Few musings from my run this weekend. Sorry for the length and stream of consciousness and more to say, but for now, this will do.
Running is my opportunity to analyze everything that’s been on my mind or worried me for days, weeks, months, and depending on the length of the run, years 😂.
It’s my time to mediate and I absolutely love the constant sound of my feet hitting the ground. There’s something so comforting and special in that simple sound. It’s constant, expected and craved. It’s where I know I can go to in my mind - where I’ve memorized the sights, sounds and smells of certain trails or areas I’ve run. They’ve imprinted themselves on me and have become part of me.
This weekend, I was fortunate enough to finish a 100 mile race at Hennepin State Park in Illinois. It was my first 100 mile race where I traveled outside of Florida, the first one I would run without a pacer, and one where I chose to not “attach” myself with any others running out there. I would talk to other runners, but after a few miles of small talk, I wanted my own space again. This alone time is so freeing to me.
Free. Free from the restraints we put on ourselves, judgments, free from a schedule, meetings, mind pollution, appointments, driving, outside distractions, conversations you don’t want to have or conversations you want to have, free from expectations, free from your mind going in a million different directions at once. Free.
Not free from the beautiful trees standing tall and proud, silence, the leaves ready to fall and rebirth after a long winter, or the sound of the river running to join forces elsewhere, the sun enjoying a night of rest so it can shine the next day, the smell of rain and the feeling of the rain on your face while running. The smells of the forest, decaying leaves, the sounds of coyotes in the distance, cows, the beautiful pure darkness except for a headlamp way off in the distance, the amazing flying spiders, the beautifully arranged corn fields, the orange crescent moon after the rain and its reflection in the canal, and the bright beautiful stars - oh the beautiful, beautiful stars. The same stars - at mile 80 - where I looked up to, talked to, and cried to, yes, those stars. Universe - thank you for listening and answering me ~ 🙏
So much meaning, so much beauty for all of us to see and experience. When you push yourself beyond your fears, there really is a beautiful place to explore and see, feel and experience. Take nothing for granted.
So grateful for my family - our beautiful daughter who helps remind me to always be strong; my amazing husband and rock of 30 years - he knows me best of all. Super grateful for my friends who check in on me and tolerate me; my coach, Lisa Smith Batchen, who knows, you know?, my neighbors who are all so supportive and have become a little family in the "sac"; my lymphoma that helped shape my vision; my skydiving accident that made me want to prove that I would run again; grateful to the trauma surgeon for telling me I wouldn't run long again. My beautiful Ultra Chick family - thank you ❤️🏃🏼♀️🐥❤️. Everyone everywhere along this beautiful road who has helped shape who I am, where I’ve been and where I’m going. Forever grateful.
Never take anything for granted. Every step in your journey is progress to wherever it is you want or where you need to be. There are life lessons everywhere and we are never too old for a good lesson. It’s a beautiful place to be. Don’t hold back or hold back. Don’t be afraid or be afraid. Show up or not. Believe or don’t. Find your own way or chose not to. Easy or difficult. Whatever it is - own it. Stay humble.
What’s difficult today may become easier tomorrow or what’s easier today may become difficult tomorrow. Your choice.
I received my best advice at mile 94 - breathe. Thank you for that my beautiful friend, thank you ❤️.
Oh, and thank you NH for your One-Star crewing! Ha ha! Great work and appreciate it very much. No cops next time, k?
Grateful for everything and every moment of every single day. Just Breathe.
~ namaste 🙏
Skydive Ultra 150 - January 2019
In 2014, after a visit with a doctor and then my own uneducated Google search titled, “how long does someone live with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma” I was struck with a fear I had never experienced before. Fear that I would not be able to watch my daughter graduate from high school; teach her to drive; see her 16thbirthday; help her decorate her college dorm room; graduate from college; enjoy her life; fear that we would not share the special moments to come; fear that my husband will not have a life partner; fear that my best friend will have to be alone; fear that I would not be able to do all the things I wanted to do; fear that I would - at the end of my life - have regrets; fear that I was not truly living; fear that I would not live 5-10 years after my diagnosis of non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma (don’t ever Google your prognosis - it’s entirely wrong). While a piece of this fear will never leave and it rears its ugly head every so often, I’m still here and know that I will be for quite some time. Grateful.
In 2015, I ran my first Skydiving Ultra event – a 50k. I also skydived and fell in love with it. So much so, that I received my AFF (advance free fall) license. Later that year I had a skydiving accident and as I was crashing to the ground, only thinking of my daughter, I wondered if I would live. That was fear. I Lived.
In 2016, on my way to crew a friend to run the Skydive 150, I received a call from my sister stating that my Mom’s health took a turn for the worse and I’d better get home quickly. I feared that I would not be able to have one final conversation with my Mom, thank her for giving me life, hold her hand, or tell her I loved her. I quickly turned my car around and got a flight home to see my Mom. I made it just in time and my Mom passed shortly thereafter. Thankful.
In 2017, after doctors stated I may never be able to run far again because of my skydiving injuries, I finished the Skydive 100 miler 11 months after I started walking again without assistance. I cried for so many reasons during that race. I cried for what I’d lost, for what I gained, and for the pain I experienced. I felt like this race had come full circle for me – I was able to finally finish the 2017 race for my Mom. I was happy it was over and never wanted to run that looped race again.Determined.
When I first saw the 150-mile buckle in 2015 I thought it was so far out of reach. I was in awe of the athletes who completed any long race, but particularly a 150-mile races. I thought I would never have that buckle in my hands, ever. I am a back of the pack runner and simply never thought I would be able to do it. I thought my dream of running a 150-mile race was out of reach. I was in total awe of the runners who completed 150 miles at Skydive Ultra. Turn the clock forward a few months and after a direct message to a friend (an awesome female athlete who finished the 150-mile race) I messaged a world class coach, Lisa Smith-Batchen. Lisa and I spent a long time on the phone that evening in the Fall of 2018. She knows my dreams, my fears, my goals, and my plans for the next several years. I did every single thing Lisa asked of me. I trained hard, I dialed in my nutrition, I spent many hours and miles along the roads and on the trails. These are the places where I find solace and peace. Dream Big.
