From Couch Potato to Half Marathon Finisher In Less Than a Year

It’s my belief that every person in this world can make a difference. That’s EVERYONE, not just celebrities, or the physically fit among us, or the wealthy, or the brilliant. We all have something to contribute from our own unique blend of talents, interests, and personal qualities, that will make this world a better place. If you can do just one thing well, there is someone who needs you. The secret is to find the place where you can do the greatest good for the most people. In my life as a person who is totally blind, my greatest challenge has never been getting the help I need, but rather, finding a way to give the help that is needed. I could see things that needed doing, and yet I couldn’t do them. Then there came a day when I decided I did not want to hear another word from myself about what I could not do. I chose to find the things I could do and seek out ways to help from there. It was simply a matter of focusing on the countless blessings in my life, rather than the one or two obstacles. My journey to a half marathon began by saying, “I can’t fix all the worlds’ problems, but I can make a difference for one person, or maybe several.” It was amazing to discover that all it takes to change the world is giving what you have to give, with a joyous spirit and an open heart.
You may remember Melinda Doolittle, from American Idol season 6. You know . . . she placed third but should have won. I belong to a group called Melinda’s Backups. We are her most dedicated fans, but we’re more than a fan club. We seek to help the charities that are closest to Melinda’s heart.
On April 25th, 2009, I participated in the Country Music Marathon in Nashville Tennessee. As a member of Melinda’s Backups, I walked 13.1 miles in the half marathon to raise money for an organization called Malaria No More (MNM). Over a million children die unnecessarily from malaria each year, and Malaria No More’s mission is to eradicate this disease. Just ten dollars can save the lives of three to five children; it provides one bed net which covers and protects them while they sleep, so that they cannot be bitten by mosquitoes that carry malaria. MNM also seeks to develop and distribute life-saving medications to malaria victims, and to provide pesticides which will exterminate the mosquitoes that carry this deadly disease. With Jenn and Donna, two of the most selfless friends anyone could ask for, acting as my guides, I finished the half marathon, and Melinda’s Backups raised over thirteen thousand dollars for Malaria No More!! Another of my friends, Shari, had some questions for me about my preparation for the marathon.
1. What made you first decide that you wanted to be involved in the marathon this year?
I was in chat with Gale, on the evening of May 19, 2008. She was telling me how much fun everybody had at the marathon, and she said, “Would you consider walking next year?” I probably hadn’t walked more than a mile at any given time since 1996, so my reaction was an incredibly long set of hysterically-laughing smiley face emojis. But then I thought, the worst that could happen if I attempted to train for it is that I’d end up in better shape. At that time, I didn’t believe I would ever really finish a half marathon. I just meant to train, and see how far I could go. I didn’t truly believe I could finish the half, until January.
2. Can you speak about your own personal journey to prepare for the marathon? What does it involve?
I started training on May 27th, 2008. Before I could even begin thinking of a half marathon, I had to get myself to the most basic level of fitness. I hadn’t been active in twelve or thirteen years, my weight was an issue, so I spent the summer just getting into shape. I walked on a treadmill, did water aerobics, and spent time in the pool just treading water to build up endurance. The first day I trained, I could only walk for 15 minutes, 3/4 of a mile. I walked five days a week, slowly building up my time and distance. The weekends were when I’d try and take the longest walks. By the end of the summer I could walk 5 miles in 90 minutes. I’ve continued the training, increased my walking speed, and recently added strength training to my routine. 3. How has training for this race impacted your life?
I have shocked an awful lot of people! When I tell someone who has known me for a long time that I’m traning for a half marathon, I usually get a stunned silence, followed by something like, “Of everything I expected you to ever say to me, that was nowhere on my list.” My friends and family have told me they’re impressed and inspired, but that it’s the very last thing they’d ever imagine me doing.
An unexpected side effect of training for the half has been the rebuilding of my self-confidence in other areas of my life. I’m doing things I’ve never done. At the end of the summer, I got on a plane and flew to Nashville to meet many of the backups and Melinda. I’m afraid to fly, I don’t trust people easily, and entrusting myself to the care of strangers in an unfamiliar big city was not even in the realm of possibility four months earlier. I’m still amazed that I did it, but it turned out to be the best three days of my life, so I’m glad I took the chance.
4. Have there been any obstacles or challenges you’ve had to overcome in your preparation for the marathon
Aside from the physical demands of preparing for the half, there are some logistical issues and emotional challenges.
1. Lack of transportation is my biggest challenge, in getting myself to the things I need for training, since I live in a tiny town. (gym, sporting goods store, grocery store, etc.)
2. I can’t walk outdoors, because if I did so, I’d have to focus solely on mobility, which would mean I couldn’t walk fast enough to train. I walk on a treadmill instead.
