Day 57: I Am My Mother’s Legs

Today I started training for a 10km run. Just typing those words makes me shake my head in despair. What on earth am I thinking? I can barely run errands, let alone be able to run 10kms in three months’ time (that’s about 6.2 miles in Americanese). I must be mad.

Actually that’s a lie. I’m not mad and I know exactly what I’m thinking. This is the MS Fun Run, a charity event held to raise money for people living with Multiple Sclerosis. I can direct you to any number of helpful websites  – such as MS Australia – for way more information about MS than I can give you.

What I know is that my mother doesn’t remember what it feels like to run.

For some reason that fact just scares the hell out of me. My mother was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in her mid-20s. She then went on to have and raise two kids. My entire life I have borne witness to her living with and dealing with the disease. Seen her mobility become more and more limited, and more and more supplemented by mobility aids; you know that’s how I delineate the stages of degeneration in my head, by what she’s using to get around: first a walking stick, then two sticks, then a walking frame, then a wheelchair just for outings, and now a motorised wheelchair for all the time. I’ve seen the daily struggle to manage something as simple as digesting food and drink without the benefit of a fully functioning bladder and bowel. I see the marks all around the walls and door frames left by errant wheelchair steering, I see the objects dropped on the floors of every room…the constant and maddening consequences of the loss of motor skills. And now I see her fighting a daily battle to simply keep seeing out of her own eyes.

She can’t really feel much below the waist. She doesn’t have much sensation on the surface of her hands and fingers. She can’t see much of anything out of one eye, and the other one isn’t much better. She now needs assistance to transfer in and out of the wheelchair. Even standing on her own two feet is a distant memory. There are any number of symptoms of varying severity that I could name. But I will never, ever forget the day that my mother told me that she couldn’t remember what it was like to run. My mother was an active, sporty young woman with a shelf full of tennis trophies. I inherited my sportiness from her. And all of that…that entire part of life, just got snatched away from her unceremoniously. Never to be felt, never to be experienced again.

I think I often think about that because it’s something that I always take for granted. Running. Urgh. I hate running. I really do. It’s one of those little contradictions that pepper all of our lives, because I am a gigantic lover of sport and a chronic participator in sport. I will run the length and breadth of any sporting field in the process of playing any number of football codes. But if you ask me to run a lap around the same oval, I start hyperventilating. There’s some sort of psychological circuit-breaker going on in my head that shuts down my body’s capacity to handle running anywhere unless there is a ball of some kind involved. I just don’t like running for running’s sake. I try to avoid it as much as possible, and to be honest my aversion to doing cardio is one of the main reasons why I’ve never been able to get serious about improving my fitness to a level I’d be happy with. Put simply, I cbf running.

…and then I remember that my mother doesn’t even remember what it feels like to run. And I feel like an asshole. It’s one thing I really wish I didn’t take for granted as much as I do, the ability to just move however I want. Last year I broke my leg and was out of commission for a while. I felt incredibly hamstrung and frustrated, even though I knew I’d recover in a matter of months, and even though I knew that I generally hate running when I am perfectly able to. The minute it was taken away from me, even temporarily, I began to appreciate it.

I need to appreciate it a lot more. I can walk outside and just run. Anywhere, for as long as I please. Some people would kill to be able to do that. I know my mother would. So I will run. By May 31st I will be a running machine, and then on that day I’m going to go to Homebush and smash 10kms. For my mother, and for people just like her. Because I can, and because someone’s got to. I am her legs.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that I am fundraising for my MS Fun Run, and donations can be made by clicking this link.

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