I’ve felt a kinship with Arnold Schwarzenegger for quite some time. Since the early 1990s, to be exact.
It began years ago. I was in downtown Denver, at an Eddie Bauer store, looking at a jacket. A well-meaning young, male salesclerk approached and told me I should buy that jacket, that “The Arnold” was in town and had tried it on just hours before. (Hint: Never tell a woman THAT if you want to make a sale!) Needless to say, I left the jacket as it hung. But knowing I had touched something Arnold Schwarzenegger had, bonded us. At least from my perspective.
So I don’t take his wisdom lightly. Here’s some:
“What we face may look insurmountable. But I learned something from all those years of training and competing. I learned something from all those sets and reps when I didn’t think I could lift another ounce of weight. What I learned is that we are always stronger than we know.” (Arnold Schwarzenegger)
Isn’t that the truth?
When I was 9 years old, my best friend Rachel Cox, got it in her mind that we were going to walk 20 miles together and raise money in a March of Dimes walkathon. I got on my bicycle and pedaled all over the rural roads of Grand Jct., CO, asking strangers to sponsor me in my walk.
Things were safer in the 70s, but still not without their hazzards.
At one house, a giant and ferocious dog chased me down the driveway. I screamed and ran, panic stricken and crying. Thankfully, the homeowner came, rescued me, and sponsored me–probably feeling bad for the little girl with the racing heart, bawling in the driveway.
I survived the sponsorship part of the walkathon. Finally the day came to walk 20 miles.
My parents were out of town. They told me (later, and for the rest of my life) they figured I’d walk a mile or two and go home so they didn’t change their travel plan and just arranged a ride for me to the starting point where I met my friend. I was completely unprepared for the walk by today’s standards. I wore normal school clothes, Keds, I didn’t bring any water or food (kids don’t always plan for the essentials–they’d never even crossed my mind, actually), I didn’t have sunscreen, and while most walkers had adult supervision, Rachel and I were on our own.
At mile one, Rachel quit. For some reason, I carried on alone. (I was pretty shy back then, to this day I’m not sure how I dared continue on by myself.) It may have had something to do with the fact that I wasn’t tired, or maybe I was motivated by the pictures of the poster children I was trying to help, or maybe it was all I’d gone through getting sponsors–not just the dog attack, but even talking to people I didn’t know and asking them to help me; I hated that part of it! Or maybe I just wanted to see if I could do it.
So I kept walking.
I didn’t really know what I was doing or where I was going, but I followed the way marked by cardboard arrows, got my card stamped at each mile’s checkpoint, and watched the stream of walkers lessen until I was mostly alone and felt even more alone knowing my parents were out of town. I wasn’t always sure where to go. Thankfully, I didn’t get lost. I felt a little like I was blazing my own trail and I was a little afraid, but I carried on most of the day.
By late afternoon, an unfortunate thing happened. The walkathon route went right past my neighborhood–just before mile 18–and I gave in to the lure and safety of home. I detoured through Paradise Hills to my house and quit, without even getting my card stamped at mile 18 and getting credit for that last mile I walked.
My feet were killing me.
My house was quiet.
But I had accomplished something.
When my parents arrived home that evening and found out what I had achieved all by myself, they were dumbfounded. They took me to dinner to celebrate–my dad carried me to and from the car and into the restaurant so I wouldn’t have to walk any more that day. They told everyone what I had done.
The prospect of walking 20 miles, by myself, in the 4th grade seemed incomprehensible. But I learned something that day. When I thought I couldn’t go the distance, I did. When I was alone, and afraid, I carried on anyway. And in the end, I learned I was stronger and more capable than I’d ever imagined.
That’s sort of how last year was for me. I found myself facing a challenge so huge I didn’t know how I’d go the distance. I was alone, afraid, but I carried on anyway. There weren’t signs showing me the way this time, I had to rely on inspiration, common sense, the advice of good friends, absolute faith and sometimes, pure endurance.
And in the end, I learned I was stronger and more capable than I’d ever imagined. And I accomplished something I wasn’t always sure would be possible: a new life; happiness and joy out of the disastrous ruination and ashes of my former life.
The unexpected life is its own walkathon. But if you just keep putting one foot in front of the other, even when your feet (and your heart) hurt, eventually you’ll accomplish something great.
“I always tell my kids if you lay down, people will step over you. But if you keep scrambling, if you keep going, someone will always, always give you a hand. Always. But you gotta keep dancing, you gotta keep your feet moving.” (Morgan Freeman)
Keep your feet moving.
The unexpected life.