Now, a full decade later, the United States is far from perfect, but one thing we can say is that we are still standing, as a nation and as individuals. We are still going to school, working, spending time with our families and friends, and working toward personal goals. It's never easy, of course, and some people could go on for hours about what they feel is wrong with America right now, but the bottom line is that we're still here, and considering where we were exactly ten years ago, I'd say that's pretty darn good.
Do you remember where you were on September 11, 2001? Pretty much all of us can recall details of where we were physically standing and who we were with at the time, but the question involves much more than that. As a person, who were you, and do you feel you have changed in any significant ways since then? For me, personally, I was an overweight teenager who hated exercise and only really did it when my mom suggested visiting the local gym on a Saturday, or when my PE instructor, Miss U, kept us on our toes with step aerobics and occasional 1-mile runs. I can still remember Miss U telling us that as high school students, we basically kept moving because we were required to, but her goal was to hopefully motivate us to stay active in college and beyond, when our teachers and parents weren't there to give us that little nudge. I have thought about those words a few times over the years, but it's only now that I'm starting to truly get it. It really is true; exercising is one thing when you're a kid, benefiting from all those adult influences in your life, but when you grow up and can make your own decisions, can you find the will to make healthy ones?
I certainly didn't during my younger adult years. College came with all its trademark freedoms, and part of that meant I could eat whatever I wanted without being under the watchful eye of my parents. I went to the campus gym every once in a while, and I always liked to walk, but it was never enough to keep up with my monstrous snacking habits. As a result, I was an extremely overweight and unhappy person, and I knew what would make me feel better, but at that stage in my life, I wasn't committed to doing the grunt work. It wasn't until I was about 24 years old that I finally said "Okay, I'm going to work out every day. I'm going to sweat off all those pounds I gained in college, and things are going to be much better from now on".
Well, a few years later, through a series of considerable lifestyle changes that only God deserves credit for helping me achieve, I had lost a decent number of pounds. I looked healthier, I felt better, and honestly, if I had stopped there and stuck to that weight for the rest of my life, that would have been okay. I would have still been considered a "larger" person, but at least I wouldn't be morbidly obese like before. But here's the thing--when you start to experience some success, you feel more confident in your ability to get even stronger, and you just want to keep going from there.
That's what I experienced when I went with the whole family to the Chicago Marathon on October 10, 2010, to cheer on my sister Katie, who was running her very first marathon. Throughout her training regime before that, I balked at the idea of ever doing something like that, and I would often make fun of her for choosing to spend her free time going for long runs. In fact, whenever she would head out the door for the prairie path, I would come up with some kind of snide comment like "See you later! Enjoy! I'll be thinking of you when I roll over in bed and go back to sleep."
Then something happened on the actual marathon day, as I was watching the crowds cheer for thousands of runners--runners of all ages and backgrounds--who came out to complete 26.2 miles along the streets of Chicago. They all had different reasons for lacing up their shoes and getting out there early in the morning, whether it for a charity, or to beat a previous personal record, or to simply cross the finish line and be able to say that they ran a marathon in their lifetime. For some of them, too, they just wanted to run for the health of it--to get their hearts pumping and be confident that their bodies were getting that much stronger.
Initially, I was inspired by my older sister Katie's perseverance in completing the Chicago Marathon for the first time, and I wanted to be like her. What little sister doesn't? I quickly made it known on Facebook that I aspired to prepare for the following year's marathon, and while I received a lot of immediate support, I'm sure it was a difficult concept to take seriously. I mean, I had lost about 80 pounds at that point and was doing well with my diet, but I was absolutely not thin, and there was still a long way to go. Still, I was determined to make this happen, and by early February, I had officially registered for the Chicago Half Marathon in September 2011. The plan was to start with that and go for the full marathon in 2012, but of course, that only lasted about a week at best, and before long, I was also signed up for the Chicago Marathon on October 9, 2011. Again, my family and friends were very encouraging from the beginning, but it was a lot to take in. Katie was concerned that I was taking on too much too quickly, and she wondered if I should concentrate on a few 5K's before moving up to something bigger. While I appreciated her advice, I knew I had my mind made up, and of course, she--along with the rest of the family--was willing to do anything she could to help as I started this journey.
So there I was, 25 years old, intending to tackle a half marathon in 7 months, and I literally hadn't run in 7 years, since high school gym class. Miss U required us to train for and complete a 1-mile run once a year, and I vividly remember feeling knocked out for a few days afterward from just that! This was the full extent of my running experience, and it had taken place almost a whole decade earlier. Add all that up, and it's easy for anyone to conclude that I may have bitten off a little more than I could chew. Still, I knew I was the kind of person who could be lazy at times, but when I want to do something badly enough, I get it done. I think we're all like that. When we want to achieve a goal, we experiment, work each corner, and figure out exactly what it will take to accomplish it...and we get it done. When it's something we really don't want, we just make excuses until we just forget about it completely and move on.
Since February, I have run on average 5 or 6 days a week, tracking my progress along the way. As an added bonus, my weight dropped even more, and I have lost an additional 60 pounds since training for the marathon. (If you ever want to drop some pounds, running is a great way to do so!) In May, I completed a 5K in my hometown, and while it was a little tougher than expected, I was proud to finish. I slipped into a very comfortable routine over the next several months, running on the treadmill and continuing to attend Weight Watcher meetings with my mom. It always seemed like September 11 was so far down the road, and then, all of a sudden, it was three short weeks away. Then it was one week. Then, before I knew it, my mom and I were attending the expo two days beforehand to pick up my race packet, and the big day was officially upon us.
When I woke up this morning at 5:00, I knew I was ready, but as all runners know, those butterflies can be overwhelming. Mom and I took a cab to Jackson Park, and before long, all the participants were loading up their start corrals to get ready for 13.1 miles. As I stood there, waiting for the line to move, all I kept thinking was I hope this isn't a complete disaster. This was what I had worked for, and most importantly, it was a HUGE step in determining if I was even remotely ready to take on a 26.2-mile run in four more weeks. It was exciting, but very unnerving at the same time.
Then I crossed the start line and took off on the course with the other 20,000 runners. It was absolutely incredible what happened. Instead of just training alone at the gym and trying desperately to finish a workout, I was in the race that I had registered for back when I was barely able to run a few steps. I finished in 2 hours and 36 minutes. The weather was beautiful (although a little hot during the last few miles), the crowds and volunteers were amazing, and I just feel really lucky to have been there. I have developed a real passion for running and never want to stop doing it. I'm grateful that my mom was there to hug and congratulate me at the end of it, and it was so much fun to tailgate with my dad, sister, and uncle at the Bears game (even if only for about a half hour), then have lunch at a downtown cafe with Mom before heading back home.
In short, as Americans, I think we're very fortunate that we can still have these special moments with our loved ones. Whether big or small, all of those moments mean something in their given time. We are also lucky to have the freedom we have, which allows us to push out of our comfort zones and become stronger, healthier, happier people. I loved every second of today and will always remember it...and I hope you continue to make your own memories in life...regardless of the day, the time, or the situation. At the risk of sounding like a cheesy country song, it's never too late to change your life for the better, and on days like today, we're reminded how lucky we truly are.
Question of the Day: Where were you on September 11, and what are you most grateful for today?
Now here are some pictures...
Tailgating with Kerry and Dad, respectively!
Hanging out with one of my best pals, Ditka, and celebrating with some good old family time after a perfect day!