In 2018, I also started practicing yoga which has helped me further understand my body and practice mindfulness. Yoga has also help me reach past my perceived limitations. My Yogi, Sara, is fabulous and what she has taught me over the last year reaches far beyond my yoga practice. Forever grateful to these two powerful and fierce women. Namaste.
My 150-mile race started 6:00:00 am on January 25, 2019 and I finished at 9:43:51pm on January 26, 2019. This race was about pushing past my fears, I am alive, and I am grateful and thankful for everyone who was part of my journey – presently or in my past. All these experiences have all shaped me for who I am today, and I am fortunate and blessed to have been able to experience them. Blessed.
It’s been a week since the race and I still cannot believe that I finished. I broke this race into chunks. I visualized myself at different points of the race weeks prior – so at mile 50, 75, 100, etc. I knew this is how I would feel – because this is how I visualized myself feeling. I also had a few mantras and thoughts throughout the race: I am stronger than my fears, Stay focused, and Be Consistent where the few that I used most often. I truly believe the visualization and mantras played a part in my ability to keep moving and finishing. Fortunate.
I had one rough patch on day two, about 30-31 hours into the race, when I realized that I would have to run into the second night --- I mean, I always knew I would have to, but it just seemed like such a daunting task at the time. I was getting tired, I had only stopped for 15 minutes for foot care and I felt my mental game slipping. I let the tears flow and I kept asking Nancy how many more laps and I swore she was miscounting, and that I had more laps to do than what she was telling me. I kept thinking of my fears and why I am doing this, I thought about my Mom and all those before me who have given me hope and inspiration. My tears continued. In my low point, we see a truck coming down the sugar cane trail and it’s the RD, Eric. Eric gets out and I cry on his shoulder (a raw and snotty, tears kind of cry – sorry Eric) and tell him that I do not want to run into a second night. He pretty much tells me to get my butt moving and that I need to keep going. It’s what I needed, I shake it off and keep going. I get a few text messages from Lisa and other friends throughout the race and these motivate me even more to just keep moving and finish. On one lap, close to the end, when I didn’t think I could run any more, my fabulous pacers, Tommy and his daughter Tessia, said “let’s see if you can run from this rock to this rock…”, so I would run 100 feet which would then turn into 100 yards, then ¼ mile, etc. and this made me realize my limitations were in my head. I could control what my body wanted to do. My brain was foggy, my legs no longer felt fresh and were sore and tired, but my legs could still move. Thank you, Tommy, for showing me what I can do when I didn’t think I could. This was the impetus I needed to get the remaining few laps done. I Am Stronger Than My Fears.
I was fortunate to have the best full-time crew anyone could have (Nancy, Karen, Tony, Sara, Tommy) and guest appearances from Becky, LuLu and Matthew Z. We established ground rules in the beginning, and the team did not venture from what was established. I wanted to be in and out of my aid station in 5 minutes or less – they were so efficient that I was often in an out in 2 minutes. I did not want any comfortable chairs in eye sight, so I am sure they closed the comfortable chairs when they saw me coming - except that one time I told them that no matter what they say I was going to sit for a few minutes. They took such great care of me – food, drink, sunscreen, clothing changes, rain gear, blister care, pacing duties, crying duties, all through the sun, wind, mud and rain. Part of the plan was to ensure they take shifts and slept and ate to ensure they remained strong. Tony told me stories of his parents, India, and his childhood; Nancy kept me from freaking out and knew what I wanted before I wanted it; Karen kept me motivated and engaged; Sara kept me centered and applied the CBD lotion to my glutes, legs and back; Tommy kept me going when I did not want to go any more. Becky and Matthew took care of my blisters and LuLu provided the best hugs ever. I know it’s hard to crew. Team…we did it…we earned this buckle. Teamwork.
My takeaways from this race are still coming at me every single day. I learned so much about so many things, but my ten tenets of this race and what I hold dear in my life are as follows:
I Am Stronger Than My Fears.
The Save the Daylight (STD) race was on my calendar this year ONLY because I was registered for it last year and the awesome race director deferred me for a year. He graciously deferred my entry because at this time last year I was healing from some pretty extensive injuries I suffered in a skydiving accident (for details see other blog post). This time last year, I couldn't lift myself out of a bed, get dressed, or even do the most everyday tasks unless someone helped me. While in the hospital, I dreamed about entering a race again, I dreamed about the sound of the forest at night, the sound of rustling through leaves, the crickets, the birds, the sunset and sunrises while on the trails, the morning moisture, the beautiful stars at night, the moon, I dreamed about running one more 100 miler and I really wasn't sure I would be able to. I remember pleading with the Universe and asking that I be given the opportunity to run one more. I'm sure you've done that...made deal with a higher power when things aren't going your way? I can't say I made any deals, but I sure did ask a few times that I have the ability to do it again. But, NEVER in a million years would I have EVER imagined I would toe the line at a race only 10 months of walking without assistance and NEVER one year after my accident did I expect to make it 100 miles.
For me, this run wasn't about time or the energy expended, this was about testing my will. It was also about training to strengthen my mind during a long race. I have only been training for 10 weeks and let my coach know in the beginning that this race was on my schedule. So, the STD 48 hours race was on to measure my fitness. My goodness, I've gained at least 20 pounds during the year and the weight is still hanging on, but the heart rate training my coach has me doing has made me feel stronger. I really had no expectation for this. The plan was to run the first 24 hours within a certain hear rate and the remaining 24 hours we know the my heart rate would drift, but it would be okay. With age comes wisdom (sometimes) and have learned my limits. My body doesn't move like it did, nor will it, but I know I have 100% complete control over my mind and how I use it. I have a support team of what seems like a million beautiful people, including my family, a running coach and my ultra running family. Without them, I wouldn't have even thought about showing up to this, but I wanted to go as far and as long as I could. Was this run all rainbows and unicorns, absolutely not and I wouldn't change it for the world.
I love this course. I love it. This course is loops, I love running loops and I love all the races this RD puts on. This loop was 3.3 miles. so if you wanted to finished 100 then you had to run 30 loops with a 1 mile out. The location was at Ann Devers park in Englewood, Florida with real restrooms and you know what a beautiful thing that is for an ultra! The trails was packed gravel dirt and shells, very small areas of sand, beautiful wide double-track, pine straw that felt like running on shag carpet, and a few small bridges over brackish water where fish jumped and gators ate. It was beautiful to see the sunrise and sunset over these bridges, something I will never forget.
