How Coach Saved Me

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“No pain, no gain!”

“It’s not about who’s fastest. It’s about who wants it more.”

“Winning the race is all in here,” says Coach, placing his hand on my head.

No, he’s not pumping me up for a race. It’s a regular, Monday practice of 16 laps. 16 laps at a grueling pace, with only a few seconds of rest in between.

“Okay, next lap in five, four, three-”

We start jogging to the start line; this way we can start our lap at full speed.

Why do I have to do this again? my head groans. Fatigue, nausea, and pain threaten to overwhelm me, and this lap hasn’t even started yet.

“Two, one, go!”

My legs work their way around the track, matching my partner in crime stride for stride. We round the corner, coming to the back stretch of the track. My mind screams at me, begging me to stop. Just stop running, throw myself into the grass, and let this be over.

No.

I focus my eyes on some trees beyond the track, and use tunnel vision to melt pain into the background.

Pain is the body’s emergency system, alarming you that something is wrong. Well this is training, and nothing is wrong. Instead, pain is a beast you overcome, and the battle forges you into someone strong and unstoppable.

With my victory over pain and some gold medals later, this school of thought develops a double edge sword I am unaware of. Pride is the root of one’s destruction.

Senior year. My times slow down. I gain weight. I’m tired all the time. My stomach hurts all the time. Not for one second do I think something is wrong with my body. No, this new, invisible monster will be defeated, just as I’ve beaten pain all the other times. I only have to be mentally strong enough. How wrong I was…

I do not win a gold medal. I give the silver to the other runner before the race even starts, and I know it. Leaving with a bronze, I never feel more ashamed. I don’t lose. I don’t quit. And today, I did both.

I go to a school where I know have the anti-Coach. Everything my high school coach was- inspirational, positive, a life force to be reckoned with, despite his five foot four height- my college Coach is not. Lean, tall, and incredibly mean. Despite the warnings to his character, I proudly assume I do not need a good coach to be successful in college. I can do this on my own.

The high miles and grueling training schedule give me knee problems. I’m still always exhausted, and I don’t know why. If I can just be stronger, better, and less weak, I can do this. I’m running to the bathroom in between laps. College also brings on a slew of emotional issues, as I realize outside of my small little world back home, I have no idea who I am. Because of this, I cling onto track. Track is the only thing left of my identity.

My knee doesn’t improve. I’m suffering in ways I don’t understand, and tunnel vision doesn’t wipe it away. This invisible monster has found root inside and taken over.

“You can either have surgery, or reduce your training in order to let this heal on its own.”

Somewhere deep inside screams that this is it. This is the out you need. Take it!

Normally I mull over major decisions for days to weeks. I give this only a second’s thought, because I can’t belabor the fact I’m about to do the one thing I never thought I would do- quit.

After giving Coach my resignation, I allow myself to cry on the walk home, but that’s it. I won’t think about track again.

I have to find out who I am on my own now. I don’t know what’s taking over me, but I will defeat it, and it will be on my terms.

Instead of 7+ miles a day, I run 4. I still need the bathroom multiple times during one run. My stomach screams in pain, but onward I go. Nothing will stop me.

On one unfortunate long distance workout, I have an accident. I cry on the walk home, because now I realize I’ve hit a limit. I can’t even do the one thing I know how to do. Can I really not run anymore?

From there it only gets worse. I go the bathroom twenty plus times a day. I visit the Health Center at school, but they test me for parasites and put me on antibiotics. This goes on for months. I hole up in my studio apartment. I’ve gone from living with close friends to living completely alone.

When I go to the bathroom, there’s blood. I can’t go to class. Work sends me home as there is no point in keeping me when I spend all the hours in the toilet. I go to the Health Center over and over, begging them to find out what’s wrong.

My mom calls. She’s spoken to my brother who’s in medical school, and he thinks it’s Crohn’s Disease. What the heck is Crohn’s Disease? She makes an appointment for a specialist, while I do a Google search.

Three things I know after my scan of the Internet:

  1. It’s life long
  2. It’s treatable
  3. People with Crohn’s lead normal, happy lives.

The desire to laugh and cry at once overwhelm me. THIS is the invisible beast I’ve been battling! I have a health condition! So all I need is a pill that I’ll take everyday, and everything will be okay! Now that I know who the enemy is, I can fight this, and soon this will all be over.

