Sunday, July 29, 2012

Fleet Foot

Blessing of the Fleet 10 mile race - view from my treadmill
Randy Spellman, best friend and brother to Jay Pisano, ran the Blessing of the Fleet 10 mile race at Narragansett, RI. This was a tribute to a favorite race of Jay's as you can read here, and a couple of earlier races here and here.

In Randy's own words: "Our trip to Jason Pisano's favorite race on the opening day of the Olympic Games was a great way to pay tribute to our own champion."

*******

I am not quite in shape to run 10 miles yet, definitely not ready to race that distance. Still, the thought came to me to map the course for my treadmill and run it over the next few workouts. I did about 4 miles of it on Saturday and did my 8 miles on the course today, having to restart my effort after a power outage.

It was impossible not to think of seeing Jay on this course in my mind's eye, of being on the same road the he and Randy had done so many times before. I know I cannot quite imagine how the day went for Randy, of being there for so many years with Jay and missing him this day. Randy did tell me he hoped to find someone who needed his help, which tells you the strength of his character and desire to remember his brother on this day.

*******

Back of Randy's race shirt
I was incredibly honored to share a spot on Randy's race day shirt. I love to say "It is a good day to run" on the starting line, usually to myself but I recall getting a laugh before a rainy start of the Myrtle Beach marathon some years ago. I like to think no matter what conditions we face that it is always a good day to run.

Something tells me Jay would understand this, more likely knew it already. It would have been something we could have talked about. Often the worst of times are the ones we remember most clearly, of the obstacles overcome on our path up.

We are on our way to 53.

April 15, 2013.


We will run...with The Greatest.




Saturday, July 28, 2012

Déjà Vu All Over Again

Maine Half Marathon - View from the NordicTrack Treadmill
 
For the second time this year I have restarted my training. Following the meniscectomy of my left knee I crawled back into shape only to have a cellulitis attack my residual; this took even longer to heal. It has been about 8 weeks since I started treatment for it and it is still a little discolored though nearly back to 100%. I am convinced using mineral oil for the skin lubricant was the exact cause of this unpleasantness.

When I was told to use mineral oil I tried to find out exactly what kind to use as there are many types of the product on the market. I received no definitive answer so I just started using off the shelf stuff I bought at CVS. While traveling to Hannibal MO with my sister-in-law, she mentioned how she completely avoided any skin care product that had mineral oil listed as an ingredient. It clogs pores, can actually dry the skin, and has other nasty properties as well.

I then researched the stuff and definitively put 1 plus 1 together and knew what had happened too late. (That's a joke, son.) An excellent article "Negative Effects of Mineral Oil in Skin Care" is here. I have since thrown out all of the oil and will never use it again.

That said, I completed 5 planned days of running last week and did all of my workouts while keeping close watch on my residual for any adverse skin conditions. There were no issues and the skin continued to heal. I ran 21 miles with all but two on the treadmill. I did not want to put my leg in the broiler that is our weather right now. Once it is fully healed I will do more running outside.

*******

We are going to Maine in this fall and Jennifer and I will be running the half marathon at the Maine Marathon. I ran this back in 2006; Jennifer was under the weather and became a spectator that day. I should be nearly out of my initial back-to-running phase at this race and must expect my time to reflect that fact. Since we fly into Portland before driving further north, this race simply demands we attend, who are we to say no to crisp fall weather especially considering what we are dealing with at the present. Somewhere I have a photo of the 2006 race and I'll post it when it is found.

I don't have a specific time goal for Maine except not to suck too badly. It will be several more months before I return to some semblance of higher fitness. With Boston as my goal race, I will only be running most races as fitness tests or as higher level workouts, with one half in January raced hard to determine a reasonable expectation for Beantown.

My long run this week will be 8 miles. It was back in May when I last ran double digits and I am looking forward to making those distances soon, perhaps 10 next weekend. To help protect my knee, I will do considerable amount of time on the treadmill where the impact is softer. I am so glad to have this terrific training aid and sorry to hear of the passing of the inventor, William Staub. I love my treadmill because it frees me from excuses, particularly from our late afternoon thunder-and-particularly-lightening storms. Having had a couple of close calls with the bolts from above, I do not care to push my luck.

