In my last blog about Medtronic Global Heroes, I wrote about meeting the engineers who designed my nerve stimulator. The other part of the experience that was, well, magical, was meeting the other 24 Global Heroes.
I’m not sure what I expected of the program prior to flying to Minneapolis, but I know for sure I did not anticipate connecting so fiercely with the other runners. It is astounding to me that after three days, our bond is so strong that they feel like family. When I see pictures and videos of them, I sense a familiarity in their faces that I only feel with other friends after I know them for years or decades.
On the surface, we all have medical conditions. And we all continue to run with the help of medical technology.
But our connection is so much deeper than that: the other runners know what it is to struggle with a depleting, chronic medical condition. They know what it is to be in pain, to be fatigued, to sometimes spend hundreds of days in a hospital. They know how demanding an illness can be and how it sometimes requires constant maintenance and attention. They know how hard it can be to get off the couch and go for a run, how impossible it sometimes feels.
Most importantly, the other Global Heroes understand why continuing to run with our medical conditions is so life-affirming, so healing.
In the words of one of the other runners, we are all over-comers.
To be honest, I didn’t expect to meet 24 strangers and like ALL of them so much. Here’s the thing about them: they are all ambitious, genuine, empathetic, mentally tough, and positive to the max.
They set goals and reject limitations, they are authentic in their connection with others, they care deeply about their friends and family, they don’t let set-backs stop them, and they are so excited and happy to be doing life.
I’m sure that when Medtronic read our applications, our essays and recommendation letters, they searched for runners with those characteristics as well as they could without meeting us. But I also think the fact that all of the other Heroes share those attributes is a testament to what it takes to overcome and thrive after a major life crisis. Maybe these are the traits that make someone resilient and able to achieve despite incredible hardships.
It’s an honor to know the other Global Heroes, and they motivate me every day. During the times when I am too focused on my headache, I feel negative and drained, or I feel like skipping a run, I think of them. I think if they can do it, I can too. Every day I strive to be more like them.
The kinship I have with my Global Heroes family is the greatest gift Medtronic could have given me. They inspire me, and I hope they inspire you, too.
You can meet the other heroes here.
Several weeks have passed since I participated in the Twin Cities Marathon as a Medtronic Global Hero. I haven’t been able to write about it until now because the experience was so unexpected, so overwhelming, that I think I’ve needed time to process its deep meaning in my life.
First, a bit about the program: Every year Medtronic selects 25 people from all around the world who have chronic medical conditions but are able to run because of medical technology. Some are diabetic who have insulin pumps, many suffer heart conditions and have artificial valves are pacemakers. A few have nerve stimulators to treat chronic pain, like me. Medtronic then pays for those runners and a loved one to travel to Minnesota, meet the other Global Heroes, and run the Twin Cities Marathon.
But really, the program is so much more than that.
On our first full day in Minneapolis, (and after lavishing us with heaps of Global Heroes swag like apparel, water bottles, hats, a backpack, and more!) Medtronic gave us a tour of one of their main facilities. I was able to meet a few of the engineers who designed my peripheral nerve stimulator. In other words, the people who changed my life by plucking me up from the track I was on, a life of inactivity and inability to function, and set me back down on this new track in which I have opportunities and ability to fulfill my ambitions.
I often write about how ultra-running and mountain climbing lessen my physical pain and help me cope with what is left, but my nerve stimulator was the change that made it possible for me to be active again in the first place. Before my nerve stimulator, even going for a walk would aggravate my headache. I could never have become an athlete again without it.
Listening to the engineers talk about the challenges they have in designing internal medical hardware, I have an entirely different appreciation for the amazing technology inside my body.
Just as one example: I never before considered how much thought and innovation needed to be put into the type of coating around the outside of the device in order for my body to accept it. And that’s just one aspect, of thousands, of my stimulator.
In 2007, I went in for surgery without ever having seen the device and came out having never met its designers. This was an opportunity to learn about the beginnings of my stimulator’s life cycle. The Global Heroes program removed the distance between the engineers and us patients and our loved ones, allowing us to come together to celebrate how much their medical technology has helped us achieve more fulfilling (or in many cases, much longer) lives.
As I wrote about my disappointing Mt Evans Ascent the other day, I grappled with the grief I still sometimes feel surrounding my chronic pain. I realized that one of the most difficult aspects of a chronic medical condition is its on-going nature. Duh, right?
The problem is that the losses accumulate. When I was 21, my chronic pain meant that I was discharged from the military and could no longer be a pilot. Then it took me five extra years to finish my undergrad. The pain has affected my relationships, too, including my 8-year marriage. I ended my last full-time job in part because I could no longer cope with both its demands and my pain.
Etc. Etc. Etc.
So when I experience another loss, albeit trivial – this time the disappointing finish of a race up Mt. Evans – it can re-ignite that heap of accumulating grief.
I project the loss forward too. I worry about my August race up Pikes Peak. And then my September ultra in Montana. I worry about my professional goals and whether I will be able to meet them. I worry that the next time I have a brunch date with a friend my pain will keep me from connecting with her. I worry, and I worry, and I worry.
All that anxiety can’t be good for my headache, can it?
I suppose the only thing I can do – the only thing that any of us with a chronic medical condition can do – is, as they say, focus on the moment. Right now, I’m disappointed I couldn’t run up Mt. Evans in my goal time, in the time I know I’m capable. The trick is allowing myself to feel that loss without inviting the past, more-consequential grief to once again overtake me, and without catastrophizing my future goals either.
I’ll let you know when I master this type of mindfulness.