My initial plan was to run 25 miles every 12 hours, I mean it was a 48 hour race and would allow me to get off my feet for a while, enjoy the scenery and get back out there. I still have a few issues from my accident so I wasn't sure how my body would perform for such a long race. I was way ahead of schedule and once you get out on the loops, it so hard to stop. My lower back was really bothering me, the spasms were bad and I had a hard time keeping upright during some of the race. I dug deep and wanted this bad, so unless I was on a stretcher, I 100% was going to finish this race.
I was fortunate to finish my 100 miler with a beautiful friend running the last 2 miles with me. Forever grateful as they kept me motivated to the very, very end.
I finished, I finished 100 miles - 10 months after I started walking without any assistance and against all expectations. I finished and just sobbed into the arms of the race director (RD). I cried because I recalled the trauma surgeon telling me that it was doubtful I could do this again, I cried because this particular RD came to my house when I was recovering and told me that I would finish another 100 - his 100. If you build the dream, you can get it done if you want it bad enough.
I have had words swimming around my head for quite some time. It's been a while since I've actually sat down to write and I've been craving it. Not sure how this will go, but I have to let it out.
I won't forget the call I received about my Mom. I was driving with two friends, and another friend following in her car, to South Florida to the Skydive Ultra. I was so excited to get to Skydive Ultra, it was going to be full circle from where my love of skydiving was born, one year ago at the same event. It was going to be my first even since my skydiving accident and we were having the best of times driving. Laughing, talking and enjoying the company. My sister called and it all changed after that. I literally dropped my friends off at the next exit on I-75; we were probably 100 miles from Clewiston and about 125 miles from my house. My friends were wonderful, we emptied my car of people and things and I drove back to Tampa to try to catch a flight to Connecticut that day. I had to get there before my Mom was too far gone. I wanted her to be able to see that I made it back to see her that ONE last time. I landed in Hartford and got settled into my rental car. I turned on the radio and the song that is playing is Tim McGraw's song , "Live LIke You Were Dying". I looked at the radio and said, you've go to be kidding me. It was like a message from my Mom telling me that it's going to be okay and to keep on keeping on. While she didn't like all my activities, I believe that she lived vicariously through them. She would always ask what I was up to and then in the same breath tell me I was crazy. I miss that.
I won't ever forget the days leading up to my Mom's death. The days and the hour will always be fresh in my mind. Spending the last days, hours, minutes with her felt like the situation had turned, she gave me life and I was there when her last breath left her body. Pretty special. Being with someone when they pass is an honor bestowed not to many, but an experience that makes you question many things. Life. Death. Family. Living. Friends. Experiences. Laughter. Tears. Memories. Joy.
For 13 years, my Mom fought her battle with cancer. The surgeries, the chemo, the radiation, the million and one pills she had to take, the never ending pain she felt. In the beginning she knew she was going to beat it. We all did, however; as the years progressed, so did her cancer. While it once didn't define her, it became all consuming of who she was. All the endless doctor appointments, the hundreds of trips to the emergency room, the bottles and bottles of pills, the prescriptions, the insurance and all the other things that make cancer unbearable. My Dad, who, for 30 years, worked two jobs and was up at 2am every morning and home at 6pm every evening, retired early to fish and enjoy nature, but soon after, cancer struck my Mom and he never left her side. Till death due us part is what my Dad once told me - of course, with his little side mouth chuckle - and he was true to his word - he has always been like that, a man of his word. Every surgery, every doctor appointment (and there were hundreds upon hundreds of them), every pain, the anger, the disappointment, and the acceptance, he never once left her side. He never once said anything bad, he never once said "why", he never once questioned his role as my Mom's caregiver. Let's not forget that my twin sister Sam (the one who earned several medals in the International Special Olympics) was also being cared for by my parents. When my Mom became too ill to take care of herself, my Dad took care of her and made sure that my sister Sam was also cared for. The man deserves sainthood if you ask me.
Over the years we established a routine and I would talk to my Mom several times a week. I would always call her as I was driving to work. These calls made my commute better and we always ended our calls with terms of endearment. My Mom would also call to tell me how much pain she was in and I would tell her she'd be fine and to go out enjoy life and not dwell on the pain. She had more surgeries than I can remember, all bits and pieces of her body removed, and more x-rays, MRI's, PET and CT Scans that I can count. She began taking a lot of pain meds and many of us truly believed that she became addicted to them. She kept wanting more and more. Anyhow, as the years progressed, so did her pain and her cancer. You could tell she was in a lot of pain and needed more medication. There came a point when her doctors said she couldn't have any more pain meds, that she would have to try "pain management" instead. She tried this for a while, but didn't continue, she felt no relief. It was really heart wrenching to watch.
The vivacious person, who laughed and loved life was slowly disappearing. This same woman who came to visit me when we lived in El Paso and went to Juarez (pre-9/11 when border crossing was easy) so we could drink real beer from Mexico, have margaritas, and smoke real cigarettes. The one with the quick wit and sharp tongue. Yes, the same woman who taught me to be very competitive and to never stand down when I believed strongly in something. The one who taught me that integrity was everything and that working hard is for those who truly value what they have. Same one who wouldn't think twice about smacking me when I was out of line or disrespected someone. The one who made me continue to play team sports in high school when I'd had simply had enough. The person who went to work full time when I was 7 or 8 years old and I cried as she left off to work that day. The same woman, the mother of five, who drove a Chevy Nova Super Sport, 3-speed on the floor (it was blue and I'll never forget feeling her giddiness and pride when she drove this car). Yes, the same woman who coddled me when I was a toddler, taught me unconditional love and how to love unconditionally. The same woman is where my stubborn streak came from, my flash anger, my addictive personality, and my love of pushing the limits. I've learned over the years to hide some of those traits, but they do show up every once in a while. Thanks Mom!
I loved my Mom dearly and admired her and all she did for us and her family. She never graduated from high school, but that didn't stop her from climbing the corporate ladder and making a name for herself. She worked extremely hard and worked her employees harder. She expected everyone to give 100% and in her own way, she made an impact on many. Almost all of the sisters (4 of 5 of us) worked for my Mom for a period of time, some longer than others, but I was always proud of what my Mom accomplished and how she treated people and her customers.
