Book Review of Heart of Iron: My Journey from Transplant Patient to Ironman Triathlete by Kyle Garlett

heartI started reading this book expecting an inspirational story wrapped in the context of training for triathlons and, if I’m being honest, I got much more than expected. Kyle Garlett is a cancer survivor. His story details his first discovery of lymphoma as a high school student and the prolonged battle that followed. In spite of his battle with reoccurring cancer, Garlett managed to get a college degree and build a career for himself in sports television. I was over a hundred pages in when I realized there had been no mention of triathlons – instead, I found myself engaged in Garlett’s battle. I found myself rooting for him and stunned by the battle he fought. This story will certainly impress upon you the battle that cancer represents and you will learn to appreciate those who have fought that battle.

Garlett’s battle eventually led to a heart transplant. The treatment he received for cancer destroyed his own heart and necessitated a new one. Not only did Garlett fight that battle, he recovered. And yes, his story does eventually lead to competing in triathlons. His spirit to not only survive, but thrive, is one we can all learn from.

I highly recommend this book.

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Book Review of “The Long Run: A New York City Firefighter’s Triumphant Comeback from Crash Victim to Elite Athlete” by Matt Long

longrunI start off every year with the resolution to offer a mini review of every book I read in the upcoming year and, year after year, I fall short of that goal. Part of the problem is I read quite a bit, often juggling several books at a time, and often ditching a book as soon as I realize it’s not worth completing. If I fall behind a week or two in my reviews, it’s near impossible to catch back up. Recently, however, I finished Matt Long’s book The Long Run: A New York City Firefighter’s Triumphant Comeback from Crash Victim to Elite Athlete and felt the need to recommend it. Besides having the longest subtitle in literary history, Long’s book details one of the most heroic recoveries from severe injury imaginable.

Long is a firefighter who, among other things, responded to the tragedy that was 9/11. Though he would deny it, he is a hero. Being a hero is just part of who the guy is. The long-distance runner and triathlete has spent his career serving others. In 2005, however, it was Long who needed help. While cycling to work during a nasty transit strike, Long was literally ran over by a bus. In response to the transit strike, the bus was hired by a private company to haul employees into work. Apparently, the driver was unfamiliar with New York City streets – the end result was tragic.

I won’t detail Long’s injuries or recovery because you would be better off reading it in his own words. Suffice it to say, however, that his recovery involved dozens of surgeries and years of physical therapy. This guy’s story is incredible. Once I started the book I was unable to put it down and I have been unable to get it our of my mind since. His story is a testimony to the human spirit and is inspiring on every level.

Long didn’t just recover, rather, he once again became an endurance athlete. The man who had once qualified for the Boston Marathon and had his eyes set on a personal best in the Kona Ironman Triathlon in Hawaii had to learn how to walk again before he could run, but he did it.

I’m not an endurance athlete. Yes I run a little and yes I cycle a little, but my battle is more a fight against diabetes and excess weight than it is trying to set a personal best in a triathlon. Long routinely ran 20+ miles before his injury while my best so far is 5. But when I’m running and my legs are telling me I should quit, I can’t help by think of Matt Long. Even though no one would have blamed him, Long never quit. Despite excruciating pain, he keeps putting one foot in front of the other. His example inspires me to take one more step when I don’t feel like it. For that, I am grateful.

Disclaimer: Long describes his injuries and recovery in graphic detail. If you have a weak stomach, don’t say I didn’t warn you. 

Running as an Act of Worship

tumblr_nw5s63GsbW1uskctzo1_1280On my morning run today I tried something different. Instead of listening to worship music I opted for a podcast. My reasoning seemed solid, I could get in my run and listen to one of my favorite podcasts that I never seem to have time for – two birds, one stone. Listening to the podcast during my run was a success time-wise, and I even managed to clock one of my better paces, but I found I missed my normal routine.

Typically, my runs begin with prayer. I reflect back on the prior day and have a talk with God about both the good and the bad. I ask Him to forgive my transgressions and then run through my daily prayers. I then crank up the praise music and celebrate with God the blessings of being able to run. Currently, I’m on a Tobymac kick (it’s a kick that’s lasted about three months); his music is both fast-paced and packed with praise. Occasionally, much to the chagrin of my fellow runners, I even catch myself singing out loud. I’m positive the city is working up an ordinance to address my lack of vocal skills.

The point is that my entire run becomes about God rather than about me. I may look like a solitary runner, but the truth is God is right there with me. My run is then transformed from simple exercise into an act of worship. Because of this, my runs are among the high points of my week.

And I missed that worship this morning. 

So with my apologies to Albert Mohler and his The Briefing podcast, it’s back to worship tomorrow.

 

 

Running, God, and Type 2 Diabetes

“Even to your old age I will be the same, And even to your graying years I will bear you! I have done it, and I will carry you; And I will bear you and I will deliver you” Isaiah 46:4. 

