12 years ago, I woke up in a neurotrauma unit in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, after an 8+ plus hour surgery to remove a benign spinal tumor, called a schwannoma. The tumor was diagnosed after a series of falls and sporadic episodes, where at times I was not mechanically able to walk, once being stranded in a field and a couple falls down stairs.
For the last several years, as the founder of Less Cancer, I have spent well over a decade on the phone, driving, sitting at my computer, working on policies, or blogging. However, the headline is that I was sitting a lot.
I had some very significant challenges, having persistent chronic pain and mobility issues for over a decade. Up until a couple of years ago, I kept a cane in the car for when I had problems from sitting too long, and I used it to get out of the car and out of bed.
At times I would work events and would have to leave for just a few moments to lay on the floor and take deep breaths to keep the pain away, returning to the room with a big smile and the next joke. Rarely did I use the cane in public, never with friends or Less Cancer events. However, there were times I needed the cane when running events for jobs I contracted in addition to my work at Less Cancer, as a source of income. Being on my feet for several hours, the pain would frequently be excruciating.
The “Life is Good” shirt in the image is the shirt I wore home when my family picked me up at the hospital 12 years ago. Today, that shirt holds special memories and still occasionally wear it. At the time, the shirt was a shield of sorts, seemingly, empowering me to put on a brave face for my children when they picked me up from the hospital as I was wheeled to the car. As we waited for the car, we grabbed an ice cream on the way out of the hospital in celebration of going home. On the car ride to where we were staying, I could not eat the ice cream fast enough as it melted and dripped down my front. I remember the frustration of staining my new shirt, a reminder to my kids that yes, life is good, but it was now ruined, and they, too, would soon know I was as scared as they were.
For over a decade, I have been inching forward step by step as if peeling an onion I had been chipping away at better health habits, metaphorically, as an air kiss rather than anything committed.
Finally, at age 60, I am addressing the demons of long ago, the lackluster history of a never-successful athlete.
I have questioned myself, attempting to understand what was the highest hurdle: the aches and pains of a tumor surgery or the anxiety of childhood failures and disappointment.
While I am proud of what I have accomplished in the work for Less Cancer, nothing really compares to putting yourself out there both competitively and physically.
I thought it was a great idea to do the Virginia Senior Games, first signing up for the 50m dash then signing on for Tennis.
What was I thinking? Not a clue. But I chipped away at this like it was my job and did so with Virginia performance trainer Chris Fortsen and tennis pro John Dokken.
My events at the Virginia Senior Games occurred this last week with Tennis on Thursday, playing in my division of 60-64 men’s singles and the men’s 55-59 division, for lack of players; however, the ones I played were smokin’ good players, and yes I was crushed. However, losing never felt more like winning. I was the Silver Medalist in my division of men’s singles 60-64. There were only a few in my age range in the division.
Then that following Saturday, I ran at the Virginia Senior Games in the 50m sprint, and despite being dead last at the finish, I was never prouder.
I am a new big of the Virginia Senior Games, now in its 41st year.
When I arrived, I was able to meet both Virginia Senior Games CEO Jim Stutts and Lori Haislip who along with Nancy Turnage, produce the games.
I was curious to know who the oldest competitor was and learned from Lori it was Ruth Thompson who had turned 99 years old in April, she competed in shuffleboard singles and swam in three backstroke swimming events. Including Ruth, there were seven athletes in their 90s.
I was blown away by the bravery of the 891 individual athletes from Virginia and across the country.
For me, the running touched on those inner child’s fears of failure and disappointing one’s teammates, family, or friends.
Last Saturday, I was in the game, and none of those fears surfaced as I found myself running down the track, and upon finishing, I felt the tears of a little Bill well up in gratitude for completing the job that for over 50 years I was too fearful of trying.
Yes, life is good.