May 15, 1999
Today is June 1, 2017 and it’s my 33rd birthday. And a few short days ago my eldest child Éowyn (who is now in her final week of Kindergarten!) and I ran in a 3k “Fun Run” that her school was holding.
It was one of the most terrifying things I’ve ever done, and from the moment she excitedly rushed to tell me about it after returning home from school one day, I was utterly mortified. May 15th, 1999 changed everything, remember?
But I knew in the depths of my soul that this was finally the time. It was time to stop letting May 15th, 1999 hold such a rancid, toxic control over my life, and for me to put my trust in God instead. I’d been saying for years that I’d been doing just that, but if I am being honest with myself, with God, and with you, dear reader… That just simply wasn’t the case.
You see, May 15th, 1999 had broken me. In just about every sense of the word.
It broke me.
The femur is the largest bone in your body. It’s your upper leg bone that connects your hip to your knee. Well, technically you have two of them, but you get my point. And on May 15th, 1999 – I suffered a compound femur fracture during the 4th day of track and field practice, my freshman year of high school.
It was a complete freak accident. I wish I had a grand story to tell about falling off a 3 story building and living with just a broken leg, or getting hit by a bus saving a baby, but I don’t. Quite simply, while running sprints during track practice, I managed to locate the very last remaining patch of ice in the state of Wisconsin. I fell at an incrediblly fast and awkward angle and–just like that–my leg was in pieces (internally, that is). Approximately 8 of them, if I recall the surgical reports.
Now the story of what happened immediately following me falling and shattering my leg is quite gruesome, lengthy and intense. I am more than happy to share it, and perhaps one day I will write another guest post here on my wife’s blog with all the gory and frankly astoundingly baffling details. But for now, all you need to know is that the bone was so badly mangled that the surgery to fix it took over 8 hours and required a titanium rod and several titanium screws be permanently placed into the inside of the bone.
Oh, and here’s my personal favorite part: there were portions of the bone so badly pulverized that they couldn’t even be “fit back” together again. So a “bone paste” made out of bovine bone was used to “fill in the cracks” as it were.
So yes… I literally have cow bone permanently inside of my leg; right next to the titanium! I’m a cheese head inside and out!
Before May 15th, 1999 I was a multiple sport athlete. I loved the outdoors. Baseball, basketball, fishing, golfing, hockey, soccer, cross country; you name it. I’m not proclaiming to have been a prodigy or even particularly gifted at any of those sports (although I will say, I was a heck of a baseball player for my age in my day) – but the fact is that I loved playing and being active. I was always involved and it was an ever present part of my life, year round.
But after May 15th, 1999 I was barely able to get downstairs from my bedroom for months. I had to use a wheelchair for a long while, then I graduated to crutches, which I used for at least a year. Finally I got to a point where I could limp around with a cane and hobble without one if I just ignored the pain… Oh the pain…
Now you may be thinking to yourself; “May 15th, 1999 was 18 years ago now… And you’re “mortified” about running in a little 3k with a bunch of grade schoolers!?” Or perhaps you aren’t thinking that. But even if you are, I don’t blame you, nor do I take offense to the sentiment. Here’s the rest of the backstory to get you caught up.
You see, unfortunately, in the 18 years since May 15th, 1999 I’ve had approximately (and I say that because I’ve genuinely forgotten some, that’s how extensive the list is) 14-15 additional orthopedic (mostly) and other surgeries. A couple more on my broken leg. Several on the knee right below it. Two on each of my shoulders. Two on my right wrist, one on my left. I have had a bulging disc in my lower back for over 5 years, according to a recent MRI (and according to my pain receptors whenever I get out of bed or off a chair.) Both of my ankles are in desperate need of something, but who knows what will end up happening there. The left one feels like the only thing keeping it attached to my body is the skin surrounding it, it’s been sprained and broken so many times.
I’ll likely end up having to revisit surgeons again for many of these persistent problems. And I have no delusions of grandeur (I miss you, Han!) that I will ever fully be “healed” by any amount of intervention. It’s like taking a broken piece of pottery and gluing it back together until it gets bumped into again and another piece gets chipped off. Time to get the glue out again!
