Wednesday, August 27, 2008

My Guardian Angels

In late August, 2002, I went to the emergency room about 2AM, suffering from a high fever. This is a potentially dangerous situation for anyone on chemotherapy, and I was admitted to the hospital. By coincidence, I was scheduled for a lung function test later that day with Elizabeth, my pulmonary technician. When Elizabeth happened to see my name on a list of patients admitted, she was concerned and stopped by my room. She gave me a little medallion with an angel on one side and the word “Healing” on the back.

I carried that angel with me for three years. All through the rest of chemo. Back to work. Climbing Tumbledown Mountain a year later. In the Midnight Sun Marathon in 2005 for Team in Training. But in September of 2005, I was going though the security line in the Richmond airport on the way to Montana, and my angel vanished! I had dumped my keys, loose change and the little angel in a typical plastic box that goes through the scanner. When it came out the other side along with my shoes and carry on bag, everything was still in the box except for the angel. I held up the line searching for it, but it was nowhere to be found. A wise friend told me later “Maybe whoever took it needed a guardian angel more than you do now.”

I told this story to my friend and TNT teammate Susan last year, and one day she called me at work and said “Let’s meet for lunch!” We were eating lunch outside by the canal downtown, when she handed me a small bag. Inside was a near perfect replica of my missing angel. She asked “Was the one you had like this one?” I told her that it was nearly identical, and was so touched by her gesture. That angel accompanied me every day, and was with me in the Arizona Marathon this past January.

Then, about two months ago, an envelope from Elizabeth arrived in the mail. Inside there was a beautiful note and a new angel token, a little different from the original, but a new guardian angel all the same. On the back, she had had it engraved with “God bless Art.” So now I have two guardian angels! I carry one or both of them every day, and I will carry both on my next marathon.

How can a guy go wrong with two guardian angels? More importantly, how can a guy go wrong with two fantastic friends like Susan and Elizabeth?

My two angels, Susan’s on the left and Elizabeth’s on the right:

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Do I Need Some New Balance in My Life?

I got a comment on Thursday’s post about how much they like New Balance shoes. That makes two of us! I used their walking shoes for years, but when I decided to train for a marathon, I went with another brand’s running shoe. It just didn’t work out, and I was getting metatarsalgia, a very painful swelling in the metatarsal area of my left foot. I went to a podiatrist, and after an exam and X-rays, he told me to go with a shoe with the widest possible toe box. I went back to look at New Balance and found a shoe that seems to work, and I’ve stuck with it.

Here are my New Balance shoes that I wore in the 2005 Midnight Sun Marathon in Anchorage. Can you see that it was a wet and muddy race? I wanted to bronze these shoes afterwards! :)

Even with the New Balance shoes, what saved my feet was putting in a pair of orthotic inserts which provide support to the arch. This spreads the weight around and takes some of the pressure off the forefoot. Without these inserts, I was still having some issues when I would start going up around 8-10 miles of training. I’ve taken to using the inserts with hiking boots too, because I have the same pain with my left metatarsal region on hikes as well. I think as my feet swell, there is pressure put across the forefoot and the bones compress in on a nerve. It feels like getting an electric shock, especially while hiking a rough trail and the side of my foot presses into a rock.

I started out with a New Balance running shoe, even though I was training to walk the Anchorage Marathon. At the speed and distances we walk, it puts about as much stress on one’s feet as runners get. Now that I also run some of the marathon, it is even more important to have running shoes. These shoes have worked out very well – with athletics, when you find something that works, you tend to stick with it. I go through two pairs, and sometimes three, to train for and do a marathon. The goal is that at marathon time, I’ll be running and walking in shoes with about 100 miles on them, so my marathon shoes always have good life left afterwards and I use them for a while. In fact I am still using my Arizona Marathon pair from January, but they are pretty well shot and should be replaced. I was feeling it on the 12 miler a week ago. Replacement is expensive – we are talking nearly 200 bucks for the shoes and the inserts.

When I get a new pair, I use the old pair for just general use, short walks, that kind of thing. My current old pair is practically junk right now. I don’t even want to guess how many miles are on them! Even though I don’t want to spend the money right now, I think I will have to soon, because I want to gear up my miles – both walking and running. Then my Arizona pair will become my general use pair, and I will have some new New Balance in my life!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Like a Fur Ball in the Night

Because I’ve been staying up late watching the Olympics, and because my legs were a little sore for a few days following Saturday’s 12 miler, I haven’t been walking much in the morning this week, despite the great weather. I got in a mile or so yesterday, plus ran a mile on the treadmill last night.

This morning, at 4:30, I heard one of the most dreaded sounds known to a cat owner – the awful sound a cat makes when puking on something, in this case the sofa. Thanks a bunch, Jasmine!

