Image by Flickr user Peter Mooney

Tiffany’s Take: Let Me Use It

By Tiffany A. Potter

One of the most precious things I have in my home, my sanctuary from the world, is a simple plaque that hangs on the wall. On it I have painted {RUNNING} and below it holds on hooks the medals that I have earned from the half-marathon races that I have completed. I strategically placed my plaque on the wall in a place that I gaze upon multiple times a day.

Never in my life do I want to come to a place where those physical representations of some of my largest adulthood life lessons are not a daily reminder to me of my ability to do what many declare as impossible. I look on them with gratitude, an open heart and a sore back. I honor those medals as sacred, as a personal, intimate relationship between them and me. They are a part of my family, a part of my story and they have given me so much and in return I give them the space in my world whereby I silently acknowledge and honor them daily.

Mile-by-mile each race molded me, challenged me beyond all measure and expected me to rise to meet it. Each step was a conscious decision to not give up and not quit. Each mile was a rededication to the commitment I had made when I registered for the race weeks prior. Each mile made me a better person, a more empathetic person and a wickedly empowered woman. Each race was more than my running outfit, more than which shoes I chose to run in (to a runner the shoes are often treated better than the runner’s spouse) and more than the beer at the finish line.

As I move about the world, my races are like my education, they are a part of me now that no one can ever take away and I carry myself just a little taller because of them. You will never hear me brag about my time (in the running community most runners use their “time,” which is often just the outward representation of their ego, to determine if they did an acceptable job or could do better next time). In a world where so much of our life is rooted in competition with ourselves, and each other, I never wanted my “time” to be the primary variable of a race well run. No, finishing, crossing a finish line that I never believed I could do, was the only benchmark I needed to feel great about the attempt.

For weeks after my first race, I found myself wearing my Finisher jacket everywhere (literally, everywhere) and breaking down in tears in solitude only because I was overwhelmed at, and proud of, the accomplishment that was mine and mine alone.

To date, I have completed four half marathons (13.1 consecutive miles), a triple-crown series and the Nike Women’s half in San Francisco, and have always assumed that the next one is right around the corner. Because of my disability and lack of upper body strength, I am so limited in the realm of physical fitness but running had become my answer to achieving impossible things that would keep me fit, push me to my limits in the best way possible and help me to feel like everyone else.

I could show up like every other runner on the course that day and compete with the best of them. No special accommodations or modifications needed; just me, my shoes and music, and my dogged determination and ambition like everyone else. A moment of normalcy in an otherwise challenging world that I live in. And while I cursed my decision to partake in the race from the day I began training to crossing each finish line, I secretly loved every minute of it.

And now my racing career is over.

In the past few weeks, I have been told by my doctor that every race that I ran, every mile that I logged, coupled with my challenges since birth, created an irreversible effect on my spine whose “age” is now 20+ years older than my chronological age. I have the spine of a 60-year-old that has resulted in chronic, severe pain every minute of every day, and I’m so incredibly bummed.

So I am now forced to transition into a new phase of my life and find my new “thing.” I have no idea where or how to begin and I am struggling with reconciling my new chapter, a chapter that doesn’t include running, but I am determined to do so. I have felt sad at times, pissed off at others and in a daze most of the last few weeks.

“Now what?” my soul whispers to me on and off throughout the day and into my dreams at night. What does this mean for my identity or my waistline? Christ, I don’t want to gain weight (partly because of sheer vanity and partly because more weight equals more stress on my spine). What is my new outlet? What will help me to feel empowered and strong or brilliant and beautiful in the most unconventional of ways (sweaty and gross is not typically our culture’s definition of beauty, but there is nothing more beautiful than a woman pushing herself to her physical and emotional brink with sweat running down her back)?

In this time of uncertainty, I have been meditating on one simple thought, “Let me use it.” You see, my running is just like any one of our life challenges, dear reader. It is not about the running per se, but about the realization that I am being forced to mourn a death of sorts. To honor what was so beautifully brilliant in my life for a time and then learn how to release it with love and gratitude. A hope that I may use my experiences to carry me into my next “thing” that I will love, that will change me for the better, that will help me to be an example for others, and that will require me to become even more of myself.

So let me use it for good, let me use it for empathy, let me use it for understanding, let me use it for sensitivity. If I don’t have a say in the matter and I can’t change your mind then please, dear Universe, may my precious experiences not be wasted. And in those moments of your own uncertain future, my loves, may you find the strength and courage to move forward in the heart space of allowing your own sacred experiences to be of use.

Let me use it…let me use it…let me use it…

*****

Tiffany is an entrepreneur, inspirational speaker and change agent. Find her at www. tiffanystake.com.

  • The Community Alliance is a monthly newspaper that has been published in Fresno, California, since 1996. The purpose of the newspaper is to help build a progressive movement for social and economic justice.

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