I hope I am done with comebacks for a while. I've am currently updating my marathon plan from last year; I love writing up training schedules. This time I am hoping for more adherence and less deterrence.

Future, please smile on this small parade. We promise to honor the day. I believe we will make a difference in many lives. I have learned of life's small miracles.

Let us do more.




Sunday, July 22, 2012

A Question of Motivation...or Mediocrity?

 I do not run to inspire, but I do run an inspired life.
- RWB 7/15/2012


Jack and Me

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Some years ago before I became an amputee I bought Jennifer a book to help motivate her through triathlon training. It was "Up and Running" by Jami Goldman. Later I would read the book myself in a different light, that as an amputee. As I've written many times on this blog and elsewhere, it is not possible to understand some things until you have become them. You will not know what it means to be blind unless you are sightless; you don't know the difficulties of a certain disability unless you have that disability. Some of us are born with missing limbs; others lose them in accidents or war; and some have damaged limbs removed when they become a source of pain and no longer are functional.

A Lifetime of Inspiration
My first sports hero was Glenn Cunningham and he remains a source of inspiration to this day. While I was hospitalized after the bus accident of 1963, a boy was brought into the hospital with burns over 70% of his body from a gasoline fire...I remember the most horrible screaming I have ever heard, screams of intolerable pain that this little boy was enduring. He would not survive.

Glenn did survive and I think I at least had an inkling of what he had to overcome just to walk. The fact he ran world records on what was absolutely minimal training by today's standards was, and is...inspiring.

This year I was fortunate to learn of the heroic Jason Pisano. Inspiring? Beyond words and possibility. Impossibility made irrelevant. He had the use of his left foot only and was able to complete 52 marathons. So yes, leave your whining and woe-is-me attitude at home. You can do more than you imagine but not with the heavy anchor of negativity around your neck.

*******

When someone is disabled, be it by birth or circumstance, they remain a person, a human being. Their lives may or may not be more challenging than an able-bodied person. In many cases such as with amputees, there is a visual stimulus that may elicit a common response particularly in sport: they are inspirational.

There are other disabilities that are not as evident, in less severe CMT (Charcot-Marie-Tooth), CP (cerebral palsy), CF (cystic fibrosis) scoliosis, and others.  My sister-in-law Nancy has two titanium rods screwed into the length of her spine as a result of the latter. No one can see this without Superman's x-ray vision. Our friend Donna at first glance may not appear to be disabled in the least, yet a closer look at her feet and you may grimace. She has CMT. Ronnie writes that he has been "Blessed with Cystic Fibrosis and a positive attitude, it is my duty and passion to show the cystic fibrosis community that anything is possible."

All of these athletes have a far more difficult time being athletic than me, yet because my amputation is so viscerally apparent, it may be mistakenly thought of as the higher barrier to overcome. A well-designed prosthesis gives me back most of the mobility I lacked with the damaged anatomical foot with little of discomfort. I am slower but I have my freedom restored.
Oscar Pistorius with a little help (Oscar's Twitter pic)
An article "We're not here for your inspiration" was recently published here decrying that "inspirational porn" (see pic at right) was being employed to guilt the able-bodied into thinking they don't have it so bad; why look at the poor crippled thing in a prosthesis hobbling along, if they can do it I need to get off my lazy bum and go for a run too! Ms. Young's main point seems to be that the disabled are not any more inherently inspirational than the able-bodied, that what is going on is exploitation on some level. That disabled people are no more or no less inspirational than anyone else.

Your excuse, is indeed, irrelevant.
She also goes on to make inaccurate statements like this, speaking of availability of running prostheses: "Those legs, for the record, cost upwards of $20,000 and are completely out of reach for most people with disabilities." The fact is yes, these are expensive specialized prosthetics but the feet themselves are surprising affordable at cost. However, if insurance or out-of-pocket costs are too high, there are many organizations like CAF and Achilles International who can and do help. Defeatism and a poor attitude would be the main barriers to these feet, not the cost. If you want to run you can.