I cleaned it up, and went back to bed, fruitlessly trying to get another hour and a half of sleep, but sleep wouldn’t come. Finally at 5:30, disgusted that I hadn’t done it sooner, I got up, threw on some clothes and my New Balance shoes, and headed out the door. I figured I had time for about 2.5 miles.

I cruised along at a comfortable 15 minute mile walking pace, enjoying the cool air and the quiet darkness of the neighborhood. Suddenly the idea came to me, like a fur ball in the night – quickly, suddenly, and in a form that would need some cleaning up. The idea was for my opening fundraising approach for this next TNT season.

I’d been trying to come up with a good idea for a couple of weeks or so. This one is not at good as last year's, “Rumors About Art and Team in Training”. But I like it all the same. Maybe I will come up with a better one in the couple of weeks before I start fund-raising, but I may use this one anyway. It really only works this year, and not again until 2012. As I walked along in the dark, I starting coming up with wording in my mind and various themes. I jotted a few quick notes down back at the house, and tonight put a draft together. As a bonus, this idea segued into a good idea for a follow-up message, so now I have drafts for my first two messages. Once I am ready to get started fund-raising, my initial approach is ready to go!

Thanks, Jasmine! Good kitty!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

You Can and You Will

I used Jamal's five words of wisdom to create a little poem that I hope expresses the Team in Training spirit well, or the spirit of anyone who perseveres against difficulties of any type for that matter. Jamal, this one's for you, big guy!

"You Can and You Will"

It’s easy to say
That there’s simply no way
To succeed and you’re at a standstill
But go for it now
And I think that somehow
You’ll find that you can and you will

Someday you might find
That deep in your mind
Comes the thought that you can’t climb that hill
But if you dig deep inside
With all of your pride
Then I tell you, you can and you will

Some people will rant
And shout loudly “You can’t!”
And grave doubt in your mind they’ll instill
Be resolved and take heart
For what sets you apart
Is believing you can and you will

Put your fears on the shelf
And have faith in yourself
If your goals you’re to ever fulfill
With a difficult chore
You can give up or soar
So believe that you can, and you will.

Go and set your goals high
Give things your best try
And don’t listen to nay-sayers shrill
For you never will know
How far you can go
If you don’t say “I can and I will”

Art Ritter
Cancer Survivor
Three Time Marathoner (slow but a marathoner all the same)
Three time TNT fund-raiser
All in my 50's!

August 2008

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Jamal’s Five Words of Wisdom

This is the story of my very first interaction with Team in Training, and how one person’s encouragement and positive attitude helped me to believe I could do something that seemed nearly impossible at first.

I signed up for a Team in Training recruitment meeting in January, 2005. I didn’t know a lot about TNT, other than you would train for an endurance event while raising money to support the mission of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society: to cure blood cancers. As a two year lymphoma survivor, that mission resonated very well with me, and I wanted to fulfill a pledge I had made to myself in 2002. That promise was that I would do something, once healthy again, to help in the fight against cancer, to give something back for what I had so gratefully received.

I sat down at the meeting and started looking over the printed materials about the TNT Spring Season, and the words “Midnight Sun Marathon, Anchorage, Alaska” jumped out at me! Holy cow! I could sign up with TNT and do a marathon or a half marathon in Alaska in just a few months! My eyes got about as big as a grizzly bear’s paw! Then I kept reading: “minimum fund raising goal - $5,000.” My eyes got twice as big, and my heart sank. Five thousand dollars! How in the world could I possibly raise $5,000? I don’t know anyone with that kind of money.

I felt discouraged and apprehensive, but listened keenly to the presentation. There were other choices besides the Land of the Midnight Sun. The Country Music Marathon in Nashville required about $3,200, and the San Diego Marathon needed one to raise at about $3,900 as I recall. But they weren’t Alaska, and even so, both of those numbers were pretty intimidating in their own right.

Sarah from LLS gave a great talk and explained how everything worked, and then she played a short inspirational film about Team in Training. There were shots of people training together, and participating in various events, all upbeat and positive, making a difference! There were discussions with people who were running for those who had endured cancer, and for those who had lost their battle. In particular, these connected with me very well. I was so fortunate to be alive and to be attending this meeting. Near the end of the movie one the participants in the film stated something that has stuck with me all this time. She said “Do it! Do it! You won’t regret it!” “I so want to do this”, I thought, “but how? I can’t raise that kind of money!”

After the film, a big, enthusiastic guy named Jamal got up and introduced himself as a mentor and TNT participant. He looked more like a football player than a marathoner, but he was indeed a Team in Training marathoner. He talked about raising the money, how you just take it one day at a time, come up with a plan, work hard at it, and it happens. People are very generous for a good cause, he said. He talked about his boss donating $1,000 to his TNT campaign! Jamal was one of the most positive and enthusiastic people I have ever heard speak, and his attitude was infectious. But the bar still looked so impossibly high.

