I don’t know if you have ever stood in the middle of the woods in the fall, and taken a deep breath. Surrounded by colors only leaves can produce, breathing in the crisp air that only belongs to this time of the year. I can’t imagine what it’s like to live where there are not four seasons, where it’s 80 and sunny all the time (warm all the time, what?), there is just something special about the four seasons that I love so much. Maybe it’s the constant chance to experience life as it is.

I have learned a lot about myself during the past 18 months, when three of the most important people of my life went down, and only two got back up. Until you are faced with your spouse’s cancer diagnosis, and you take a good hard look at what that should entail, you don’t know what you don’t know. When you are laying out accounts, assets, passwords, and realizing how unimportant all of that is. When you experience the pure elation of a miracle when you were warned this was not going to turn out well, your world is shifted into perspective quickly.

Amidst that miracle, the rug was ripped out from underneath me when Dad was diagnosed and the three months that followed.

I have learned a lot about a lot of things.

I learned that while I love a good party, I equally love being in the woods by myself. I am comfortable in my own head and in my own space. I guess these days they call this being an introverted extrovert (or is it the other way around? Everything must have a label after all). I will say I am coming to a group run, then skip it and find the solace of the trails where I can wander both physically and mentally. Not all who wander are lost they say, and I know this now.

I learned that the strength I knew I had, has been no match for the strength I actually had. On all levels. On all fronts. In sport (it’s just easy to relate to) I have found a depth I never knew I had and that I can not explain. It’s deeper, stronger than I ever really understood. Nothing and no one on the playing field can shake me. Ever. Which I knew before, but now I understand.

I learned that there is wisdom within me that’s a direct lesson from my Dad. It’s been here all along, I just needed to learn to uncover it.

I often wonder how Dad did it. Did he know what he was teaching my sister and I (Fun fact, did you know I have a brother? ). Did he teach us these lessons on purpose? Consciously? With a grand plan in mind? Or did it just happen this way?

These past 9 months have been both horrific and beautiful. I don’t wish this level of pain on anyone, yet those who have experienced it understand the deep connection and unexpected beauty in it. My fellow athletes who have experienced deep loss and I often commiserate that it’s given us something extra, but we can’t quite describe it.

It’s a stronger commitment to the process, because the process is where we learn to experience grief. Where others get caught up in heat or wind or equipment we smile and say “hold my beer”.

There is no headwind that hurts more than loss. There is no heat index that can melt us more than grief. There is no hailstorm that can compare to being the one who closes their eyelids for them, for the last time. Or signs the paper for the medical examiner. Or shuts the light off in the trauma bay, as you turn around for the last time. There is no interval that can match the pain of standing at their service. Or following their hearse to the crematory. Or carrying an urn filled with ashes that carried a human being around for 81 years.

We have learned that while nothing can hurt more than all of that, there is nothing more beautiful than the embrace before the starting line, or the finish line, and the understanding what the miles in between really mean now.

The process is where we can match the pain and then get back up again. The achievements are proof that we can live and laugh and have these two very different sides of us. These are now my people and while it’s a club I never wanted to join, my God the people here are incredible.

Sport is my place to relate and connect, but yours doesn’t have to be. Find your place. It will carry you.

When I stand amongst these trees and take in that deep breath I can feel it all the way to my toes. These past 9 months have not been easy. Before I was able to stand on my own I had to let myself be held up. But there is beauty in this pain, there is healing within these wounds.

And there are lessons. Open up to them and I promise you, you’ll realize that while all you have ever needed is within you. If you can come toe to toe with those lessons and yourself, you’ll realize that the strength thought you had, was no match for the strength you actually have.

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