Watching a parent die of cancer is horrible. Bill and I watched his Mom die from complications of breast cancer and now watching my Mom die from complications from her cancer(s). There's no other way to put it. It's horrible and all you hope is that it ends fast. In the end, we only wanted her to be without pain. We are fortunate that she passed so quickly. On Saturday she was talking and early Monday morning she passed away. I am so very thankful that it didn't drag out and that her pain was finally being managed. I didn't leave her side from 7am Sunday morning until after the hospital doctor called her death on Monday. It was extremely hard on my Dad. Sunday morning, he was still in denial. The conversation I had with him early that Sunday morning was the second hardest conversation I've ever had to have. I had to look him in the eyes and tell him that Mom was not coming home and she was not leaving the hospital. That day, we laughed, we cried and we laughed some more. At one time, there was about 15-20 people in her hospital room. If you only knew our family, you would find this comical. We were all there for my Mom and for each other.
The last few days I spent with my Mom made me realize that in the end, all you'll have is your family. Nothing else matters like family. How much you loved, how much you lived, and how much you laughed is what will be remembered. People won't care about the house you lived in, the car you drive, what clothes you wore, but people will always remember how you treated them.
When someone you love passes away, it makes you think of your own mortality. Why does our society fear death? Everything has a beginning and an end, doesn't it? Is it the unknown that we are afraid of? What really happens? When someone close to you passes, do we become more altruistic? More giving, more loving as a result of it? No matter the color, race, ethnicity, religion, gender, size, shape, etc, we all have two things in common - birth and death. It's inevitable and going to happen. What was, and most likely still is, particularly difficult for me was thinking about my own mortality. Specifically, my own cancer diagnosis and what that really means for me and my family. What legacy will I leave? Of course, this is not just a question someone who has cancer should ask, but a question that everyone should ask of themselves. What do you want to leave behind? For me, material items won't matter, it's about life lessons and giving. Why is it that our society fears death? Why the mystique? How do we ever get comfortable with talking about death? So many questions to be answered. An important one to me is, in the end, what and how do you want to be remembered? Again, what's your legacy?
I've pondered these questions several times over the last two years and don't quite yet have the answers and not sure I'm looking for answers.
I had my accident with ended up in two surgeries, my Mom died, I turned 50, gained weight, just had a PET scan and blood work to gauge my tumors and now waiting for results. While waiting for my blood test and scan results used to freak my out, it's become my normal. It's okay, I can't let cancer, an accident, death or anything else like that stop me from doing what's important - living and giving. I remember my Mom on a daily basis and continue living, just like Tim McGraw said.
I'm still seeing my oncologist and a functional medical practioner (FMP) on a continual basis. My FMP is fabulous. We are trying to figure out a variety of things and healing my body is primary. We look at my nutritional intake, I take supplements based on what my body needs and the results from a variety of tests. I've mapped my genome and learning about my own genetic makeup is a bit surreal. When it all gets unraveled, I'll be sure to write about it. It's a pretty fascinating process - learning about how different foods react to YOUR body and YOUR genetic make up. What works for someone else, may simply not work for you.
I want to live my life with less things and more experiences. I want to spend more time in the forest, feel the energy of the earth, who knows - hopefully get back up in the sky. It's pretty simple. Maybe that is the answer after all.
~ Susie Q
I could go on and on with this list, but below captures only a few things I've learned over the years.
Always follow your heart.
Sisters can fight like mad when they're young, but love each other like crazy when they're older.
I've been married to the same wonderful man for more than half my life. Wow!
The first time I saw my husband hold our daughter is a moment that cannot be put into words.
Never wish your child to be older, cherish every moment and every mess.
There will be good and not so good things that happen, but life is what you make of it.
Flannel jammie bottoms are still my favorite.
Friends come and go, but family will always be by your side.
You are who you surround yourself with.
You are what you eat. Veggies and bacon are both good for you.
Your mind can overcome any obstacle.
It takes your heart, your head and your legs to run 100 miles.
A twin sister is something to be cherished.
It doesn't matter if a car is driving faster than you, you typically end up in the same place at the same time.
Chicken soup is good for the soul.
A mother's love never wanes, it only grows stronger.
Pay attention to your elders, they have a lot to say and you can learn much from them.
Never ignore a hand that is reaching out to you for help.
Enjoy the circus.
Stepsons are simply the best.
Don't be afraid to laugh at your own mistakes.
Being outdoors and waking up with nature is a blissful feeling.
Never take love for granted.
Eat the cake on your birthday.
Go to a Rolling Stones concert.
Brush and floss every day.
My sky family...they make me smile. The energy, the joy, everything about them.
The more expensive the whiskey the better is tastes.
Don't give your time to those who don't give you their time.
Be gracious every single day.
Accept gifts with enthusiasm and be thankful.
Say please and thank you.
Pay it forward.
There are new cancer cures every single day.
A cup of hot tea and an afghan are a few of my favorite things.
Quit wishing to do something and just do it.
Sometimes when you wash dark and light clothes together, a beautiful rainbow appears.
The beach is my blessing. The mountains are my calling. The air is my pleasure.
Your light can be seen by others who share the same light.
You can overcome any obstacle, you just have to want to.
Ignore the critic in your head.
Love often and love hard.
The music can always be louder.
Sometimes, it's best to throw caution to the wind.
Give the last of what you have to the person who needs it most.
Don't be afraid to believe in yourself.
Life is made up of a lot of little's.
Work should take second to family.
Even though it's hard to be kind to some folks, be kind anyway.
Being happy doesn't mean everything is perfect, it simply means choosing to look at things differently.
Never lose hope.
When given a choice, always choose joy.
Be wary of a person who can't look you in the eye when they speak to you.
My ultra-running family will be there for me when I return, no matter where, when or how.
Live your life with no regrets.
Fresh baked cookies...always.
Feed the homeless.
The good outweighs the bad.
Stop comparing yourself to others.
Mistakes and failures happen for a reason. Don't be afraid to learn from them.
Shift your perspective, you'd be surprised where it may lead you.
Beauty can be found everywhere.
There is nothing like your favorite pair of jeans and boots.
Take your shoes and socks off and feel the energy from the Earth.