Afterwards, the various people from TNT circulated around the room, talking with the potential participants. Jamal came up to me, we introduced ourselves to each other, and he asked me if I had any questions. I said “TNT looks like a great program. I really want to do this! But I don’t see any way that I can raise $5,000.” Jamal looked at me and said just five words, five words that I think I will remember my entire life: “You can and you will!

I still wasn’t convinced, but those five words were the beginning of me believing that I could. I left the meeting and thought about little else for the next couple of days. I wavered back and forth. In the end, it came down to this: I wanted to do this, and if I didn’t, I would always regret not trying. Maybe I would not be successful, but I would never know unless I tried. I didn’t know how I was going to attain such a difficult challenge, but I believed that I could and would reach that goal somehow. I decided that if I was going to put forth all this effort, I was going to go for it all the way! It was going to be for Alaska, and it was going to be the full, not the half, marathon! If I didn’t try this, perhaps I was leaving $5,000 on the table that I could have collected for cancer research. If I tried, truly gave it my best shot but failed, at least I would have tried, and then I would know that is was something I wasn’t that good at. I thought about a quote from Theodore Roosevelt that I really like: “Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat."

I signed up, set my goal at $200 a mile ($5,240) and started marathon training and fund-raising. Within five weeks, I surpassed the $5,000 minimum I needed, the amount that seemed so impossibly daunting at that meeting. I realized that I had set my sights too low and doubled my goal to $10,480, and ended up surpassing that by a little bit as well. And on June 18, 2005, maybe the proudest day of my life, I completed the Mayor’s Midnight Sun Marathon in Anchorage, Alaska. Now I was not just a cancer survivor, but a marathoner as well, plus a successful fundraiser for a great cause!

Jamal’s five little words of wisdom helped to convince me that I could do it. You almost always cannot succeed without positive thinking. I can’t think of anything more positive than to say “I can and I will!”

Monday, August 18, 2008

Y’all Can Stop Now!

To my family – y’all can stop now. Any time. Right now would be nice. I think that we have had enough cancer in the family, and now with this latest one, you have gone over the top. Sure, you get your name on my next purple marathon shirt, but it isn’t worth it. Trust me! Of course I will think of each of you with love on the day of the race, but still, I so wish that none of you had to go on my shirt.

So knock it off, will ya?

Two years ago, I had one family member’s name on my race shirt, my sister-in-law Christine. She is a double cancer survivor, breast and ovarian, at a time when she had a very poor chance of surviving. That was nearly 20 years ago.

Then this past year, I had to add my sister Ann, for breast cancer. That was bad enough. But when my next race comes around in 2009, I will have five names of family members on there! Three of them have come since January of this year! My brother Chris was diagnosed with prostate cancer in February. My step-mother Rhoda was diagnosed with breast cancer in March. And now, two days ago, I learned that my step-father Stuart has terminal lung cancer.

Five names on my next shirt of people living with cancer in my own family, three of them this year. And that doesn’t include the guy wearing the shirt! I think that is quite enough in one family for now. I will be honored to wear your names in my next race, but I sure wish it was for something else.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Requiem in Pacem, Leroy!

After I got home from Team in Training, I was so saddened today to learn of the passing last night of Leroy Sievers from colon cancer. He had given it his all, and blogged about his experience for the past two and a half years with great openness, expressing difficult things so eloquently. The world is a poorer place without this courageous man, and I will miss him despite never meeting him in person. And of course I will miss his blog, on which I made the following comment today:

"I am nearly speechless. Leroy's blog has meant so much to so many of us - lucky survivors like me, people going through treatment, significant others of those with cancer. It is unimaginable that we will no longer read his words each day. We will miss him, and we are fortunate that our lives got to intersect with his for this all too short a time.

Laurie, please accept my sorrowful condolences. I promise you that I will write Leroy's name again on my next Team in Training Marathon shirt.

Rest in peace, brave Leroy, and peace be with you, Laurie."

Twelve Miler with the Fall Team

All week, I really wanted to go out with TNT this weekend. I am not on the team but I am a patient honoree, and enjoy going out on some of the training runs and walks. I am not in marathon shape, having not run since the Komen Breast Cancer 5K in early May, and having walked no more than 6 or 7 miles or so at a time since the Arizona Marathon in January. That is not counting a few longer hikes, of course.

