Thursday, June 27, 2013

Wax On, Wax Off. Slow and steady wins the race.

As the days go by and I continue training, I am realizing that this task is going to be a lot more challenging than I originally thought. Thinking one is invincible and paying dearly for it is a theme that comes up over and over again across the course of human history. Think of Odysseus, taunting the Cyclops as he sailed away from the monster's island, shouting, "Hey dummy! If anyone asks you who poked out your eye, tell them it was god-like Odysseus." Almost sounds like a Kanye West song. Okay, maybe not. But that one comment got our poor hero lost at sea for years on his way back from Troy. All because of his pride. Almost always it is he who lacks humility that ends up paying the heftiest price at the most inopportune moment. Pride can be a good thing when it gives you confidence and belief in yourself. But when you start to forget that you are also subject to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, you end up screwing yourself. A lot. 

 I've had to learn this lesson of humility in the last few weeks. My coach, Lisa Smith-Batchen, warned me over and over again not to train in barefoot running shoes. She told me that with the mileage I was putting in, I needed a hell of a lot more support. Friends suggested that I should maybe buy some new shoes when they observed that holes were appearing in my soles, where my bare foot would meet asphalt. And then, the coup de grace. Momo, my roommates dog, chewed the strap off of one of my shoes. When I saw that the shoe still would remain on my foot while I ran, I decided it was time to do a 28 mile run in them. Because the rules of human physiology and running don't apply to me.

This was the straw that broke the camels back.

 I got a minor sprain in my foot at about mile 10, and then continued to mile 14. At that moment a friend called. He asked if I needed a ride. I said no. After all, I still had 14 miles to go. Because it was getting dark and I didn't want to be on a backwoods trail inhabited by transients and mass murderers at night, I ran as fast as I could. I remember gloating to myself about how "hardcore" it was. But, I guess I didn't look as graceful and lithe as I hoped, because a 120 year old man on a squeaky red Schwinn asked me if I was doing alright, genuinely concerned. I shot him a beaming smile and said that yes, and how was he? He gave me this weird look like I was the crazy one. Ha! This was all pride, all ego. Somewhere deep inside me, I knew that I was making my foot worse and worse. By the end of the run I could barely walk.

Lately, I've been best friends with the pot that I boil pasta in. Except I'm not boiling pasta in it anymore. I'm filling it with hot water and epsom salts. Then there's ice (part of the Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation treatment applied to most athletic injuries), which I loathe. I think I'm probably a pagophobic, a pathology defined as someone who has an irrational fear of ice and frost and sees both as something whose sole purpose is to injure and kill. While I don't see Frosty The Snowman as a homicidal maniac, I confess that writing this is causing chills to run from my head to my toes, and my entire body is covered in goosebumps. I know, it's weird. I never said I was normal. Regardless, I am forced to face my irrational fear of ice several times a day, as I apply and reapply dripping ziplock bags to my poor little toes. This is takes a lot compartmentalization, where I tell myself that it isn't really ice that scares me, but my fear of ice skating and falling through a giant gaping hole in the ice and being trapped under it, which is a virtual impossibility since I live in Southern California.

  While it would be easy to be upset about this injurious blip on my radar, I'm really not. I know it will heal and I can get back to running obscene distances. And to be honest, I'm actually grateful it happened. I needed to learn this lesson now.

This is the lesson:
Listen to your body. Don't be stupid. Give up your need to be fast. (read: "Give up your need to look good")

This occurrence has also made me painfully aware of my need for an injury contingency plan. I won't be so stupid on the road across America as to run 30 miles on a maimed foot. But imagine I step in a pothole. Luckily, I have two very brave women who are joining me on this journey and helping me with almost every aspect of preparation. They are my inspiration and they keep me focused on my purpose. They are Carolina and Robot, and they are beginning to train with me in order to support me in case something does happen and they can help me run certain legs of the run. This is a worst case scenario and I don't expect it to happen. But it has to be there, because I'm not turning around, no matter what.

When I started on this project, I knew the key was surrender. But at some point, I lowered my white flag without realizing it, and started preparing the cannons for fire. I know that in order to make this crazy thing succeed, I have to learn how to stop identifying personal strength with not needing anybody's advice or guidance. My whole life, I've never wanted to take advice or help from anyone. In avoiding the beaten path, I have made my life infinitely more difficult than it should have been. But there is no use regretting that now.

Its time to set aside my pride, and my need to be invincible, and my need to be right. 

Truth be told, I have so much energy now as I'm forced to take some time off of running 20 miles a day that everything seems to move in slow motion. I'm getting a lot of stuff done on planning the logistics of the run. I'm spending a lot of time in the gym and working on core, which is probably the weakest part of my body. By the way, have I mentioned that I hate the gym?

I hate the gym, I hate ice, and I hate sitting still. And this is now my reality.

And honestly, it's not that bad. 