Ever wanted to fly fish in the High Sierra's? Do it.
Magical things do happen under the moon.
The monsters under your bed never go away. Admit it.
The love that grows after 25+ years of marriage is something everyone needs to experience.
Every day is a gift.
Live a yes life.
Go, lay on the grass and soak up the sun. Be still.
Drink the good wine.
Use the good china.
Love everyone, hate no one.
Do it, do it all.
The “jump” weekend of October 24 and 25 was planned way in advance. One of my friends, Elise, was going to jump with me and we were going to practice our skills. We are both “newbie” jumpers and each have less than 80 jumps logged. My daughter, Jessica, joined us because she absolutely LOVES going to the Drop Zone (DZ), she feels the energy and just loves being there. She cannot wait to perform her first jump.
The drop zone we visited was not my home DZ, it is a drop zone where I’ve only jumped once before but for some reason, we decided to jump there this particular weekend. The morning started out like any other jump. As soon as we got to the DZ, I turned on my AAD (Automatic Activation Device), my altimeters, checked my rig from bottom to top and did one more double check before donning my custom Tony Suit. It is a beautiful morning, sun is shining, minimal clouds, birds are chirping and winds are low. All is good and the weather is perfect. Winds are light, about 6-10 and coming from the East. We reviewed our jump in detail and then spoke with DZ folks about the landing pattern. Elise and I then reviewed our landing pattern several times and felt comfortable with the plan. We met another fellow fun jumper, Lee, who we’ve jumped with at other DZ’s and he asked if we wanted our jump videotaped, and we agreed. Looking out in the landing area, I recall the sun shining through the trees, the grass was fresh with the morning dew, the temperature was relatively cool for an October in Florida and the humidity was low. It was a perfect day to get several jumps in!
My daughter settles in and we gear up. First, I put on my custom Tony Suit, then shoes, then rig, then altimeters. Elise and I checked and double checked each other’s equipment and we are good to go.
Before we board, I gently kiss my daughter on the head (much to her chagrin) and we board the plane. The tandems board first and then we board.
Other than the pilot, there were a total of nine people on the plane; three tandems, me, Elise and Lee. The tandems were in the military and one of them was getting married so it was a bachelor jump. The level of excitement on a plane getting up to altitude is something I cherish on each jump. The nervousness is treasured, the excitement is palpable, the beauty of what we are about to do it beyond anything I’ve ever experienced. All the beautiful words in the world cannot describe the feeling of stepping out of a plane, you just have to experience it to fully understand it. As we get to altitude someone asked if we minded if the pilot performed a few barrel rolls. We looked at each other with a little apprehension but said yes. I perform an equipment check and ask Elise to do a pin check. All is good and then we hold on and the plane performed a few barrel rolls. I have to say, it was pretty awesome and I’m still smiling about it. The plane stabilizes and we get the signal that we can get ready in the door to jump. The door goes up and the wind whirls in – perfect, beautiful sky! We all get in position and I spot the landing area. One, two, three, and we are off! For me, this is one of the most beautiful things in the world - the actual step/jump out of the plane, again indescribable, but the feeling of falling through the sky is one of peace for me and simply cannot be measured.
Lee is videotaping and Elise and I are doing our thing. Smiling, loving every single second in the sky. As our plan prescribed we track away and we pull as planned. We are now under canopy.
Under canopy is also a fabulous place to be, it’s quiet, serene and beautiful. It is where you can see the hustle and bustle of the world underneath while you are falling to the ground almost in featherlike fashion. After my canopy opens, I quickly spot the landing area and start moving toward the holding area. Between 3,000 and 2,000 feet, I notice the winds have picked up significantly from when we took off. This makes me a little nervous because the second leg of my landing pattern has me going over a line of trees, where the turbulence will be greater. I get to the holding area and perform my 1st leg of my landing and can already feel the wind lifting me up and down as I near the trees for my 2nd leg of my landing, so I decided to do my turn into the final leg (300 feet) in front of the trees instead of above or behind them. As I am ascending into my final leg the winds have me moving faster and I am a bit more unstable than I anticipated. I feel that if I continue on my current path I will hit the open face barn that has big farm equipment in it and I quickly think, if I hit the barn, I might not possibly not live through it. I made the decision to not hit the barn and make a slight left turn. As I turned left, I noticed that the end cells of my canopy collapsed on the left side and I cannot control it, in what seemed like a matter of seconds I slam into the ground. I can actually see the ground racing up to me and I know this is not going to be good. In fact, the last thing I thought of was my daughter, Jessica.
I crash to the ground and am in immense pain. I immediately hope my daughter did not see this happen. I take quick assessment. I am breathing, I can move my arms, and I cannot move my left side of my lower body without being excruciating pain. I am screaming and groaning. Lee landed before me and Elise landed after me. The first thing I think about is Jessica. Lee comes running over and I am able to take off my full face helmet, he becomes a calming force in my chaos. I recall someone saying I’ve called 911 and Lee stays by my side, trying to calm me. He continually talks to me and assures me that everything will be okay. My friend Elise comes running over and I tell her to let Jessica know that I am okay. I think I tell Lee that my daughter is here, I describe her, and if she comes over, I ask him and Elise to please let me know so I can try to stop the sounds of pain that are coming from me. I don’t want her to hear me in pain. I keep repeating that to myself for a few seconds. Jessica comes over and I can recognize her voice, I recall sending her away on little errands (glasses, wallet, ID, etc.) so I could cry out in pain without her being there and hearing me. I asked Elise to call my husband and let him know that I am alive but had an accident, Jessica has the number.
I am lying face down in the grass, my rig and my custom Tony Suit still on. I cannot move because the pain is unbearable. Lee and I talk and I think it’s best if he can undo my leg straps and my chest strap and take the rig off my back. He gingerly and successfully takes off my rig. All of a sudden, the altimeter on my wrist is bothering me and I ask that he take that off as well. I know that when the paramedics get there they will have to turn me over. I know this is going to be beyond painful and I am dread that more than anything. I still cannot move my left leg or my lower part of my body without terrible pain, but I can move my toes. This somehow makes me smile. I have the urge to see and tell my daughter that I am going to be okay and I think that Elise runs to get her. I am relieved, I needed her to see me and hear me say that.