3. One of the biggest obstacles for me is just the learning of new exercises. As a sighted person, if you want to begin a new fitness regimen, motivation may be your biggest challenge, but it’s fairly simple to watch a video or look at a pictured demonstration of how to properly perform the exercises. But if you have to be taught hands-on, it can be harder to learn. For instance, if someone tells you to move your arms a certain way, they may not have thought to tell you how to hold the rest of your body, or to do or not do something with your shoulders that could make all the difference for the effectiveness of the exercise. In an arena where proper form is essential, not only for the benefit of the exercise but for your own safety, this is one of the most daunting aspects of training for me.
There are specific steps you can take to physically prepare your body for a marathon, and you can work around logistical difficulties. It’s a bit harder to prepare your inner self. I have a friend who refers to the deeply held insecurities that each person struggles with throughout his or her life as “Achilles heels.” I think that describes perfectly, those things which can cause you to give up, in spite of the fact that you may have all the strengths necessary to accomplish a challenge. In order to participate in this marathon, I had to face all of my “Achilles heels.”
My three big emotional challenges were rebuilding my self-confidence, changing my self-concept from that of a blind and very overweight person into that of an athlete, and “fitting in or keeping up” with a sighted group in a “sighted” activity. As a blind child, I was painfully aware that I wasn’t as fast as the other kids, I wasn’t as graceful, I wasn’t even in the same league of athleticism with them. The kids were sweet, helping me to play their games, but if you’re observant, you just come to realize that they’re slowing down for you, in order to help you be a part of things. The biggest obstacle I’ve had to overcome in training for the half is just facing down the idea that I won’t be an equal on the marathon course, or that I will inadvertently take the fun out of the marathon for those who are so concerned with helping me that they can’t enjoy it as much for themselves. This is the biggest reason that I’ve not participated in things in the past, my fear of unnecessarily burdening someone. It’s hard to say what specific steps I’ve taken to overcome these challenges. I can only say that I’m doing so, and that it wouldn’t be possible without the support of my friends.
5. How important has the support of your fellow Backups been as you train for the race? What types of support have they provided you? The support of my friends has been the one constant, and essential, thing for me in training. This is the most incredibly compassionate, accepting, and optimistic group of people I’ve ever known. They give me strength, they make me laugh, they awe and inspire me with the ways in which they’ve overcome their own challenges, and so many of them have provided encouragement and moral support, each in his or her own unique way.
6. How has becoming involved with this charity impacted you? Has it had a personal effect on you?
I’ve been blind since shortly after birth. But I had light perception and some perception of movement and shadows. I lost that vision unexpectedly when I was 22, some sleep-related side effects from that left me unable to work, and for a long time afterwords, I felt that it wouldn’t be possible for me to make a difference in the world. My involvement with Malaria No More has caused me to realize that there are ways I can make a difference for others, and that even though I may not be able to do all that I want to do, my focus should be on the things I can do.
Each of us is blessed in our circumstances, no matter how difficult they may be. In this country, we rarely lack for the basic necessities of food, clean water, shelter, or adequate medical care, and if we do need help, there are people to call, places to go, ways to receive it. Other countries are not so fortunate. In some African villages, the best that a mother can do is comfort a dying child who’s been stricken with malaria. I can’t think of much that would be worse for a parent than having no way to prevent known dangers to your child, or being powerless to stop the ravages of a deadly disease upon a life so precious to you that you’d gladly give your own to protect it. There’s no hope of a cure, no help to call for, unless those of us who are so richly blessed are willing to reach out with our bounty, to help the ones who have no way of helping themselves.
7. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
You are never too old to completely change your life for the better! You are never so out of shape that you can’t get back in.
Difficult circumstances are never so hopeless for you that God can’t make a way around them, where you saw only a wall of impossibilities. Every person is unique, each one put here for his or her own purpose, each one equipped with his or her own gifts to share with the world and challenges to overcome in order to do so.
If you are breathing, then you are needed by someone. There is something for you to do that is yet undone. That’s what I’ve learned in training for this half marathon.

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Author: Jena

Hi there. Thanks for stopping by. I am a small-town Southern writer, book hoarder, technology enthusiast, unashamed cat lady, and huge fan of the Outlander series. I have a degree in Psychology from the University of Texas at Tyler. I love nothing more than to paint pictures with words, and to make people happy, and if I can do both at the same time, all the better. Gratitude, simple joys, and optimism are the cornerstones of my life philosophy. I am totally blind, and I have non 24 sleep disorder, and temporal lobe epilepsy. These health issues make for some interesting times, but adversity has taught me wisdom I never would have learned otherwise. I hope you will enjoy my writing, and I thank you for taking the time to read it.

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