Saturday, September 22, 2012

Without Limits

I am eager to post reflections about the exciting week I’m having, but I’m still in the swirl of it all.  On my way to a transgender conference in Atlanta, I just had a training run with Joan Benoit, and I volunteered with Mainers United for Marriage.  Good thing I’m unemployed.  Anyway, the following is a brief reflection on a fantastic book I just finished.  I hope you appreciate it. 

Without Limits

“To my amazement…the limits that I thought I could see in the distance dissolved as I approached them.” are some of the final words from Chrissie Wellington’s inspiring autobiography.  

I didn’t know who Chrissie Wellington was until two months ago and now I am a huge fan.   In the build up to the London Olympics I “followed” several athletes, especially the distance runners.  I was enticed by a tweet by Shalane Flanagan, an US Olympic marathoner. She mentioned reading Chrissie’s book, and that she had a “major girl crush”.  How could I resist?  Amazon couldn’t get me the book fast enough.  It was published only in England, so I had to wait a few extra days.  In the meantime I read up and researched who Chrissie Wellington was and why was she so crush worthy.

Chrissie Wellington is a four-time Ironman world champion, and has gone 13 for 13 in Ironman events.  Setting numerous world records along the way, this ordinary girl from England is a great tri-athlete.  Her times are approaching the top men and her best marathon split is 2:52.  That’s after a 2.4-mile swim and 114 miles on her bike; all in the unforgiving Hawaiian heat.  Okay, she sounds hot.  I’m not going to ruin the book for you, so I hope you read it.  For me, Chrissie’s story has given me renewed strength and optimism, not just about training and running competitively, which it does very well, but also confronting fears I have about living as a trans-woman. 

Two years ago I sat on the beach with one of my closest friends of twenty years, yet someone whom I never confided my gender identity with; he may have had his suspicions.  Hiding behind my tears, I informed him that the marriage of two of his friends was ending. Very candidly and without flinching, he replied, “So now you can live as a woman.”  I answered, “You’re right.”

A few days after that emotional conversation I found myself alone for the first time in my entire life. I grew up in a full house with nine people: six brothers and sisters, and two loving parents.  Weekends, vacations, and summers were filled with friends, cousins, aunts and uncles.  In college and there after, there were always multiple roommates and eventually I moved in with my eventual wife.  We were together for seventeen years until that summer.  So when I say I was alone, this was completely foreign territory. It was now up to me to come to terms with my identity; I was going it alone. Newfound freedom was enlightening, but also depressing. I was fortunate to have the sweetest dog in the world and a gratifying job.  I turned to running more seriously; finding comfort in training while grasping for some sense of control of my life; but there was something more.

That fall after running the Portland half marathon for the second year in a row, and feeling inspired by the experience, I registered to run the Las Vegas Marathon in December.  Why not, I’m a showgirl at heart.  I trained as best I knew how for the next few months and the race was here before I knew it.  I traveled the 3,000 miles to Nevada, and while the race had 30,000 other runners, I didn’t know a soul.  This was for me. 

The location and event were surreal. The marathon, as you might expect was demanding. I remember approaching the finish and being greeted by a crowd of thousands, cheering on the runners and Bret Michaels serenading us with a rock concert.  I summoned any remaining strength and completed the 26.2 mile journey with a short burst, 4:04; then collapsed.  A blanket was gently wrapped around my shoulders and I was helped to my feet by one of the volunteers.  I gingerly made my way to an open spot and rested my weary legs for a moment among the recent survivors.  Wrapped in foil and nursing a bottle of water, my emotions flowed freely.  Sitting bewildered in a puddle, I leaned against the temporary wire fence on the warm asphalt in the parking lot at the Mirage Casino and thought to my self, what did I just do? From that moment on I started believing in myself, finding an inner strength I didn’t know I had.  The limits I once saw as barriers are now evaporating, like tears in the desert.