• THINK Strength: How One Girl's Ambition Outweighted Limitations
  • Mariel Heather

THINK Strength: How One Girl's Ambition Outweighted Limitations

By Emily Huxford

During the month of January, I competed in a challenge called RunCHAARG to run 31 miles in 31 days – outside. It doesn’t seem like a very hard challenge, but it was no easy feat for me to complete. You see, I’ve had severe knee problems since I was a freshman in high school. The issue is that my knee problems weren’t easily diagnosed – I went four years without knowing what was wrong with me. I endured countless X-rays, MRIs, CT Scans, and doctors’ visits, all of which were inconclusive; my knees weren’t working correctly, but no one knew why.

Despite all of these problems, I continued to play soccer and swim competitively. I would push myself as far as I could go and when I couldn’t go any further, I would be on crutches for a few weeks until I recovered. It was unhealthy and destructive to my body, but I wanted to play and no one could tell me a definitive reason not to play, other than that it hurt sometimes. So I continued the nasty cycle of pushing myself past my breaking point, being on crutches for a couple of weeks, and once I could walk again, I would start pushing myself too hard once more.

After my senior soccer season ended, I finally found a doctor who figured out what was wrong with me. It turns out that my knee caps are essentially out of place and I would need surgery on both knees to correct the problem. I had surgery on my left knee my freshman year of college – and it was rough. Recovery was much longer and more intense than we had originally planned. It took a serious toll on my mindset and my attitude. I got discouraged, but I realized that I couldn’t continue to push my body to the point that it hurt – it wasn’t healthy.

I was able to start *really* exercising again about a year and a half after my first surgery. That year and a half off wore hard on my body, and it’s going to be a long process to get back into the type of shape I used to be in. The January RunCHAARG challenge was the first time I had come face to face with running since my surgery, and I made the decision to commit to the challenge whole heartedly. I ran, and I ran, and I ran, despite every obstacle that I faced. I ended up completing a whopping 37 miles – more miles in one month that I had run in the past four years of injury!

My ability to complete the January challenge fueled me to try and participate in another running challenge taking place during February called CHAARGintoFebruary where we would complete 45 miles in 28 days. I started the challenge with a smile on my face and a fierce desire to complete another running challenge! I felt unstoppable – after years of knee problems I was FINALLY able to exercise again, and I was loving every second of it!

Unfortunately, as much as my mind and my heart wanted to continue chugging along, my body was tired. I put a lot of mileage on my legs in a short amount of time – I went from 0mph to 100mph in just one month, and my knees were not very happy with me. They were swollen to the size of grapefruits and they were tired. After my first run for the February challenge, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to complete a full 45 miles. I reluctantly called my doctor, hoping beyond hope that he wasn’t going to tell me what I knew I didn’t want to hear. He was wildly impressed with my January running mileage, but he told me that I needed to slow it down, that I needed to *listen to my body.* I hung up the phone feeling upset and beat-down – I felt like a little kid who had been given an ice cream come, only to have it snatched away after just a few licks. I wanted to keep going, I wanted to keep running, I didn’t want to stop! But I needed to. I needed to do what was right for my body and my knees.

And so, I had to drop out of the CHAARGintoFebruary challenge. It was a hard decision to make because all my friends were running in the challenge, and I knew I would have to sit on the sidelines and watch them run all month long. But in the back of my mind, I knew that I had to do what was best for my body. I knew I couldn’t continue my destructive ways from high school – after all, I only get one set of knees, and I need to learn how to take care of them and their special needs.

I had to stop distance running in February, but I didn’t let that discourage me from continuing on my fitness journey! I kept working out, I kept lifting weights, I kept going to the gym every day, and I even kept running [very] small amounts. But I took my running slow and steady – I listened to my body and I stopped when I knew I needed to stop.

Rather than giving up on fitness after my setback, I decided to maintain a positive outlook. My fitness journey is just that – a journey. There’s going to be ups, and there’s going to be downs, but it’s up to me to decide how I handle these ups and downs. It’s up to me whether or not I let them discourage me – and I’ve chosen to see every up and every down with a positive mindset. Sure, I couldn’t run 45 miles in the month of February, but instead I was able to work on my lifting and gain muscle mass in my arms, instead I was able to set new personal records for myself in the weight room, instead I was able to listen to my body and learn its limits – instead I was able to maintain a healthy relationship with my body, rather than a destructive one.

Because I’ve chosen to *think positive* in my life, I’ve learned that I am the master of my own happiness. Every situation you encounter in life has both a positive and a negative side to it. If you choose to only focus on the negative aspects, you won’t be seeing the situation in its full light – you’ll only be focusing on the part that is guaranteed to bring you down. Rather than focusing on the negative, I focus on the positive, and I’m a stronger woman because of it. Seeing the positive in every situation isn’t always easy, but I can promise you that it’s always worth it. By surrounding myself with positivity, I’ve learned to love every aspect of my life [yes, even my knees] – and loving your life is essential to being happy. Just like we only get one pair of knees, we also only get one life to live, so we might as well learn to love every second of it. <3

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  • Mariel Heather