The paramedics arrive and things start moving fast and they indicate they have to cut my jumpsuit off and ask if they can. Others say I hesitated, but at that point, that was the only way it was coming off. It wasn’t like I could move to wriggle out of it, but I recall the sound of the scissors and the thickness of the material and or each cut they took, it made me a little sad. I think I was most devastated about my suit, but also remembered that Tony Suits has my measurements and can make me a new suit when I get back up. This seemed to ease my mind and provide me with a pleasant thought for a few moments. Funny the things that go through your mind.
The paramedics begin their initial assessment and someone pushes my pelvis together, the pain is unbearable and beyond anything I’ve ever experienced. Why in the world did they do that? What the heck! They already knew I couldn’t move that part of my body and this is beyond painful. I remember screaming long and loud when they did that. Hoping my daughter doesn’t hear me. They kept saying breath through the pain, breath through the pain. I quickly think, this is not a Lamaze class and kind of chuckle – my way of coping. The chuckle didn’t last long because they are trying to decide the best way to turn me so I am facing up and I know what this means. I recall thanking Lee several times for being there and keeping me calm. I can still hear the rescuers trying to decide the best way to move me. It was surreal, like I wasn’t there, but I was. I asked them if they could just leave me the way I was, but I knew the answer to that already. I don’t recall what came first, the backboard or the flip. Or perhaps they were both at the same time. I do recall the pain I felt when they flipped me. Each time I was moved, the pain went to a different level. After I was flipped they put the collar on me and I asked if my left knee could stay upright because it was less painful. They stuffed a pillow or something under my knee, and strapped me in. I kept thinking of my daughter and hope that she clearly, without a doubt, knows I will be okay. The paramedics kept apologizing for moving me and going over bumps. They genuinely felt bad and they were top notch! I remember the paramedics discussing which hospital to bring me to and recall them saying they were going to take me to the closest one with a good trauma team. They decided that Lakeland Regional was the best option and it was going to take about 15-20 minutes to get there. This gave me pause, but I figured they know best, I just wanted something to ease the pain. I recall the ambulance driver asking my daughter if she wanted to ride with me. I remember stating I didn’t want her to and that she could ride with my friend Elise, who would be following the ambulance with my car. Finally, into the ambulance and they started an IV. Chris, the paramedic and father of five, stated he would give me something for the pain and I greedily accepted. I knew I was in great hands and began to relax as much as I could. The driver, Jeannette, was fabulous and apologized for every stinking pothole and bump we encountered in Hillsborough and Polk Counties.
I arrived at the trauma center at Lakeland Regional. Wow, what a swift, fast, and efficient process. They allowed my family to be with me and my husband arrived about the same time. This calmed me as I knew that Jessica felt more comfortable now that Bill arrived. The hospital accepted that fact that my friend Elise was my sister and gave her all the family privileges (this still makes me chuckle). A quick assessment of broken body parts was completed, various monitors, blood tests, etc. done and I was almost immediately was whisked into CT scan and did not even have to wait. I was very concerned about being moved from my current bed into the CT machine only because I knew how painful it would be. I knew it was going to hurt and asked that they be very, very gentle. The CT folks gathered up about six people to “move” me from my bed to the CT machine. They were so smooth, I barely felt it. Kudos to them!
I continually focused on being strong for my daughter. I never wanted her to hear or see me in pain. After the CT (or before, I just don’t remember), the nurses gave me something stronger for pain and I begin to relax just a bit. When I got back from the scan, the doctor said a few times let’s just hope it’s only a broken hip and not pelvis, that’s what we are hoping for, that’s what we want. I recall them cutting my clothes off and being sad that they had to cut my favorite running shorts and my favorite “remember Boston Marathon” tee shirt. Anyhow, to make a longer story a bit little shorter, we were told that I have a Pelvis RAMI fracture, a sacrum fracture and an L4/L5 transverse process fracture.
I was in the ER less than an hour and was whisked away to the trauma floor to share a room with a fellow female daredevil. The nurses were spectacular, just beyond anything I’ve ever imagined. They are truly a profession that deserves far more than they receive. I am forever grateful for the awesome nursing staff and the team of doctors and consultants (Orthopedic Surgeon, Trauma Surgeon, and Neurosurgeon) who put me back together again.
A few hours later, a doctor came in and stated that I didn’t need surgery and that I would need complete bed rest to heal and that it would be months before I was able to bear any weight. I was still in immense pain and was thankful for no surgery, however, I thought how in the hell am I going to survive in this amount of pain until it heals...more pain meds were given and I think I was napping for a bit and don’t remember much after that. Elise was phenomenal, a HUGE help and I am not sure yet how I will repay her for all she has done for me. My sky sister, xo.
It’s Sunday and I did not sleep at all Saturday night. Many times throughout the night my vitals are checked and blood is being drawn for a variety of things and, if you happen to be sleeping, you are woken up. Being on the trauma ward, there were many nights where people were in so much pain, you could hear them scream – yes, at times, I was one of those people and as the days passed and I was able to manage my pain better, I empathized with the others. I felt like someone had thrown me entire body into a metal blender and turned it on high and left me there. I was dizzy and everything hurt. I couldn’t move because when I did the pain was beyond anything I’ve imagined. I recall the nurses trying to move me a little to prevent pressure points, but it was too painful. I worried a lot about our daughter and wanted to make sure she was okay. I worried about my husband and the stress he would endure in the coming weeks/months. I worried, and still do, that this injury will somehow jack up my immune system and push my lymphoma into the forefront. I push that aside because the lymphoma will do what it’s going to do and mostly out of my control; however, my recovery from this accident is 100% in my control and I’ll do whatever I can to get up and walking, running and jumping as quickly as I can.
Late Sunday morning another doctor came by and stated that several others reviewed all my scans and x-rays and that I would need surgery later that day. He also stated that essentially the broken parts were floating and had nothing to anchor to. A pin would go in my femur and they would put my leg in traction in order to pull my femur down so the broken part of my pelvis would move into a better place and then a few days later, they would do another surgery to place a screw in my pelvis to hold together/line up the fractured pelvis and fractured sacrum. I was fortunate to have several visitors that day, before surgery, and all I can say is that I love my running and sky family and am so thankful for them brightening my day. I am pretty sure I was out of it some and barely recall much of the afternoon, but very appreciative of them.
