The year began like every other year. Winter in North Dakota. A few nice days providing a taste of spring. A new found love of exercise, memories of my mom and the upcoming birth of a grand daughter. The end of December became the beginning of an unexpected journey. As with most stories it begins with a single step.
My mother walked everywhere. Living in a small town about a block from Main Street meant we could walk to work, to school and to the grocery store. The exception, of course, was major shopping requiring a car because the bags were too many to carry.
After supper, Mom would walk around the small town of Gackle. In the winter, she walked around the dining room table in the very-large, two-story house we called home. I am sure it drove my dad crazy. She did it for her health and to maintain a reasonable weight. She would joke about her figure, and I heard many times say, “I was born a size 16.”
These ladies were all shaped the same — like good German-Russian farm girls, even if they didn't live on the farm. But Mom, and her sisters, always dressed to the nines and looking marvelous. Recently, someone sent me a meme that read, "We used to be young and beautiful; but now we are just beautiful." It is the truth.
My brother and I inherited this walking gene and to this day walk as much as possible. I took time out of my work day to walk outdoors and enjoy the sunshine, if only for a short time. My brother walks his dog every day, even in the coldest months.
At the tail end of Covid I took a remote job designing a small newspaper from home. Doing ads, writing columns and laying out a paper was great fun. This job offered me the freedom to walk during the day while waiting on copy or proof readers. I took full advantage of it as a stress reliever. Fresh air and walking works to eliminate headaches and gives me time to write. Its too bad my brain doesn’t work like a recorder, I’ve misplaced a few good thoughts over the years by not carrying a notebook with me.
When I was close to 40 years old, I started running. I loved running. I ran seven miles, six days a week, and took part in many local road races. On my birthday I would run 10 miles just to say I did it. Of course, one day my knee gave me some trouble — and I gave it up physically, but in my mind I wanted to run again. Thinking about running released dopamines that made me feel good.
So, as I neared the time of my life where my days would become my own, I thought to myself, “I should train for a half-marathon.” I had no solid goals, but decided to walk/run every day temperatures rose above 20. Barring the wind, which was so fierce across the empty fields along the gravel road some days I had to turn back. There were days I powered through the wind. As my mother always said to us as rowdy youngsters, "Why don't you go outdoors and let the wind blow the stink off ya."
It wasn't a world record, but I could do two miles in 30-35 minutes, but in my age category making 13 miles would be great. And, if I didn't do a marathan, the exercise was important for keeping my cholesterol in check.
I looked forward to the time of day when I layered up, tied my running shoes and checked the temperature. Afternoon temps rose to the 20s to mid-30s in the middle of December 2022. When it was sunny, perfect for heading down 34th Street. December's sun was so warm, it turned snowbanks in the ditches to rivulets of much-needed moisture. The sun approached the horizon and changed the clouds from pure winter white to oyster hues of pink and blue.
Before I left the house, I walked into the living room and asked JC to walk with me. He said, "not today." So I said, "If I'm not back in an hour, I'm either dead or in jail." For those of you who watch Fargo, you will recognize the quote.
I was looking forward to traveling to South Dakota for the birth of my granddaughter. I cleard my calendar so I could stay for a few days. However, I caught a cold from JC and developed a dry cough. The cough hung around, and thinking it was contagious, I decided to visit my doctor to make sure it was not Covid. I didn't want to pass anything along to the new baby.
It was Dec. 27, and I hadn’t been to see the doctor since my wellness visit on May 6 that year. The doctor, and I, decided to give it some time. Looking back, after visit notes read, “likely a viral respiratory illness. Reassurance as to no significant concerning signs or symptoms and lungs are clear.” She gave me the go ahead to travel and see the baby.
Good news. I felt wonderful. The exercise worked to maintain my summer weight. I looked much better in my clothes and had less headaches.
Driving down the road, I thought, “I feel so healthy.”
Until I wasn’t.