 “Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.” -- Albert Einstein

 *******

I can speak from personal experience here. Before I even knew what the cost would be for me to run again - and I was going to run again - I was contacted on Twitter by a group who proposed a charity run to raise money for my prosthesis. Later Scott Rigsby gave me one of his running feet to try out. My current leg was paid for by my insurance but I do know of other ways to obtain a running prosthesis if that was not an option. I can tell you a negative attitude would sink this ship on the spot. Wake up or go away you malcontents of personal despair and spiritual destruction.

Truly cynicism is cyanide to the spirit.

Every life is unique in this world; we are not a faceless community of cattle. That some are or become disabled is usually non-negotiable. You may not be able to control many elements of your life, but the person inside that is you, your attitude and spirit, is largely up to you. There is a choice to be made here, and I have always felt the one of negativity and criticism is the one to be avoided altogether. Run, run away from it.

It is possible that being a runner all of my life I have, pun intended, a leg up on understanding attitude. My early competitive days were generally spent near last place. What kept me from partaking of the sour grape vine? My love for running. First, last, or middle of the pack, I know not running is far worse for me. I never quit even when my broken body could go no further. There was a will. There was a way.




Images and video of Oscar running let me know what was possible. He inspired  me to, in effect, become disabled to enable my running again. This journey taught me about attitude and how incredibly important having a good one is, and how others react to being near it.

*******

We know there are terrible disabilities that many humans endure. No science or mystical words will improve their lives. But I have never, ever seen where taking a negative tact resolved anything other than to dig a deeper hole....or to enhance someone's self-inflicted fatalism. A bad attitude goes nowhere but down. If you choose to go there, fine, but don't rip your claws into those trying to climb up and improve their lives.
 
I never intended to be an inspiration to anyone. Being a runner all of my life, the only thing I wanted to do for all my life was run. That people see me now and often speak of my running as "inspirational" is not a thing I intended to do, but having once been an able-bodied runner I understand the sentiment. I know this: if we disabled athletes inspire or motivate someone to be active, and especially our peers who can see what is possible - then it is not just a good thing. It is a great thing. Anyone who chooses to disparage this has a personal agenda they are tending too.

To call inspirational pictures of individuals with disabilities doing amazing things as "porn" disgusts me. Oh, I understand how the term is used, and if used in a positive way then so be it. But it is being used to denigrate efforts and accomplishments as I see it, and I detest that "opinion" so much so that I found it hard to write this post.

If someone does not care for motivational posters of the disabled, what is the purpose of making it a contentious issue? Why call it inspiration porn? The answer, as nearly always, lies within.

*******

Here is my training partner, my inspiration for running the Boston Marathon next year. I never, ever lack for motivation anymore. I may be fatigued from a workout, but when I think of standing on that starting line in Hopkinton with my friends I am filled with such joy as to be overcome with emotion. I was told my running days were over and now I am going to run this legendary race.

What can't you do? Don't let them tell you, you show them what you can do. To those who think they can't, it's time to believe what you read.


"I run marathons not because I have Cerebral Palsy, but because I'm an athlete."

- Jason Pisano


Sunday, July 15, 2012

9 Months to Boston, Baby!

Boston Retro

The above pic is a running outfit Jennifer bought me many years ago as a present. I thought of it as an "elite" uniform, one I was a little self-conscious wearing since I did not fit in that category. I did wear it once at the Cooper River Bridge Run, but not in another race.

When I received it I told Jennifer "this is what I'll wear at the Boston Marathon one day." That day receded further and further as my old ankle degenerated and eventually caused my running days to end.

On occasion before that time I would wear the shorts on the treadmill just to remember what was once promised. After my surgery I would to think of what might be.

*******
 
Now, as a former biped, I hope to run Boston 9 months from today, on April 15, 2013. I say "hope" because as all runners know, things can and will go horribly wrong that can end a dream in the blink of an eye. Still, I will be doing all I can to prepare for this day, I feel at times that my entire running life as been aimed at this singular coming moment. Almost every time I think of it I am overwhelmed...just as I am now as I write this.