Anyhow, I had the traction surgery and took a lot of pain meds the next few days and most of them are a blur. I could not wait for the next surgery in hopes that I would have some relief and be able to really sleep. The surgery on Tuesday came and went and my hospital room started looking like florist shop! My “sisters” came to visit me one evening and it was the best hospital visit ever, just what I needed and will never forget their kindness and laughter. They stayed until way after hours and we were able to convince everyone that they were truly my “sisters”. Love them.
I still have numbness and tingling in my left foot/leg and that is from nerve damage to the L4/L5 area. Doc thinks it could take up to a year to get the feeling back – I’m good with that and Bill massages my foot almost every day in hopes that it will stimulate the healing of the nerve (I know it won’t, but it still feels good). One condition on my release from the hospital was that I had to be okay with giving myself blood thinner shots in the stomach every day for six weeks. Because I am not mobile, they want to make sure that no blood clots form and they keep the blood flowing nice and smooth. It’s not the most pleasant thing to do, but if it keeps me out of the hospital, I’m doing it!
As with anything, immediately upon my falling and once I realized I could still move, a calming overcame me and I knew that this is just like training for a 100 mile race and I decided that it’s going to take a helluva lot more to keep me down and I vow to come back stronger and smarter.
My husband, daughter and I have briefly talked about me returning to skydiving, but for now, it’s not a subject they are ready to talk about and I completely understand that. Jessica could have lost her Mom that day and Bill could have lost his wife of 26 years. I get it. I’m not going to push it, but Bill clearly understands my love of the sky and how it makes me feel. I continue to replay the fall and replay the things I could have done differently, but only time will tell what happens after I am fully healed. I do know that it is a great passion of mine and something that provided me with immense pleasure. If you are not a skydiver, you simply won’t understand. Right now, I am torn between the love of the adventure I had before and the cautiousness of not getting injured again and hurting my family.
I have been truly humbled by the kindness of my friends, running and skydiving community. They protect their own and have touched me beyond measure and have made the initial part of my healing process better. I’ve also realized that it’s so easy to fall down the black hole of despair and I absolutely refuse to do that. This doesn’t mean I haven’t been or won’t get frustrated with my recovery, it simply means that I’m going to overcome whatever obstacle is placed before me. I often post inspiring things/quotes on social media, but it’s not because I am always having a good day, it’s sometimes because I simply need a reminder and it actually helps me climb out of the funk I may be in.
There have been so many others who have reached out and have helped us the past few weeks and we are forever grateful. You know who you are and we are forever grateful.
For now, I will focus on my recovery, I have a lot of work to do physically, mentally and with my family. There are so many thoughts, so many reflections. I realize that things could have easily gone a different direction and when that happens, it tends to make you look at everything much differently. I often wonder what lesson there is here for me to learn, what I missed the last time I was truly scared about my health. Only in time with these be answered.
Until then, we will all move onward and upward ~ xoxo
On this day last year I was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and it has changed my life, for the better.
The past year has been an interesting one to say the least. I have had some of the most awesome experiences and met the most awesome people this past year, I can promise you, I won’t ever forget the surgeon telling me that I have cancer, I won’t ever forget my husband telling me that no matter what, we will beat this; I won’t ever forget telling our daughter and watching her crumble and then quickly recompose herself; I won’t forget the research I conducted between the surgeon’s diagnosis and the time I initially saw the oncologist and then another week wait for the bone marrow biopsy results. I won’t ever forget the feeling of being sucker punched or the research I did regarding the survival rates and the prognostic factors and how they scared the crap out of me and still do for that matter. It was the longest few weeks of my life, full of anxiety but it also provided so much clarity and answers to so many questions and was peaceful at the same time.
It still sometimes doesn't seem real, the only reality is when it's time for blood tests and scans, the fatigue, or sweats, or when my nodes decide to jump out and let me know their still there. It's odd right, no chemo, no radiation, no treatment. Not having treatment right now was initially hard to comprehend. Knowing that there is a slow growing cancer in my body and having no control over it was hard to accept. I've learned that I can't think that way, and that my mind is the most powerful tool. I can't worry about what I can't control.
This past year has been one of awakening and made me reassess what's important and why it's important. I thought I was living life before, but truly, I was just existing. Yes, I was having fun, yes I was running, biking, climbing mountains, enjoying spending time with my family, but I wasn't fully realizing the beauty and blessings of it all. I have learned to shed the people and things that don't contribute positively to me and my loved ones. Be it relationships, materials things, people, places, doesn't matter, I won't waste my time doing things that don't make me or my family happy and suggest that you don't either. My relationships with people are so much more meaningful than when they were before. I find that I am more deeply involved in my conversations and my activities with others. I love to sit and listen to people and hear their stories. I beg you, don't wait for a cancer diagnosis in order to truly live your life. I have been so very fortunate this past year. Having lymphoma has certainly changed me, but only for the better. I want to experience everything, live each day with my eyes wide open and live with no regrets.
Have you ever....
Been in the middle of a forest and heard the silence of the night?
Tasted a cloud?
Cannon balled out of a perfectly good airplane?
Shared an ice cream kiss with your child?
Watched a butterfly get nectar from a flower?
Witnessed water flow over a stream so elegantly that it doesn't t lose it sheen?
Watched the sun rise and set from the same seated position?
Counted the freckles on the face of a loved one?
Listened to the raindrops falling on the leaves in the woods?
Watched the sunrise at Croom, shining brightly through the beautiful pines?
Run the ridge in a Georgia mountain?
Taken a million pictures during a 10 miles run? :)
Seen the curvature of the earth while floating above it?
Listened to the breath and the beat of your lovers heart all night long?
Laughed until you cried and then laughed some more?
Listened to the muck sucking the shoe off your friend's foot?
Loved someone so much that your heart aches?
Reach someone on such a deep level that it frightens you?
Been on the way to a dream and found a better one?
Snuggled your loved ones from dawn to dusk?
Listen to an animal run through the forest?
Wanted to jump out of a perfectly good airplane and touch the clouds?
Felt the electricity of the earth beneath your feet?
Flown through the sky with the greatest of ease?
Really feel the pine needles under your feet while walking in the forest?