Little did I know, the battle had just begun…

It’s not one pill a day, it’s eight. And I don’t get better as soon as I take them. The doctor says it will take up to six months to start seeing improvement. Six months come and go, and I’m not better. I use the bathroom less, but the pain and fatigue still crush me. I thought I could use tunnel vision on this disease and get better right away. The fact I can’t defeat it so easily throws me into an even deeper pit of depression.

My mom suggests we go to a new doctor. He doesn’t play around. He gives me the harder drugs right away. Instead of pills, I have shots. For two years, the shots work. For two years, I get to remember what “normal” feels like. I realize I’m not weak. Everything I had gone through finally made sense. I no longer hated myself for quitting. In fact, learning to let go can sometimes be the smartest choice of all.

Two years comes to an end, and the fatigue creeps back in. This monster works with the upmost stealth, and a bad day turns into a bad week. The next could be better, tricking me into thinking maybe I just had a virus, or was over stressed. Pain comes and goes. I miss my six month check up because of work, as substitutes who speak French aren’t just sitting around waiting to take my place. I work for a private company, not a public school.

At some point I realize it hurts to lift my leg just to put on pants. Any amount of pressure on my lower abdomen leaves me in tears. When kids wrap their arms around my waist, I’m biting back the pain and nausea. While teaching class, I have to excuse myself to throw up in the bathroom.

I tell my boss I have to take a day to see my doctor. I don’t care that there isn’t a sub. They work it out for me, and down to Charleston I go.

The look on my doctor’s face doesn’t bring me any relief. This doesn’t leave me thinking “oh, everything is fine, just need to change around some meds.” Nope. He puts me on steroids, but lets me know surgery is a strong possibility.

I groan. I take the steroids anyway, but I know where I’m headed.

“Don’t worry. It’s a 3 to 4 day hospital stay max, and you’ll be out before you know it.”

As they prep my discharge papers, I’m sunk into delirium, pain turning my world fuzzy and mute.

“Don’t worry,” says some resident doctor. “You’ll be fine. This will be over soon.”

How wrong he was!

I wake up to a tearful husband and parents.

“What happened?”

How do you tell a drugged person they almost died? How do you mention that they now have a bit of intestine protruding from their stomach?

It takes over a week to come back to a state of awareness. I’m fed through a central IV. The tube up my nose drives me mad. My lips are cracked from no water. Leaving my bed requires breaking through a wall of pain. I lose weight at a rapid pace, and I shiver all the time from cold. I want to leave. I want to be home with my family.

“How can I get out of here?” I ask the doctors during their rounds.

“Well, we need to get you eating. And in order to do that your digestive system needs to start working. The best way to kick start your digestive system is to walk as much as possible.”

Bingo! THAT I can do!

It’s just like laps around a track.

Just like that, Coach saves me.

Getting out of bed hurts like hell, but in my mind Coach is yelling at me to get up anyway. “No brain, no pain!”

I get out of bed, and that was the hardest part!

Clutching my IV pole, I make my way down the hall. I reach the end and turn back. I’ll have to work my way up to full laps, but this, I can do.

I put myself on a schedule (well, as best a schedule one can do while in hospital and on heavy painkillers). I keep walking. Soon I’m doing full laps. Finally, after sixteen days, I’m out of there.

And yet, I find myself right back in.

Complication after complication after complication.

I live this nightmare for a full three months. And even after the hospital part is over, the nightmare is not.

I still have to get my strength back.

And I have a dependence on painkillers to break.

But this- beating pain- I can do. I can wrap my mind around it. I know exactly what I’m dealing with now.

I’m told not to stop painkillers cold turkey and am given a step-down program. I quit in half the time allotted.

I get better.

And then I get worse again.

I’m on new medicine, and I have a new doctor. I’m still not in remission. My new anatomy from surgeries makes digestion… complicated, so I stick to low residue foods.

I now know I will always be fighting this pain. I’m always stuck with this disease. But I’m not too proud to admit when my body is failing. And I’m not too weak to fight back. I will never stop fighting.

I have Coach to thank for that.

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