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Veteran Profile #1: Josh Ferguson, a jack of all trades

When I pull my weathered silver mini-van into the gravel parking lot at Naval Weapons Station in Seal Beach, I realize with the force of hurricane the importance of what I'm about to do. I'm here to interview Josh Ferguson, a veteran of the United States Coast Guard, whom I've never met before and know almost nothing about. All I know is that I want to hear his story, so that I can share it with the world. On a long enough timeline, it is bound to reach the right person. 

  If you told me a year ago that in the very near future I would be dedicating all my time and energy trying to solve the problems that veterans face in the United States, I would have questioned your sanity. And then I would have avoided you. Back then, I prided myself on being an open person, accepting of all colors and creeds, but found myself feeling uncomfortable and closed off around people who were in the military.

As a peace activist an avid tree-hugger, I saw members of the military and veterans as people whose viewpoints were diametrically opposed to my own, and so I didn't try to relate to them. I figured we would have nothing to say to each other. But unfortunately, unconditional love and empathy are not exclusive. We  cannot pick and choose who we are good to, and we should not be the ones to decide who is worthy of our compassion. Once I realized the inherent problem with my thinking, and how it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, changing was easy. I am still in the process of doing it now, and all it takes is admitting that I have a lot to learn. 

Today, as I prepare to meet Josh Ferguson, I feel nothing but pride and overwhelming gratitude at the opportunity I have to listen to the story of someone who has so much to teach me. Over the last year, I've learned volumes about veterans like Josh, and each time I hear about their experiences, I walk away feeling as if I have been given a huge gift. He is doing me a great honor by exposing his truth and making himself vulnerable.

I spot him in the corner of the parking lot, sitting in a huge white truck with his leg propping open  the driver's door. Immediately, I like Josh. He has a big warm smile and kind eyes that twinkle like something just a little mischievous is hidden in them. We make small talk as we wait for Robot, who will be documenting the whole interview on film. After a few moments of chatting with him, I catch myself thinking that he doesn't seem like a veteran, which is to say he seems like me, but I immediately recognize this as a perfect example of veterans' greatest problem. As Josh reiterates in the video, people need to recognize that veterans are no different than you or I. Their lives are full of meaningful experiences, vivid memories, and huge dreams. They are fathers, brothers, sisters, mothers, husbands, wives, best friends and lovers. Suspending judgement is a courtesy that we should be extending to everyone, not only to veterans. But it's a good place to start. 

Robot arrives, we exchange introductions, and all pile into Josh's truck so he can drive us through security clearance at the front of the base. Robot and I were up working until the wee hours of the morning before, trying to prepare for the shoot so it would make sense, but somehow we're both beaming and wide awake.  As we ride back to the trailer park on base where Josh lives, we are energized by simple prospect of being able to learn about another person and in turn, to learn about ourselves. 

What struck me immediately about Josh is how humble he is, and with every reason not to be.  Josh was born into a military family and grew up in different locations all over the United States. He has traveled all over the world, and helped countless people. He has learned to fit into any environment, and he carries with him a calm sense of noble calm that leaves you feeling completely at ease.  Josh has spent his life learning the value of being self-reliant.  He can weld, build houses, restore cars, drive a ice-breaker through the waters of Antarctica, keep peace in Haiti, jump out of a helicopter in blinding darkness, and pretty much fix any problem you present to him with methodical proficiency. 

When he tells me that two weeks ago, he was living in his truck, I am absolutely dumbfounded.  Finding employment after leaving the military is apparently a lot more difficult than one would assume. Josh states that the only reason he obtained his current job is because Google was dedicated to hiring only veterans for the project that he is working on. Josh's job, which is to create maps for google navigation, is a cake-walk to him and he is great at it. However, his innumerous talents and skills are not being utilized in the way that they could be.

When I ask why Josh joined the military, he said it was because he wanted to help people. I think this is the same with a lot of people who join the military. The truth is, everyone wants to make a difference, and protecting the country that you love (and more importantly--the people) seems like a straightforward way to do that. Unfortunately, when a soldier's time in the military has expired, the desire to effectively serve humanity does not disappear, and they are left without a vehicle to do it. This is largely due to misconceptions and ignorance about what veterans have to offer their communities.

It's becoming more and more obvious to me as I hear these kinds of accounts from remarkable people like Josh that it isn't necessarily money that needs to be raised to help veterans (although that certainly helps with medical bills, house payments, and education), but awareness. Even though a veteran may not have five years of experience pushing papers or working in a cubicle for corporate America, he or she has spent years honing the skills of discipline, dedication, hard work, and resilience. With a little enthusiasm and education of employers, veterans will be able to find employment that uses their talents, while paying their employers' confidence back ten-fold. Everybody wins. 

Here is the great thing about raising awareness: Anyone can do it. Next time you hear that your employer is planning on hiring someone new, suggest that they interview specifically veterans. Tell them to watch the video of Josh's story. He is one of many. Talk to people. Share. Allow yourself to care. 

After all, regardless of how you feel about the military, every veteran has dedicated a huge portion of his or her life to protecting and helping you. 

I think it's time we repay favor.