I will be doing the Times Colonist 10K in less than 13 hours. I have the official number and everything.I was going to say in less than 30 hours but I couldn’t finish this blog yesterday because I got too ill to continue.
I will be at that starting line tomorrow. I am also terrified. I am terrified because I don’t know even in my heart if this is just going to be a slow and somewhat prolonged way to die, starting in the race and finishing several hours after the end of the race. That idea was suggested to me by one who observes my health closely. Linda thinks it is a bad decision. That it is a decision which could kill me. Many have written that it is a bad decision, or a crazy one. And I don’t know some nights when I am grey and shaking in pain if I can do it, if I can bear the pain that long, or survive it. I say to Linda, "I don't know if I should do that race." I have been too ill to do any of the planned preparation or training.
Last year, I didn’t know if I could do a 10K either. I had never done a 10K in a wheelchair. I had just returned from Japan with a health condition which didn't allow me to sweat and seemed to give me energy at times but other times not so much. But I had wheeled a lot for 18 days and though I have never gone more than the 5K race I did in the Autumn before I thought, “Why not?”
Why not see what is possible? Yes, there was some concern about dying, or more probable, going to the hospital. But a year ago I wasn’t being revived to breath every night or too weak to move my own body several times a day, as I am now. I remember the feeling I had then and while I was ill and sick, now a year later, I am now trying to do THAT level of ‘sick’ which is between 5 times and 10 times the level of energy I have. I am trying every day and waking moement to work as hard as I can to keep up to that level. I am driven to do it. And it is KILLING ME, shortening what time I have to live. So I have to learn to lie very still. Doing a 10K is not lying very still.
During last year, each 10K race I did became slower and harder. I dropped boxing exercise entirely and did badminton until I had to drop badminton, shortly after Linda conspired to make sure I did NOT attempt a half marathon in the late autumn/Winter. So I haven’t exercised in 2009, beyond going to Sakura-con, and going to the framing shop last week which caused a great deal of pain for several days and that was 2 km in total.
The other thing in that unlike last year when I know I had a terminal disease, now I know that I, Elizabeth McClung will die. It is only that my condition is so rare that no one knows what can keep me alive or for how long. I am on a train which has no stops, no other passengers. I will never get to show people how great I am as a teacher at university, I will not have a row of my published books, I will not be able to ‘grow’ in any ways that people in society see as important (money, stature, position, self-assurance). I will not be able to right all the mistakes I made in life. No. The only question is “How long?” And listening to the description my grandmother death and her last week, it is so similar to what I live every day that it haunts my mind. Is that how close it is now? That because I did not wait for death, it is waiting for me?
So is this rebellion. Am I doing this 10K because for most of the rest of my life, if I WANT to have a life longer than a week or two, I will have a life sort of like this: a lonely party for the plushies, since Linda is at work and there are no visitors. I sleep every few hours, and I try to keep calm. But if I do this 10K, I can be, for about an hour, this instead: the old ‘I’ll do it my way’, Elizabeth, who shows up and confounds expectations? I sure WANT to be the kick-ass Elizabeth but no, that’s not why.
I am doing this because a girl’s gotta fly.And even if that girl is damaged, or hooked up to lung and other life sustaining devices. Even if that girl is scary for people to look at.
I am doing this because even I fail, I will have succeeded.
When I race, I race alone; each push, each pull, each inch will cost me in pain, and I want to show every human that one person, one woman, did not lie down when society expected her to disappear (‘oh so sad’). That for every twit along the course saying, “You’re so inspirational” there will be at least one tear of pain as I try to go up the hills (they are bitching steep hills). And they will say I am inspirational but inspired to do WHAT? Because what I do, I do alone. And if that means I flip the chair and am too weak to continue, then that is what it means.
I have a multitude of possibilities in front of me, but the one absolute way to failure, is to not even try. To never go down to that starting gate. The BC wheelchair sports doesn’t want me in this race, as they keep putting odd obstacles in front of me. See, I am not a spinal cord injuries and is a RACE. Races are about people who have trained or able bodied people or people in racing wheelchairs who have trained with an condition that is consistent and stable.