I accepted many years ago that this was my lot in life. I was never going to be even remotely close to “normal” health for someone my age. Gosh, if I had a nickel for every new orthopedic surgeon I’ve had consultations with who looks at my chart for the first time and says: “Wow… You’re way too young to have all these issues” I could buy myself a really nice steak dinner.
I accepted many years ago that May 15th 1999 changed my body in a way that unfortunately caused it to compensate for the severity of its injury so dramatically that it impacted almost every other joint I have. That one fateful moment set in motion a chain reaction that led to me sitting here in my very nice, ergonomic computer chair, typing this blog post in significant pain. It’s just… normal now. I’m used to it. But I would also be lying if I said that it doesn’t change you. Because it does. It absolutely changes who you are. How capable you are of coping with life’s physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual demands.
The title of this blog post is “The Race Marked Out For Us” – and I titled it that because it is an excerpt from my favorite verse in the Bible, my “life verse” if you want to call it that:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,
We’ve been talking an awful lot about May 15th 1999. Let’s go back a few months from the spring sports season to the fall season. I was a freshman in high school, and I wanted to stay in shape and get ready to try out for the basketball team, so I joined cross country. Now I thought I was in good shape, but I quickly learned how wrong I was when I found myself running anywhere from 3-6 miles a day in practice up steep hills and down some pretty treacherous viney wooded paths.
But despite the complete and utter exhaustion that distance running throws at you, there was something about it that I found so compelling and serene. I loved it and I really enjoyed all of my teammates. It was one of the very few times in high school where the upperclassmen and the underclassmen bonded and just hung out. Everyone was close. We were all there for each other, because it was such a grueling sport.
When the cross country season ended and we had our awards ceremony, I had one of those life changing conversations. I remember talking to a friend from the team and we were both talking about how we had never expected to love cross country as much as we did, and we couldn’t wait until next year to come back. And I said, (and I can hear the words coming out of my mouth in my head right now as clear as day),
“One day, I’m going to run in a marathon.”
Everyone else was totally on board, “Yeah, totally! That would be so fun!” – responses of that nature. But my declaration of intent was not one that I just tossed out as a casual remark. As hard to explain as this is, in that moment I knew that I was making a pact between myself and God. I was promising Him–and in return if I took steps to remain faithful to my promise He would help guide me–to running and completing a marathon. Why was running a marathon important? Why should I care? Doesn’t God have more important things to do than put weird things on my heart like “Go run a marathon!”
Those were questions I’ve been asking myself hundreds if not thousands of times over the last 18 years. Failed rehab attempt after failed rehab attempt. Surgery after surgery. Agonizingly painful day after agonizingly painful day.
Why God?! It’s so obvious that I CANNOT DO THIS.
Fast forward now past May 15th, 1999…
Recall the litany of surgeries… Take into account the fact that some days it almost puts me in tears to get out of bed in the morning to walk to the bathroom to brush my teeth because my back, legs, knee, ankles and just about everything hurt so badly. 18 years worth of days like this. And no, not all days are “bad days” – Thank God. But many are. So, so many…
Fast forward to the day of Éowyn’s 3k Fun Run…
I am completely and utterly mortified. I’ve been praying and pleading that God spare me pain. I already know that I am going to be sore and “hurting” like crazy for at least a week after this 3k is over, but I can handle that, I’ve learned to cope in my own ways. But the real fear is that I’ve been mentally preparing myself for the very real possibility that I won’t complete the course, and will be on an operating table for ‘who knows what’ in a matter of hours. Everything already hurts, I know that there is no amount of stretching or medicine or preparation that can truly get me ready to face this demon. And that’s exactly what this is: it’s my own personal demon. In every sense of the word.
Thank you so much for taking the time to read these very personal and raw thoughts, and I hope you enjoy and can be inspired by this video I created from the 3k. With His blessings and the support of my family and my friends, who keep me afloat when I feel that I am sinking, it won’t be the last. Not by a long shot.