So many people, all too young, are robbed of that opportunity. Because of this, I see it as my responsibility to do something on this day to not only honor his memory, not only to redirect my frustration over his absence, but also to feel my heart pound, to feel my skin sweat, and to feel pain. It is an expression of my appreciation that I get to be here. It is a collision of tremendous sadness and absolute gratitude that I have the chance to live.