There is a classification for those who have degenerative conditions called ‘the Others’ but no one ever shows up. I have not been able to get a classification in over two years of asking. So I go with the partial quad classification I have, when the one classifier told me, “Don’t tell them you aren’t an SCI, or they will come up with a reason not to classify you.” I was going to wear a t-shirt stating, “Lack of nerve signals IS a spinal cord injury!” But I am not doing this for them, I am doing this for me, for Sharon, for Jane, for Collette, for Victor, for Dawn, for Yanub, for Tammy, for Fridawrites, for Lene, for Wendryn and for anyone who comes here, able bodied, impaired, degenerative, terminal or otherwise. For every person who has been chained in the mind or body and challenged it. Racing, challenges and goals are personal. BC wheelchair sports & the organizers & society forgot that.
I don’t really want my name recorded in the list of who races. I just want them to know that there was a woman who had autonomic failure, dramatic nerve function damage, who couldn’t sweat and who was ill in bed the day before and came out to RACE anyway. Because that is what participation is about right?
Participation isn’t supposed to be about the most elite, or those who try to be the most elite, it is supposed to be about including people. I have believed in inclusive sports and I have believe in inclusive goals and trying. I have learned that painting, that gardening, that getting out of bed so many times a week can all be ways to challenge ourselves just as much as rock climbing, dance or yes, doing a 10K. Last year Collette did FAR, FAR longer for Cancer, raising $2,000. That makes me smile. And later this year (if alive) I will be out, in my racing wheelchair or if I am too weak in my POWER wheelchair doing the Terry Fox 5K/10K. Because I am NOT a survivor.
I WILL die, and it may be tomorrow, and if it is not tomorrow, it will likely be soon. Yet, I have no intention, no matter how terrified I am to die tomorrow, to give up even one hour of one day. Because every day I live is MY day, no matter the pain I suffer.
And if someone out there who has accepted themselves into a bed and a room hears or reads that a woman sort of like them, went out and did something, something they would NEVER consider doing. And by reading that they are NOT suicidal but they might decide to go out 25 feet from their room and look at the flowers, then I did it right. Because that person is now part of society, they are included, they are participating.
I am scared. Before medical operations, even though they say that very few people die I still get terror while waiting, and before they put me out. And when my partner and my own mind are saying that I have a decent chance, maybe greater than 50% chance of dying a few hours after the race....yeah, that is vomit level of terrifying.
I am racing tomorrow not for me. Because if I finish….I won’t know how I did it except for that like in the grand tradition of Canadian military I am too stupid to know the word “retreat.” If I do 1 km, I have done one kilometer and I have tried. I did the race, I just didn’t finish. If I do five km, the same thing. What I am trying to do is demonstrate that the greatest limitation we face is ourselves and the box that we and society build in our minds, in my mind. This is going to be, I believe, my last chance to do this race: The Times Colonist 10K 2009. I have no envisioned future beyond tomorrow midday. I simply don’t know if I will be in such condition I will be taken to hospital, or if I will go home and have a fever spike and die there, or if I will just suffer in pain. I can't imagine a future.
Oh GOD will I suffer. I hope that the people won’t be able to see the muscles as they rip, and curl up under the skin. I will suffer as I race, and I will suffer later, as my body goes into shock or when my body loses control and I go into a fever while my body is overwhelmed with so many injuries. But it is my suffering.
I have always believed that choices should be made regardless of the consequences. That if something is right, then it is right and good. I believe that simply by showing up, by going through the start line, I am telling the organizers of the Times Colonist and every single person who watches the early start of the wheelchairs that I and thousands like me exist in this city alone. That I am going to participate, because I, like every person with an impairment is part of society. I am saying that if you are overweight or undertrained or smoke or whatever it is that keeps you back mentally, you CAN, with some training still do a 5K walk for cancer if you want because participation is about representing ALL people, all those at risk, all those who are affected (but you will PAY for it!). I am part of society, you are part of society, all of us.
Whatever it is you have said to yourself that you would do if only……. I will sacrifice my body to prove to you once and for all that if you believe, if you try, there is no ‘if only…’. There is only whether you show up to start. What happens after that, happens.
That is my twisted version of hope. And that is how I fly. I am chained, but I fly. Yes, I am in pain, constantly, so much that one person has changed their mind: they believe I will not die, that I will rather simply be in more pain than most humans can contemplate. I hope she is right.
Whether it is 25 steps, whether it is getting out of bed, whether it is standing up for your rights; you can fly, you just need to try.
21 hours ago