I do not know if I will wear this old outfit next year. It is a bit dated and I no longer wear tank tops as a matter of skin protection. Likely I will not, but I am wearing it today as I once again restart my training.

With my treadmill map set for the starting line in Hopkington, I will run the first few miles at a very slow pace. I will think of this day in the future when I am here, with Jennifer, guides Randy and Mike, friends Kelly and Shariff. I will be on that starting line thinking of one who is running with me, Jay, and one who will be waiting in Boston, Ashley.

We will all get there together. Every left footed step of the way.

9 months to deliver this baby.

What a day it will be.

"Now I will turn the miracle into routine. The amazing will be seen every day."

- Pi, from "The Life of Pi" (Yann Martel)


Saturday, July 7, 2012

Cooper River Bridge Run Mobility Impaired Division - Or Not?

Terry Hamlin, Bridge Run Hall of Famer
On Wednesday, May 30, 2012, I found out yet again the Cooper River Bridge Run (CRBR) had not followed through on their promise - publicized here in Mount Pleasant Magazine and here by runner/news reporter David Quick. - to create a Mobility Impaired Division in the race.

"For the first time in 2012, the Cooper River Bridge Run will feature a Terry Hamlin Mobility Impaired Division."

We had been working toward this for years as readers of this blog are painfully aware. For 2012 there was to have been a division (not a team!), which simply had not come about. There was no division; disabled people could form a "Team" which anyone could do, like "5 Dudes Named Bob" or whatever. But not a separate division like the wheelchair race.

(The CRBR eventually did post the names of the first place finishers in the 2012 race. I am confident knowing how the sign up process was handled as the Mobility Impaired Team, that there was not a conclusive way to know all of the MI participants. I do think they did the best they could and probably did identify the correct "winners" after initially posting incorrect results. This award recognizes only those MI athletes with artificial limbs and is not inclusive of all mobility impaired runners.)

When I contacted the CRBR on Facebook, we were told "There is already a team created entitled "Mobility Impaired". Please register under that team name."

I felt like it was the movie "Groundhog Day" all over again. Frustration and infuriation were mounting. Controlling my anger, I wrote this:

There seems to be such a wide gulf between the able-bodied and disabled at times.

Once you remember we are all human beings and should be treated as such it should be easy. Sure there are differences but that does not make one innately superior to the other. Far from it, you will see things from the other side that most are oblivious to, and by actually listening you may find riches far beyond any *money* can buy.

I say this because once again the Cooper River Bridge Run considered the mobility impaired community to be less than worthy of a division, despite publicity to the contrary. I do take this affront personally, as once able-bodied and now as an amputee. You would think after all the past mistakes of prejudice and discrimination someone would have the intelligence to know better.

Let's hope doing the right thing still means something.

- Richard Blalock
Mobility Impaired Runner, Mt. Pleasant, SC

*******

I wrote many messages, with this one on the Cooper River Bridge Run Facebook page:

The team concept is not what was to be done, that was done in prior years and was a failure. No results were posted and few knew to even sign up for it. A Mobility Impaired Division would be similar to the Wheelchair Division. Check out the Boston Marathon for how they treat the Mobility Impaired Division. They do not give awards since mobility impairments vary (amputees, people with cerebral palsy, etc.) but they are recognized in the results in a separate division. Many progressive races do similar things.
 

(You can read can read about the BAA's (Boston Athletic Association) Mobility Impaired Division here.)

I also obtained specific contact information for the race organizers for someone at Achilles International, having had the great pleasure to speak to founder Dick Traum shortly after my amputation in 2009. Achilles would have the expertise and experience to help with the understanding and details of creating a Mobility Impaired Division.

Someone was driving me forward as I leaned into the wind. The Greatest:

PLEASE do this. We have many in the disabled community who will find a reason to show that, as my friend Jason Pisano proved every day of his life, that "Impossible is Nothing."

