MY STORY: by jodi stilp
I have always been a tomboy. My poor mom would send me to school all prim and proper and I’d emerge hours later a bedraggled mess – socks around my ankles, hair in tangles, uniform askew. I tried to be a lady. Really I did. But being the recess tetherball champion carried more clout than being ladylike and my mom resigned herself to mending holey tights and slapping band-aids on perpetually skinned knees.
I was exposed to team sports in 7th grade and athletics became my passion. I was no super star, but quickly realized that discipline and consistent hard work result in improvement. Quitting was never an option. I took pride in being part of a team, sharing both the pain of defeat and the glory of victory. It was as an athlete that I felt the beauty of encouragement, embraced the spirit of competition, and learned the power of endurance… pushing myself harder and faster. It was empowering.
Being an athlete became a large piece of my identity and played a significant role in my life through high school, college, and early adulthood. I met my husband, Curt, on the softball field. We got engaged on roller blades. I wore white tennis shoes under my fancy wedding dress.
(Curt and I when we first met)
When Curt started graduate school, we learned to run together. Those after-dinner hours running the Lake Michigan neighborhood around our apartment were the only concentrated time we had together during the week. Curt, true to his personality, methodically added milage over time. I ran in fits and starts. Some days I felt like I could run forever and I’d run fast and furious. Other days, it was all I could do to make it out of the parking lot without feeling like I might keel over and die.
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Our flirtation with running didn’t last. Curt graduated and we fell headfirst into babies. They came in rapid-fire succession (1-2-3-4) and my life consisted of diapers, nursing, trips to the park and years of interrupted sleep. I tried to get back into some form of regular exercise but motivation was as hard to come by as sleep. When our youngest daughter was 15 months, I had an epiphany. I still thought of myself as an athlete but in reality I was an exhausted, overweight, out-of-shape mom who got winded walking up the stairs.
(all of us 4 years ago)
Curt and I determined to reclaim our health. A gym membership didn’t fit our budget, but we could afford to buy new running shoes and start pounding the pavement again. We set a goal that was attainable with our life stage and committed to run two mornings a week and once on the weekend.
In the beginning, it was miserable. The first morning when I looked at the twenty degree temp on the thermometer, I almost scrapped the whole plan. Thankfully, my husband wouldn’t let me quit and forced me out of my nice warm bed and out the door. I was painfully slow and my endurance was shot. But I was running. Slowly but surely the weeks ticked by, the pounds melted off and my self-esteem soared. The athlete in me resurrected and on those days when I felt like I could run forever I dreamed of what it would be like to run a marathon. But who in their right mind can run 26.2 miles?
Four months after we started running, we attended a family reunion centered around a weekend of races. Curt and I had toyed with the idea of running the 10K (6.2 miles) but we had only worked up to three miles in our training. Doubling the distance seemed ridiculously far and slightly stupid. Two nights before the 10K, my aunt pulled me aside and said, “Your uncle and I know you can run the half-marathon tomorrow. You can do whatever you set your mind to. We want to pay for your entry fee and we’ll be there to celebrate with you when you cross the finish line.”
(after the half-marathon in Sunriver)
I stared at her in disbelief. A 10K was a major stretch for me and she wanted me to run 13.1 miles? I wasn’t even sure I’d packed my running shoes. I was convinced she was crazy, but her confidence in me was infectious. If she thought I could do it, then maybe, just maybe I really could.
Sleep evaded me all night. As dawn broke, I kissed Curt and our four kiddos goodbye and started the long walk to the athlete’s village. My hands trembled as I timidly paid my registration fee. What on earth was I doing? This was pure insanity.
The gun went off and my anxiety melted away as I let the reality of what I was doing soak in. I was running a half-marathon! At each mile marker, I threw myself a little party, no pity involved. When I hit the halfway point, I decided that unless I got hurt, I would run every step. No walking for this athlete. Mile by mile, one foot in front of the other, all the way to the finish line where my family waited. They screamed their heads off as I crossed the finish line weeping. I will never forget that day.
Finishing that race upright and alive gave me the confidence to pursue my dream of running an entire marathon. Three months later I hesitantly took my place at the starting line of what ended up being the hottest marathon in Chicago’s history. Temps topped out at 88°F with heat indexes soaring into the high 90’s. Athletes collapsed by the hundreds causing race officials to do the unthinkable – shut a race down with thousands of runners still on the course. Runners who hadn’t reached the halfway point were diverted to the start and finish area, while those on the second half of the course were advised to drop out, walk or board cooling buses. I was ahead of the buses so my family continued the pursuit to the finish with me, chasing me around the marathon course and providing encouragement to finish what I started when quitting seemed like the only sane option. Stumbling across the finish line of that race was fantastic!
(Curt and I after the Chicago Marathon)
It’s been four years since Curt and I sat down at our kitchen table and committed ourselves to fitness. In those four years, I’ve learned yoga, pilates, strength training, cross training, and cycling. I had knee surgery and couldn’t run for six months so I took swimming lessons. In my first lesson I discovered a paralyzing fear of being under the water. For the next year I forced myself into the pool twice a week. When the panic would attack fast and furious, I chanted over and over, “God did not give me a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” (II Timothy 1:7) For good measure I’d add, “Just keep swimming.” By the grace of God (and a lot of help from Curt), I finished my first triathlon last summer and lived to tell about it.
(Curt and I at my first triathlon)
What’s your story? Have you buried your inner athlete? Are you ready to dust her off, tie on some new running shoes, and get out there?
Does reading this get your palms sweaty, your heart racing and your pulse pounding? Are you thinking, “Maybe, just maybe I could do that too…” Let me assure you, YOU CAN. You can do whatever you set your mind to. Remember, “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”
Won’t you join me, Diane, and the women of Solid Rock at Hillsboro Stadium on June 11th and write your own story to fitness? I’m excited to walk this journey with you and I’ll be there to celebrate with you at the finish line.
Check back tomorrow for details on how to get started. I can’t wait to see you on race day!
Persevering with You,