So on Monday and Tuesday, I walked 9 miles, fast, to help prepare and in the process gave myself a decent blister on the ball of each foot. Just to be sure it wouldn’t be easy, on Wednesday I woke up with a backache and could walk only at a pace that an 85 year old would have sneered at. A week before I was bounding, well at least slogging, up mountains in New Hampshire, and on Wednesday a hill in Florida, assuming there is such a thing, would have challenged me. Fortunately, the good Doctor Mark at Guarino Chiropractic gave me an alignment on Wednesday and again last evening. Those combined with frequent icing got me prepared to go to training and got me through it just fine. I am a firm believer in chiropractics and can give you several examples of how it turned extreme pain and near disaster into the ability to move well.

This morning, I got up at 4:45AM – so tough on a Saturday – put moleskin over each blister and headed to Byrd Park to meet the team. They are training for the Virginia Beach Half Marathon in two weeks, and the Nike and Marine Corps marathons in October. It was great to see them again. Coaches Tim, Chuck, and Betty led us in warm-ups and a Team Cheer: “Train – Endure – Achieve – Matter”. Then at about 6:15, we headed out to do 12 miles. Our route was through Richmond’s “Fan District”, crisscrossing back and forth through this interesting area for nearly half a marathon. It was a lot of fun, and I am happy to report that I am not too sore, having taken a wonderful ice water soak when I got home. I guess I am still in at least semi-decent shape after all. My back feels pretty good (Thanks again, Dr. Mark!), and the moleskin helped keep the blisters from getting worse.

Here are some photos from my morning with the Purple People!

Nothing like an early start on a Saturday! What were you doing today at O-Dark Hundred?

In 16 years in Richmond, I’d never seen this statue before, and am not sure I could find it again. But is was pretty cool!

One of the many interesting residential streets in the “Fan”:

Confederate General J.E.B. Stuart guards Monument Avenue:

“Rachel Weeping for her Children”. Holocaust memorial outside the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart. It is difficult not to weep when thinking of the horror of this event, and man’s unspeakable inhumanity at so many times. But the memorial is simple, moving, and beautiful:

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Missing the Purple!

I’m missing the purple! Since January, when I walked / ran the Arizona Marathon, I’ve not had a lot of involvement with Team in Training. I was a "cheerleader" for the Purple People at the Shamrock Marathon in March, and I’ve attended a few practices of the fall team this summer. But that’s been about it.

A few weeks ago, I started wearing my purplish – pink T.E.A.M. (Train – Endure – Achieve – Matter) TNT wristband again. Clearly TNT is on my mind, and wearing the wristband made me feel more connected from a distance.

I’m planning on going to the TNT practice this Saturday. For me it is always like a little homecoming because I see people there that I like a lot but don't often see otherwise. I am not looking forward to the 5:45AM start, which means getting up by about 4:45AM on a Saturday. But it is worth it. Because of many travels and one illness, I have been unavailable for the last five or six weeks to go train with these guys and gals.

I am close to the point of joining back up for my fourth TNT season, fifth if you count the one in winter / spring 2007 where I was a mentor but not a participant. TNT Virginia isn’t doing a winter season this year, or otherwise I would have signed on to the winter team for the Disney Marathon. I was even starting to compose my first fund-raising message specifically for Disney (“I know that this sounds a little Goofy or even Dopey, but I am signing up for my fourth TNT marathon, hardly not a Mickey Mouse accomplishment….”) when I learned that this marathon was not in the Virginia plans.

So instead, I am leaning towards the Country Music Marathon next April in Nashville, Tennessee. The team won’t form up until early November, so I still have several months before being fully engaged. But I do have the option of signing up and starting fund-raising any time I want.

I feel like that time should be soon. I always set my fund-raising goal high, and it takes a lot of work. I need to think about a monetary goal, and then design an approach and campaign to try to reach that goal. I need to think about a creative design for my TNT web page. I need to start thinking about a catchy email to kick-start my campaign, something original that I’ve not used before. Last year, my initial message was “Rumors About Art and Team in Training”. I really liked it, but can’t use the same thing again this time. Hmmm, maybe “More Rumors About Art and Team in Training”? Or maybe more of a presidential campaign theme - “… My name is Art and I approved this message”. That might work. I need to get the creative juices flowing.

I am a little nervous about fund-raising this time around. I keep hearing about how tough it is with $4.00 gasoline, crashing stock markets, falling home prices, and people’s perceptions that the economy is not good. But all I can do is my best. People will give generously to a good cause, and curing cancer is a pretty darn good one. Each time I do this, I learn a little more about what works and what doesn’t. I am no longer the “deer in the headlights” fund-raising rookie that I was in 2005! People I know have always been extremely generous.

We never know what we can accomplish until we set a goal and try to reach it. There is a quote from Michelangelo that I really like and it applies to Team in Training very well: “The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.”

This is so true! Until we set our goal to do a marathon, how will we know if we can do it or not? If we don’t try to raise $10,000 for a good cause, how will we know whether it is possible? I intend on finding out, again, what is possible and what is not – starting soon!