Today’s blog on We Run and Ride relates to author Christopher Cudworth’s book The Right Kind of Pride, an inspiration book about his wife’s 8 year journey through ovarian cancer survivorship and the character, caregiving and community that supported them. The book is featured in the December 4th Kane County Chronicle and can also be ordered at Amazon.com. You can also follow the author’s blog at therightkindofpride.com. Today’s blog is not an excerpt but documents the role that running and riding played in their early and lifelong relationship.
Just over a year out of college I met my late wife Linda Cudworth. She was 22 and I was 23, For the next three years she lived the life of a devoted runner’s girlfriend through training and racing that included sponsorship from a running store called Running Unlimited.
She joined me by bike on 20 mile runs, carrying a bottle of water tucked into the bike cage for hydration. We traveled to early morning races in cities around the Midwest. She watched me win and lose, and we formed our relationship around these early efforts to prove myself in her eyes.
For the next 28 years of marriage she never argued too much with my running. I’d race now and then and complain I was not as fit as I once was. But she also knew how much I’d trained to get that fit back then. Usually when I griped she said little more than, “You did your best.” She knew me well enough to let it be at that.
Quirks and needs
The quirks and needs of distance running and cycling often amused her. When preparing for races “back in the day” I was hyper-cautious about protecting my legs from fatigue. That meant no standing around at parties the night before lest my legs feel weary or worn out the next morning. She called it Golden Leg Syndrome and loved to tease me about it.
Years later when I took up cycling more seriously she thought it was funny that our team cycling gear was called a kit. “Are you going to wear your kit?” she’d tease. But I liked the way it looked and ignored her teasing. She ribbed me as well about shaving my legs for cycling. Lady Legs she called them. The whole culture of cycling seemed silly to her. Yet we’d watch the Tour together and invariably she’d pick out the pro team kits she liked and did not like. Astana’s aqua suits made her queasy. One year Katusha’s team kits had a red patch in back. “Baboon butts,” she called them.
Over the years as my running mellowed, she recognized that it still offered certain benefits in our relationship. It was a good way for me to work off stress and come home calmer and more prepared to deal with life’s challenges. Certainly it helped me wick off the stress of caregiving during 8 years of treatment ovarian cancer. More than once through many surgeries and treatments I snuck out of the hospital to go an early morning run in the streets after sleeping most of the night on a cot or foldout couch. At those moments running felt like home. It had a familiar rhythm and constituted a conversation with the self in which the heart taps out its needs.
Running through grief
During her last years of life there were many moments when I’d pull to a stop while riding and sit there on my bike at a stoplight. And cry. I didn’t want to come home and show her that I was either sad or scared. The path of grief in that way can be long and lonesome. Yet she also took up cycling the best she could. There were tears in her eyes because she had no eyelashes, and her feet were numb from neuropathy. Yet she gave it a go. Nothing fast, but it was fun.
Being so close to her every day, I had a big headstart on processing grief compared everyone else in her life. Her children and mother and sister and friends were always there when needed, but Linda had a determined habit of showing a positive, cheerful and brave face in her day to day demeanor. “I’m not sick,” she’d always say.
Most of the time people hardly knew she was dealing with cancer. Even the hospital nurses marveled at her resilience. In that sense she was an athlete of her own. So it was my job to accompany her on that long run of living with cancer. Like most journeys, it had its ups and downs, just like a real road. You climb and descend. You ride into the wind, and with it. You shed some tears and sweat along the way. You keep moving because you must.
On her passing the sobs of my heart turned to aching confessions to God that evolved into thanks and gratitude for her life, well-lived. I was proud of her. We did our best together.
But just as youth vanishes with time and you come to grips with the runner or cyclist you are now versus the athlete you once were, time demands a new comprehension. You move into a new dimension. Life becomes a parallel journey.
That new reality can be confusing to some, and should you share that new dimension with someone who is not quite ready to receive it, there are definite challenges. We all travel at different paces during life, as slow or fast as we need. We move at the pace that our minds and bodies will allow.
It is so true that people tend to see you in the context they know you best, and rightly so.They also see themselves in the context that enables them to cope with life as as best they can. These are all legitimate and important journeys.
Linda and I once sat out on the patio on a calm summer night and mused what it really meant to go to heaven. “What age would you be?” she asked incredulously. We both came to agree that our spirit should it find a place in what we call heaven would be recognizable in some form we cannot possibly now imagine.
Think about it. Mountain climbers and marathoners may take the same path, but the reality is that no two participants travels precisely the same. One false step can be trouble. Sometimes we have to stop and just breathe. Breathe. To believe.
Yet these ventures can be parallel as well. You look over at that person striving or struggling and go, “Oh look, they’re just like me.” We take inspiration and hopefully, we give it at times.
For those traveling the parallel path, it feels like traveling down a road on a bike when a horse or dog starts running along beside you. It is both thrilling and disorienting. You feel kinship with this other creature, but cannot know its intentions. That is why so many ancient peoples identified with spirit animals. We yearn for company but sometimes do not know what it really means. The symbolism is important however. In this life we are all spirit animals.
Fortunately among fellow human beings we have the ability to communicate that kinship. We find companionship with those who run and ride with us. We don’t always have to know why they are there of how they are encountering the moment, through suffering or joy. We are on parallel journeys and sometimes that is all we really can know.
Where paths intersect there is community, and where there is community, there is hope. Sometimes those parallel journeys result in real companionship, a journey shared. Each one of our lives has these dimensions, and we cannot always predict what will be revealed. It is up to us to be aware. To stay aware. To be alive. And to take inspiration from those that have gone before, and those we grow to love in the now.