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Waiting for the Doctor

In October of 2014, I was diagnosed with raging out of control type 2 diabetes and put on metformin, cholesterol pills, and a second blood pressure pill (I was already on one). At that time I was also warned I would probably have to go on insulin sooner rather than later. Getting diagnosed with diabetes is in some ways a death sentence because once you’re diabetic you are always diabetic. There’s no curing it … only controlling it. Diabetes is a significant challenge. It doesn’t kill you directly, but it does make it easier for everything else to kill you. Diabetes complicates any other condition you might have and shortens your life span significantly. Over and over I’ve watched friends get diagnosed with diabetes and fail to respond accordingly. They either don’t take it seriously or don’t have the will to make necessary lifestyle changes. Many are content taking two or three types of meds and living with it. However, diabetes is a progressive disease – it tends to gets worse as you get older even if you’re doing all the right things – and failing to acknowledge it is certainly the wrong move.

So I determined I was going to respond differently. At first I just began cutting back on my food intake. Smaller portions and less sugar. The weight started coming off slowly. When spring of this year hit, I added walking to my program. At, first, walking just 15 minutes was a challenge. I eventually worked my way up to walking three miles. Then I wondered if I could run three miles. So I began the Couch to 5k running program and slowly began adding little spurts of running to my walking. You think running 20 seconds is easy? It wasn’t for me. It was hard. Really hard. At the same time I began tracking my food. I did Weight Watchers for a couple of months and began taking my diet more seriously.

A year later I’m still tracking my diet and my running has increased significantly – My longest run so far is four miles and my goal is to run a 10k (a little over 6 miles). I’m still slow, but I get out there and do my best. My weight is down over 100 pounds and I still have about 30 pounds to lose. But yesterday, my doctor took me off all my blood pressure and diabetes medicines. I’m still diabetic, but for now my diabetes is considered diet-controlled. Over the next three months I have to watch my diet and exercise carefully, because my body’s response to being taken off the meds will determine if I have to go back on them. It’s sort of my trial period.

But here’s my message to diabetics. You don’t have to be content with your diagnosis. You can fight back. At my heaviest weight I was 368 pounds and every time I run I praise God that I’m able to because somewhere out there is a 300+ pound man or woman who has a hard time simply getting out of bed. There are diabetics out there that would kill for a chance to be able to run or walk just once, but the disease has progressed so far they are unable to. I’ve enjoyed a little bit of success over diabetes not because I’m special or have amazing will-power, but rather because I am blessed. God has allowed me the opportunity to fight back ever so slightly. So I praise Him for it.

If you’re diabetic, you owe it to yourself to fight back however you can – watch your diet, walk, run, bike … whatever you’re able to do. Do it for yourself. Do it for the guy or gal that wishes they could be doing it. Do it as a way to honor God Almighty who gives you breath.

The next three months are going to be a challenge for me. I don’t have the cushion of medication to help me lower my blood sugar which means my diet will have to be cleaner than ever … plus, I’m worried about how the winter months will impact my running. But I am determined to honor God as best as I can. Regardless of how it goes, God has blessed me tremendously and He is worthy of my praise!

New to Running? Here's What I've Learned

y-3ryjiqlgu-jacob-millerI’ve been running for about three months now. Since I started I’ve been reading books, magazine articles, and blog posts targeted for beginning runners voraciously. Through that reading, and through experience, I have learned a few things …. here’s my list of takeaways so far … offered humbly to others who may be toying with the idea of taking up running.

  • Before you run, you should walk. I walked regularly for a couple of months before I ran my first step. I walked because running scared me and I hadn’t lost enough weight yet to feel comfortable going faster. Turns out, walking was one of the best things I could do. I built up a base of mileage, strengthened my legs and heart, and developed a routine of hitting the walking/running path. If you have never run before, you should start off walking.
  •  Add to your miles slowly. Increase your miles no more than 10% per week. This may seem like slow progress to you, but it is the safest way to progress. Your heart will adjust to running long before you ligaments, tendons, and muscles will. If you increase too much too soon, you are at a greater risk for injury.
  • It’s okay to go slow. In fact, it’s probably preferred if you’re in this for the long haul. Go slow, take plenty of walking breaks, and don’t worry about speed if you’re new to running. Again, ignoring this advice puts you at risk of an injury that will end your running hobby before it gets off the ground.
  • Be consistent. Running will help you lose weight. Running will improve your health. But not if you only do it once every other month. For the last three months I’ve aimed for three runs a week. I’m just about to move to four.
  • Rest intentionally. You’re not a slacker if you take a rest day between runs. You’re smart. Running can be hard on your body so take the time to recover.
  • Don’t worry about how silly you look. None of the other runners care. Nine times out of ten you will get a friendly wave and a smile when they pass you. Those who ignore are probably afraid you think they look stupid.
  • Drink pretty of fluids. Dehydration sucks.
  • Buy good shoes, running shorts, and a shirt. A good set of running clothes is far superior to a cotton tee shirt, sweatpants, and your lawn-mowing shoes.

And most importantly …

  • Have fun, relax, and praise God you are able to get outside and exercise. Plenty of people out there wish they could walk, run, and exercise. No matter how slow you are or how stupid you think you look – you are blessed.