At 8:10 Monday and Wednesday mornings, the treadmill at the Y – in the second row from the window and third one down from the end – is mine. Before I start my work out, I grab a disinfectant wipe and give the treadmill a sponge bath. I watch others do the same after they work out, and I see their cleaning is not as thorough as mine. Some of them barely run the cloth over the hand rests in front and on the side. They are the ones who barely come into physical contact with the machine.
That’s not me. By the end of 45 minutes or 5k, whichever I can last through, I’m clamoring onto the side rails of the treadmill. If I kick the speed up to do a forty second “run,” I feel the sweat pouring. Certainly, some of it is splashing onto the machine. I symmetrically wipe the sweat from my brow with the back of my hand. If I wipe one eyebrow and not the other, I have basically wiped one penciled eyebrow completely off my face.
Playing basketball in high school, I had a similar issue only with baby blue eyeshadow. I remember a girl who played forward pointing at me and laughing. I hadn’t a clue why until after practice I saw one of my eyelids was baby blue and the other was not. Her baby blue eyeshadow never smudged, for she never seemed to sweat. The complex has stayed with me reminding me to either wipe above or below the brow. And in the event I think I wiped one eyebrow pencil marking completely off, I try to do it evenly. I’m OCD when it comes to sweat and my eyebrows.
I play solitaire when I’m walking on the machine. So the same sweaty mitts that are wiping my brow move the cards on the treadmill’s screen. With all this hands-on activity during my walk, I give the treadmill another good sponge bath when I’m done.
With 45 minutes of walking to nowhere, I do a bit of people watching as the usual crowd shuffles in. Same woman always reads. Same woman always walks. Same man always breathes in a heavy rhythm as he runs. Even if I can’t see him, I know he’s somewhere in the gym by his breathing. I note the defibrillators on the wall and am confident someone other than me has the know-how to use them should the need arise. Same two women run side by side and are able to talk non-stop. Mid-way through my walk, two gentlemen come in and find neighboring treadmills. There is a generation between them: one must be in his 80s and the other in his late 60s. The elder of the two approaches his treadmill, hangs his cane on the side rail, and gets the machine in motion. No muscle-clad person in this entire place awes me as much as this gentleman. What do I want to be when I grow up? The 80-year-old who hangs my cane on the treadmill before I walk on that belt to nowhere.
Twice in my life, I shook the hand of Captain James Lovell. The first time was just over a decade ago, and I didn’t know he was going to be at the restaurant where we were celebrating a friend’s 40th birthday. Captain Lovell’s son owned the restaurant in a Chicago suburb, and it was filled with space memorabilia. The second time, I called his personal assistant to schedule a lunch with Captain Lovell so that my 6-year-old space enthusiast Will could meet him. Captain Lovell was the commander of Apollo 13, a failed mission to the moon with an end mission of safely returning the three astronauts onboard back to earth. They succeeded by zipping around the dark side of the moon and using the moon’s gravity to catapult them back to earth. Both times, I greeted him like a star-struck teen. What does one say to someone like Captain James Lovell?
Simmering feelings of the same amazement strike me at the Y when this older gentleman prepares to board the treadmill next to me. I want to say something, but “Holy cow! You’re amazing!” doesn’t seem right. “You are my hero!” also seems a bit trite. Finally, one day we acknowledge one another with a nod, a smile, and a “good morning.” The greeting didn’t convey all the words that were bubbling in my head, but it didn’t need to. I’ll take the quiet strength of heart this man gives me as a kind of mentoring for my potential cane-bearing future.
Inspiring skiers give me the same kind of goosebumps. In Utah, we skied all day then watched the Olympics at night. The triumphs of Shaun, Chloe, and Lindsey gave me energy and inspiration to take a sore body back to the slopes the next morning. Some stretches and a little Advil was my prep each morning.
The second day in Utah, Will and Liam took day-long ski lessons. Bill and I met them around 3:00 p.m. at the ski-school base camp. With the lifts closing at 4:00, we watched many ski instructors returning with their students. From tiny three-year-olds with two-foot-long skis and no fear to stiff adults who appeared to be trying to control the slick boards by curling their toes into their skis.
Then, seated skiers – paraplegic skiers, returning confidently skiing alongside the crowds. They were led by paraplegic instructors as well as instructors on traditional skis. Some of these skiers were harnessed to the instructor who was skiing behind them, and some were on their own. No safety net. Comfortable in their ski gear, a seat on a ski and a ski fit on the end of poles held in either hand.
In the distance, a group of four skiers with yellow signs on their fronts made their way down the hill. As they got closer, I could read the sign of the person skiing in the middle of the group “Blind Skier.” That skier was accompanied by an instructor and one person in front and one in the rear with matching signs: “Volunteer: Blind Skier.” My gaze followed them as they skied past me in the same direction as the seated skiers. The back of the instructor’s jacket read “Park City - Ability Center.”
These latter groups of skiers left me in quiet wonder. Whatever the catalyst had been for their disability, it was in the past. They had moved through the dark, burning moments of a life-changing event or perhaps challenges that they were born with. My brain churns to find words to explain the inspiration and the peacefulness I felt watching these skiers. Fortitude in overcoming physical challenges and motivated by their physical abilities. From past chaos to present calm, a state of admirable grace.