Smell the beautiful aroma of decaying wood?
Listen to the birds awaken each morning?
Fed the homeless?
Put on a pair of running shoes and simply run as far as your heart will take you?
Watch the rays of a full moon shine behind the night clouds?
Listen to the sound of a wooden bat hitting a baseball?
Watch the waves roll over and over again while listening to the beautiful seagulls?
Noticed the the crow that visits your house often has a deformed foot?
Heard the whoosh of the plane door before you jumped?
Watched the sun and moon cast shadows on the beach?
Felt the silky moisture of a cloud on your face?
Run 100 miles?
Do It. Do It All.
Most importantly, are you living your life?
So, I quit running. It's true. I hate it, I cried about doing it during my last race. It was 50 miles of pure hell and that cry lasted about 20 miles. Ah...but it was a cleansing cry. It wasn't until I ran smack dab into the path of a cow that my crying went into hysterics. I kid you not. I am petrified of cows, 100% scared of them and I was in THEIR cow pasture, running on THEIR turf. Do you know what cows do when you run? They like to chase you. Yep...hysteria ensued when I ran into that cow. I just knew that freaking cow was going to come walking/cantering/galloping (whatever it is Cows do) after me. Well, that dang cow took one look at my sorry crying/sobbing/hysteric ass and just kept on walking past me. I have to say that I did run quicker after she passed.
One thing you need to understand is that I'm not a crier, never have been and never will be (I guess I am now). I have never cried like that in a race, on a run, in a field, on the beach, or anywhere. Heck, I just completed my first 100 miler about four week prior to this race and I didn't even think about crying or quitting during that. What the heck was/is wrong with me?
For many years, running has been my peace, my tranquility, my meditation, and my time. I loved to run and would find any excuse to do it. At mile 2 of this 50 mile race I wanted to quit. I am not quitter, I don't quit and have never thought about quitting anything before. But this one, I wanted to quit for 46 miles...46 because the first 2 miles were fine and after 44 miles of misery, I was so freaking thankful that I only had a few miles left when I finally got to the end that I didn't want to quit then either. It was all those glorious 44 miles in between when I truly questioned what I was doing and why I was doing it. How could I lose my motivation and my desire to do something I love so quickly? Where did it go? I wanted it back, but it's still eluding me. I don't fully understand it and perhaps I'm not meant to.
Even two weeks post the 50 miler, I still have no desire to run. I previously registered for several races between now and December 2015 and I have no desire to run them, just no desire. I have no desire to lace up a pair of running or trail shoes or even clean my hydration pack from my last race. So what if it's moldy, so what if my uneaten Swedish Fish are melted, so what if I can't find my favorite bandanna - so what.
I think I cried that day for what I lost and was then too stubborn to be called a quitter. Even though I was DFL, my motivation or lack thereof, had nothing to do with that. I wanted to quit at mile 2, it just wasn't fun anymore, in fact, I even shouted a few times how much I hated running. I texted my husband and told him that I was never running again and he asked me why I was still running the race. All I could muster was that I was going to quit and wait for my friends at the finish line. I knew I wasn't going to make the cut off. I had some serious issues the entire race. My IT band was killing me, my neck, my shoulders, my arms, you name it, I was miserable. I was peeing blood for almost the entire 13 hours. I was going to quit. It was that plain and simple.
I thought about what I said to my husband, "I am going to quit". It wasn't until I heard those words out loud that they really hit home. I immediately thought how disappointed I would be if I came home and had to tell my daughter that her Mom was a quitter and didn't finish. I know she would have said that it's okay, but I just simply couldn't do it. I simply could not face my child and tell her that I didn't finish a race, what lesson would that teach her? I thought about the oncology appointment I had the next day. I thought about all the people who fight to live and who would give up anything to be on the trails and then I cried some more. I cried because I was being selfish, I cried in triumph - I decided I was NOT going to quit. I decided that I was going to finish if it was the last thing I did. It wasn't until I decided that I was not going to quit that the pain in my legs and the rest of my body subsided.
I learned so many lessons that day. I learned that your mind is the most powerful tool you have. It's not your body that will give up first, it's your mind. I learned that a few kind words from strangers can make one mile more bearable than the last. I learned that I love cut up pineapple at the aid stations. I learned that maybe my disdain for running that day simply means I need to focus my energy on something else. I learned that my friends are the most supportive and I don't even have to explain. I learned that a simple smile and encouraging words meant more to me at mile 36 than I ever imagined. I learned that I didn't have to be embarrassed being the last person to cross the finish. I was grateful for the opportunity to be out there and so very grateful for the awesome volunteers. I learned that I love my friends who came looking for me at the end and helped run me in. I learned that depression after a long race is real. I learned that it's okay to not always be 100% and that it's okay to let others bring you up. I learned that I have no room for those you bring me down. I learned that I need time between long races, time for reflection, time to let my body heal. I learned so much that I'm not quite sure I can even put it into words yet.
While I still have no desire to run, unpack from that race, or even clean my hydration pack, I know that the single most important thing I did that day was finish and fight the demons that entered my head.
I learned that sometimes you have to lose in order to win.
p.s. Who knows, maybe I'll see you on the trail or maybe I'll see you in the sky, or on the beach or in a cow pasture :)
The task before us was daunting, but moving forward was the only way;
it was mile 0 of 100 and when “Go” was called, we went.
The eager looks, the excitement, the pure joy. No contender know what lay before them, but all knew what they left behind.
The energy surged through us and we passed it into the earth; in turn, she shared her beauty and allowed us to absorb her.
As if dancing to their own music, the sun and moon light cast their shadows on the beach and in the forest; tricking our eyes and challenging our minds.
Each hour and each loop brought a different perspective and a new meaning; when night fell the beauty blurred.
The Pier, like an unwelcomed friend, was tough; she was unforgiving and did not bend; she was beautiful in her own strange way; and it’s not until she saw our final struggle that she finally relented and showed her kindness.
Friendships were solidified and lifelong bonds made; brothers and sisters of the trail, soul searching and dream catching. Each rejoicing in their own victory.
Exhausted yet stronger; no words need spoken but many tears were shed. In the end, our bodies are the same, but our hearts have forever changed.
Mile 100 of 100, we are brothers and sisters of the trail.
~ Susie Q