Just the other day, while looking for a picture on Google Images, I astonishingly came across a photo of my old friend Susan. While it is true that we have lost close touch over the years, she taught me a few lessons I will forever carry in my heart.
The picture shows Susan wearing a T-shirt with a race number pinned across the front. She was wearing her thick, tortoise-shell glasses and a baseball cap. She had just finished a half-marathon, I think, and she looked as fresh as if she had strolled across the street for an ice cream cone. Except that Susan didn’t have an ice cream cone eater’s body! She was tall, thin and angular, with muscular legs, arms and shoulders. Susan was a triathlete before it was popular to be a triathlete, especially a female triathlete. She was also a winning triathlete, and whether she competed in all three events (running, cycling and swimming) or just chose one, she always finished among the top contenders.
Most of the other competitors never noticed, but there was a good reason why Susan wore her glasses and a baseball cap. She was going blind. Susan was born with a heart problem and, in those days, the pediatricians flooded the bassinets with oxygen to assist in respiration. What they didn’t know was that the high amount of oxygen destroyed vision. No one was to blame; they just lacked the correct knowledge. By the time Susan was 10, she was reduced to peripheral vision. She wore the baseball cap to fend off branches. She would sometimes run or cycle with friends and sometimes alone. The biggest problems her friends had was keeping up with her. As her performances improved, she out-ran, out-cycled and out-swam most everyone.
When I met Susan, she was just starting to supplement her glasses and hat with a white cane. I remember her telling me that it was inevitable. She consulted the best ophthalmologists in the world. They bought her a little time, but the lights started to dim slowly.
I need to digress with good purpose. Susan was also blessed with a wonderful mind. She loved human performance, physical therapy and exercise physiology. In fact, through tutors, a huge group of readers, professors and physicians, Susan would earn her Master’s and Ph.D. in exercise physiology and kinesiology. Even as her vision dimmed, she worked with athletes and private clients alike to realign their broken bodies and joints and to improve their performances.
Ironically, Susan began to have hip and leg problems herself (as is not unusual for many elite athletes), and she had no choice but to discontinue her competition. She never complained about her lack of sight, and she never complained about her injuries. She was thankful for what she had and for having had the ability to compete. She accepted a new path and new opportunities to excel.
Live Your Own Destiny
In my book Making a Difference, I make an observation that is important to restate here: “We can make choices that will provide us with the opportunity to enjoy the ride and afford all that was meant for us.”
Let me please repeat one phrase: We can make choices. Susan chose to tackle her challenges. Susan chose not to be a victim. Susan chose to live her life to the fullest. When I last heard, Susan was traveling and speaking on exercise physiology all over the world. She was invited to numerous conferences and scientific seminars. When she could no longer “see” an injury, she could move the injury and feel the injury. When her eyesight failed completely, she was researching, writing and producing scientific papers and book chapters. She chose not to give in or yell at God or curse her darkness, but to enjoy the ride that is still her life to this day.
What about you, my friend? Are you about to give up on something? Will you abandon your passion because you feel too old or too defeated? At the moment you think of giving up, think of the reason why you held on so long. Have you prematurely dashed a dream because you have convinced yourself that dreams are for other people? Dreams always come a size too big so we can grow into them. You can’t have a million-dollar dream with a minimum-wage work ethic. Never give up on yourself or tell yourself, “I don’t have the right.” You have value; you have a purpose and a mission in this life. Your future will only be scary when you try to avoid it. Blind, and with arthritic hips, Susan helped change the way trainers and physicians view people with injuries. Many people believe in her, just like I believe in you. Be the game changer!