(Note: Jay would not be eligible for any MI award currently at the Cooper River Bridge Run. No one other than those with artificial limbs are included for for consideration. Discrimination is discrimination is discrimination. This is terribly wrong.)

*******

Much went on behind the scenes, some I was aware of but some, I suspect, that which I am not currently privy to. It was obvious that action was escalating; late in the afternoon I heard from Terry Hamlin:

MI Division is now set for 2013. Application will be fixed soon.

I went to the Active.com website and sure enough, there in bold print, was Mobility Impaired listed as a separate category. The downloadable paper entry was updated to include it a short time later. For some reason the wheelchair division does not appear on either but I was told it would be added soon. I have to say after the whole "Team" fiasco I would have preferred to see "Mobility Impaired Division" listed but I understand that is exactly what this is to be.

*******
I then wrote this:

This would not have happened without the effort and support of many people. David Quick has allowed the local community to see what we can do, Thomas Terry Hamlin, race co-founder and now amputee runner who made our voices heard, Larry Wiley was instrumental in setting up early meetings, Emily Becker Nolan and paratriathlete/runner husband Jeff Nolan kept the issue alive and kicking, and thanks for the near eternal patience of Jen Starrett Blalock for having to listen to my frustration. Many other friends like Madeleine Hirsch, whose father has MS, and knows what many obstacles the disabled face. It is a small victory that will allow many to find they are, indeed, the magnificent. Thanks one and all who commented and for the Cooper River Bridge Run for finally making this happen. You are going to see many small miracles next year.


*******

Yes, I was very happy this has finally come about. A bit sad it took such a mighty effort to get it done by many, but in the end, it is actions, not words, that matter.

The only element, and a huge one as far as I am concerned, has to do with MI awards; they will be ones for first place Male and Female: "Presented to first runner with artificial limbs." It is my strong opinion any awards would have to be equitable, and for this reason, it is nearly impossible to insure it since the physical challenges in this division are so far ranging. A 50 year old grandmasters runner with moderate to severe cerebral palsy will not be able to compete with a 20 year old former collegiate track champion with a prosthesis. Only very similar disabilities in the same age group would be fair, and our numbers are far too few to make this a realistic scenario.

The impairments and ages simply do not make for a level playing field. Therefore, like Boston, the names and times (and I would add ages) should be listed so those with similar disabilities can see how they did relative to their peers. But giving awards, without regard to disability, age, and gender is unfair in this division. This is not the Olympics where qualification is required to compete; but it is a world class event open to one and all. 

I will continue to make this point, but given the work that had to be done to get the division inaugurated, I hope it too will be modified as I have outlined. I believe the Boston model is best. The prizes being offered at the CRBR is meant to be a nice gesture and the old able-bodied me knows this; but given the inequities of the various disabilities, I believe it unfortunately is simply unfair to the athletes and cruel to those being excluded.

*******

Let us compete as the great, would-have-been mobility impaired runner Glenn Cunningham wrote:

"People can't understand why a man runs. They don't see any sport in it, argue that it lacks the sight-thrill of body contact, the colour of rough conflict. Yet the conflict is there, more raw and challenging than any man versus man competition. In track it is man against himself, the cruelest of all opponents. The other runners are not the real enemies. His adversary lies deep within him, in his ability, with brain and heart, to control and master himself and his emotions."

This gimp at the 2011 Cooper River Bridge Run
I still find it hard to understand why this has to be so damn difficult. What was the purpose in it? Was anything learned?

I learned something. When you know something is right, fight for it to the end. Never quit. Never give in and never give up. Impossible is nothing.

And lastly...do the thing that is right because...karma is patient.

*******

Since the 2013 CRBR is a little over a week before the Boston Marathon - my goal race - I am not sure if I will run it. If I do participate I cannot race it, Boston is too important to me to be racing when I should be in full taper mode. We'll see how the training has been going and whether or not I have any issues that need rest at the point. I have signed up to show my support for all of the mobility impaired athletes, but I have a real problem with this award. It is just wrong to discriminate against my fellow MI brothers and sisters.

In this division that demeans us all, good intentions or not.