Friday, April 1, 2016

Follow Your Dreams

In a week from now I'll be heading up the slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro for an attempt at a speed ascent. I arrived in Nairobi three days ago and after logging a few miles at a slight altitude (between 5 and 8,000 feet), seeing some cool animals, and very unsuccessfully trying to shake off jet lag, I take off for Arusha, Tanzania later today. With this challenge just around the corner, I find myself reflecting on just why I get so excited by adventures such as this. What is it that makes me so excited about something that will hurt so much?

In Run or Die, super endurance athlete (and former record holder for the Mt. Kilimanjaro speed ascent) Kilian Jornet writes, "Winning isn’t about finishing in first place. It isn’t about beating the others. It is about overcoming yourself. Overcoming your body, your limitations, and your fears. Winning means surpassing yourself and turning your dreams into reality."

Limitations...fears...dreams...yes, these are all certainly part of why I love to challenge myself. No
matter if I am competing in a race or simply challenging myself in some cooked-up crazy scheme  like tackling Mt. Kilimanjaro in one day. I absolutely love pushing my body to its limit. And, probably equal to challenging myself, I love the feelings that are born with the blending of my surroundings with my own body, with my own struggles. The visual beauty of trees and sky, the sounds of wind and birds, the scents of flowers and shrubbery (Wow, the wild basil when running through the Ngong hills here in Nairobi was awesome!), and the constant impact of my feet with the earth and my body funneling through the air...this blending of my surroundings with "me" is a feeling that has always drawn me to running. It was like that when I was 5 years old and it's still like that today. I guess it's something like when multiple forces collide...new and refreshed energy emerges. It is this energy that fuels me, keeps me going forward. Not just physically but propelling me forward in life itself with all of its continual challenges.

As someone who has gone through the challenges of osteoporosis, I am constantly thankful that I can do crazy things like this attempt to run up (and down) Mt Kilimanjaro in a day. As people age, activities of daily living (ADLs) can become challenging especially for those who suffer from musculoskeletal disease (such as osteoarthritis and osteoporosis). Increased rates of depression are also part of what can be a spiraling downward cascade of ill-health in the elderly. Now I'm not saying I'm elderly at 61 and I'm not saying that running up Mt. Kilimanjaro is an ADL, but I'm just saying that I'm totally excited that I can still do things like Ironman triathlons and endurance runs and that I continue to follow my dreams. Continuing to engage in physical activity as we age has been shown to not only improve skeletal health but also improve brain function and dramatically reduce depression. So whether you love to exercise or don't even list it as a top 100 things you like to do, I hope that these benefits are enough to get you out there walking, running, lifting weights, or just moving and playing in the mountains.

Everyone has their struggles in life, both physical and emotional, and they will meet those challenges in different ways. But I hope that what ever your dreams are, and no matter how difficult things might seem at times, that you will always live each day and follow all your dreams. Having osteoporosis can certainly impose its own set of unique challenges the likes of which I happen to know a lot about. But whatever your challenge, what ever mountain it is you are trying to climb, don't just dream it...get out there and do it...today. Sometimes all it takes is just one step at a time...and don't give up on your dreams.

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