Thursday, March 29, 2012

Be Bold, Be Brave, Be Better

Coach Mary works us through a stretch
Everyone has a story. 
Yes, every human being does have a story, we can't escape it. 

Sometimes our stories and our lives weave together in a way that connects us. Sometimes those interlocking threads form something that changes others around us...but when first we set out, we never know just how.

And sometimes the stories that change us are not told through the original storyteller's voice...they are told by someone who remembers and loves us.

Stories are meant to be shared...
but in the best of situations, these stories promote action and enrich our lives.

The picture above features Mary Eggers
She's a coach and a trainer. She's trained a lot of elite and stealth looking clients. But the athletes stretching in a circle around her are all cancer survivors... teenagers. 
This was taken on the final night of our TLC Fit program (through Teens Living with Cancer).

Mary enriched my life and learned my story almost four years ago because of someone else's story. A young man neither of us will forget named Zach DeRidder. That's how Mary and I met in the first place.
Don't know who Zach is? Well, just run his name through this blog's search engine and you'll see. Through this connection Mary and I traded emails for about 2 years. I followed her blog, maybe she even stumbled upon mine. But two years ago this past spring we finally met in person...because I set out to do the then seemingly impossible- by training for a 5K.

Fitness after cancer is hard. Fitness after a life of chronic illness, misdiagnosis and then two bouts with cancer should have just been buried in my list of 'never gonna get there agains'.
Zach interviewed the day Mary met him
But Zach's belief in me made me believe...and Mary's reassurance prompted me to act. It gave me the confidence to take action. Both of them made me believe I could do something bold...that I too could be brave...and wherever the road took me---somehow I knew that I would be better for it.

I also bought my first pair of true running shoes two years ago. The first pair in my now adult sized 9. Not the kind that you pick out of a bin at TJ Max, the type of footwear that had been sufficient for the non-athletic me. These were the kind that they size you for and you brace and suck in breath as they run your credit card through. I began to run...not long...not hard...not fast. But I began to see why it mattered in my life. Why I felt better, stronger and more confident in all areas. 
In the midst of this, I was working part time for Lauren.

Another connection where a story brought us together. Teens with cancer had long been overlooked by most of the medical community. When Melissa's life was taken by cancer...that void was called to her mother's attention. She decided to do something about it. I learned from the story of Melissa. And so too in time would Mary. Stories are only as inspirational as the people we hear them from. 

Melissa, from all who describe her, had an indomitable spirit. It's written all over the door of a building that teens now walk in and out of on a weekly basis. Melissa's storyteller is her mom, Lauren. I now work for Lauren in the foundation that bears her daughter's name. 

Melissa too was an active person before her cancer, and as her mom active person despite it. It's just the way she chose to live her best life.
In 2010 - October to be precise- by the time I finished that 5K...I thought about how good it would feel to give what I got from Mary to the teens I work with at Teens Living with Cancer. Mary would have to agree. DONE! And It didn't take much to convince Lauren that we should bring Mary on to the retreat I was organizing last spring for our teens.  

Lauren met Mary the day of the retreat...February 5th 2011. As I predicted, Mary arrived in a flurry of energy and bundle of inspiration. She captivated every teen in that room. She gave them a hunger for getting fit. It's her natural and effortless gift. It was the genesis of TLC Fit and from that day on a partnership was formed between two more women. Lauren and Mary. Lauren asked Mary if she would do a longer more comprehensive program if the funds could be found.

A photo shoot with Lauren
What followed has been a program we're proud of...Lauren, Mary, Katie (the U of R researcher) and myself. My good friend Andy signed on as we launched... Testosterone represent...hahaha!

You can see and hear the story of our TLC FIT program...and what Mary taught...but also what she learned in this video link

It might seem convoluted, but Zach's piece of this story is so intertwined in all of this. Bringing people together. Inspiring my belief. Bringing me back to Mary to ask her for help on a mission I might not have had the know-how to try myself. His inspiration sketched the lines that drew us all toward a program. The Zach DeRidder effect, if you will.

As his voice fades from my memory, I just have to remember he made me a different person. 
A better person. But who might he have changed by proxy?

He wanted to be remembered and have a little something that would be left behind. 

He knew what he was doing. Don't let anyone tell you he couldn't seek out hearts that would open and ears that would hear him. I think he sought me out in 2007 because he knew I would do my best to tell his story too. And he grabbed Mary's heart at the Pittsford Triathlon, just four months before I crossed his path. 

Mary meeting Zach's parents at Studio Move in February 2012
Just a dozen weeks apart, each were two very dramatically different times in Zach's life. Mary met the brave and still physically strong athlete- still battling cancer, but with the form and muscular silhouette of a champion. I met the young man frail of body and beaten down hard by an almost unthinkable catastrophy- the betrayal of his body from the cancer that refused to back down. But that frail body rallied and summoned courage far beyond the remarkable triumphs he laid down on each race course that summer before.

That's the courage that our participants drew on over the past 9 weeks of TLC Fit. That's the spirit that they summoned when the exercises seemed too hard, the time devoted seemed too much. They worked steadily and with a lot of heart to produce the action in their life. They are bold. They are brave. They are better.

But it's just the beginning. Just like my first run, my first 5K...first 14,000 foot mountain climb was just a beginning. These teens have something lit inside them. Zach, they are not finished...they're just back on their way.

Oh, and remember Zach's hero?...the one man he would have done anything to meet.
You may have heard of him.
Zach won his signed bike in 2008, sadly dying before he got the chance.

Well, Zach...our Iron Mary is going to race him in the pool so that other teens and young adults can get active again too. Once Armstrong was an underdog. No longer. The race is all in good fun of course...but isn't there something cool about a mom from Henrietta New York beating the most famous athlete in the world? 

Whoever's going to be a win for teens who want to live life fully again with their peers...and learn to do so, not with children, not with adults...with those their age.

I think even you Zach would be okay with Mary beating your hero, right?

You better be there that day---April 28---maybe with Melissa- to push some special magic into Mary's kicking legs. 

1 comment:

Sarah said...

Leah, you are an amazing writer. Keep writing, and telling the amazing stories of the fighters that you meet every day. Thank you for sharing them with us!