Today I walked a mile. For most people this is a short distance. Ordinarily this is not much more than a stroll after dinner. For me, it is another milestone, a turning point of self discovery.
Walking any distance is an accomplishment. Many of my muscles below my waist are paralyzed due to a spinal cord injury. When I walk, I wear calf-high plastic braces on my legs and use a rolling walker, crutches or canes. The braces are used for support in order to position my paralyzed feet at a 90-degree angle to the ground. The attached velcro straps wrap around my ankles in order to force my feet into the braces. When I walk, there is considerable tightness in my calf muscles and my heel seldom touches the ground. Hence, my gait is sometimes on tiptoes. In addition, my leg muscles tremble with spasms as I walk. This makes walking difficult and painful.
As a part of my physical therapy, I walk a little on most days. I can walk into a restaurant or visit a friend's home by using my crutches. To get more cardiovascular exercise, I use a four-wheeled walker in my neighborhood. This walker has a built-in seat and two hand brakes on the handle.
For the past two years since my injury, I have been walking out of my house and up the sidewalk to the end of the courtyard, about 100 yards away. I have progressed in speed over time. Progress has been slow. Placing each step carefully on the ground, I often counted how many steps I could take before I had to sit down on the walker to rest for several minutes.
When I walked, I supported my body weight on my arms and shoulders. Occasionally I would challenge myself and go a little farther. Last week was one of those times.
The afternoon was unseasonably warm and the blue sky was clear. As I walked my typical route, I thought of what my personal best distance had been. I remembered walking down to the fire hydrant, about 200 yards away. Then I thought of a story I had read about a baby elephant.
A circus had recently acquired and was training a baby elephant. One end of a large chain was placed around the baby elephant's rear leg and the other end was tied to a large metal stake that was firmly fixed in the ground. The baby elephant walked around in circles, trying to escape, but could not; the chain restricted the elephant's range. Very soon the baby elephant stopped trying to go out of range. The baby elephant learned that it could only walk within the boundary set by the chain. After several months, the animal trainer removed the chain from the baby elephant, yet the baby elephant continued to walk within the previous boundary of the chain.
As I recalled this story, I realized that I had been like that baby elephant. I was only walking so far and then retreating back home. I had gotten into a habit and set my own barriers, just as if I were chained.
With this realization, I continued further down the street. I didn't know how far I would walk; I trusted my judgement to let me know when I had enough. Soon I passed the fire hydrant, the marker of my last personal best distance.
As I looked down the sidewalk, I thought about walking until it ended. This seemed like a logical goal; walk to the end. With this in mind, I continued to walk. Walking took its toll on my shoulders and tired me quickly. I stopped many times and sat in the walker seat as I panted. A few minutes later, I resumed my trek.
I reached the end of the sidewalk and took a well-deserved rest as I watched the ducks swimming in a backyard pond. I smiled and looked back at the long narrow sidewalk and realized the extent of my personal accomplishment.
I started walking back home. This time the sidewalk went slightly uphill. My goal was to walk 100 steps before taking a sort break. Soon, I heard a car coming up behind me and saw it pull up to the curb. The driver was my husband, