What does it take to be inspirational? If you had asked me that 10 years ago, I would have said inspiration is Michael Jordan making the last second shot in the championship game, Adam Vinatieri kicking the winning field goal in the Super Bowl, or someone coming back from last place to win a race. But an event in my life when I was 17 years old changed my perspective on what it takes to be inspirational.
I remember like it was yesterday. I was a junior in high school and on my Christmas break in the first week of January 2001. My parents came home and said “we need to talk about your brother Vince.” Now before I continue, I should give you a little background on my brother. He’s four years older than me and someone I look up to (even though he’s shorter than me). He earned himself a cross country/track scholarship at Johnson County Community College, and since I wanted to run track in college I constantly asked for advice and tips. He was one of my coaches and pushed me to be the best that I could be. My brother had completed his two year stint at Johnson County and had completed his first semester at the University of Kansas. He was beginning to get sick, and had been going from doctor to doctor who continued to say he had Mono, but he knows his body better than anyone else and he wasn’t getting better with the recommended rest. In fact, he was only getting worse. So when my parents came home and said they have something to tell me I was all ears.
They told me that my brother had been diagnosed with Dermatomyositis, which is an auto immune disease that eats away at your muscles. I was speechless. Dermatomyositis is a rare disease, in fact only 1 in 200,000 is diagnosed with it and women are four times more likely to get it than men. People are usually diagnosed with it between the ages of 30 and 55. As you can see not many men his age have it.
A little more background on my brother, he has run 70 plus miles a week on a consistent basis getting ready for his cross country and track seasons. But this disease limited his mobility so much so that he couldn’t even get out of bed. The doctors said that he would gain his mobility back and be able to function normally, it would just take time. But my brother didn’t want to just function normally; he wanted to be active and run marathons competitively. So he asked the doctors, “When can I start running and exercising again?” The doctors replied, “It will take time and although you probably will be able to run, you may not be able to compete and push your body.” My brother didn’t say anything to the doctors but what he told my mother after the doctors had left sums up his attitude. He told my mother not to cry, since she was, “I’m still going to run a marathon.”
When he came home after being in the hospital for 5 days, he set forth on his goal to run a marathon. Believe me when I tell you that he started from scratch. In fact, so much so that I, his younger more good looking brother, had to carry him upstairs because he was too weak to walk up SEVEN stairs. He also was unable to lift himself up off of the furniture in our house. Now think for a minute. You’re not able to walk up seven stairs, and not able to lift yourself off of the furniture but you still think you can run a marathon. Well that’s exactly what my brother thought. He was going to run a marathon.
He started lifting himself up off of the furniture even if he didn’t need to get up simply because he wanted to practice and get better. He began walking upstairs and started going to physical therapy. But that wasn’t enough for him. After his physical therapy sessions he would go to a local gym and workout even more. He was determined to get stronger so he could start running and get ready for the marathon.
While at the gym, he would receive looks from just about everyone when he would be lifting his 2lb dumbbells and be struggling with them. Sometime in May he began to run and actually got yelled at from the physical therapist for being so sore from running, but he didn’t mind. His first run, he ran for 30 seconds and recalls feeling worse after that run than ever before and even since. He started running three times a week at 30 seconds each time and increased about every week by 10%. After each run, he would use the machines to get his heart rate up. By August, he could run for 8 minutes without stopping and began running with a friend again only increasing by 10% each week and still using the machines to get a better workout. In April he ran in a half marathon and finished with a time of one hour and thirty minutes. Not bad for someone who was only able to run for 8 minutes without stopping in August. He had worked himself up from not being able to get out of bed, to running a half marathon in a better than average time.
In October in the windy city of Chicago, 22 months after being diagnosed with Dermatomyocitis and unable to even get out of bed, my brother ran in his first marathon with his whole family, especially my mother, scared to death about what he was doing. He crossed the line like it was nothing, in fact he felt better after the marathon than he did after his first 30 second run. My mother was relieved and hopeful that her son would be satisfied with his performance so he wouldn’t do another one, at least for her sake. But again, that’s not my brother. He tells us, “I’m going to qualify for the Boston Marathon, the most prestigious marathon in our country maybe even the world.” He begins his quest for Boston, running two more marathons in which both times he barely misses the qualifying mark. On his third try, he does it. He qualifies for Boston. But that wasn’t good enough for him either, because not only did he run the Boston Marathon but he ran a then personal record, which is absolutely amazing in my book. This past October 2006 he ran in Chicago and set another personal record of 3:00:37, just missed breaking three hours. He also just decided to compete in a half-ironman triathlon in the summer of 2007. So much for not being competitive.
What does it take to be inspirational? Inspiration is getting back up after you’ve fallen. It’s running a marathon at a competitive level after not even being able to get up out of bed. Inspiration is believing in yourself even though doctor after doctor has told you that you can’t compete like you have before. At some point in our lives when times get rough we need to be inspired or motivated just to get out of bed, but has it ever been so bad that you simply can’t get out of bed? Think about it. Life’s hard but most of us can get out of bed, even in the worst of times. My brother is all the inspiration I will ever need to get out of bed.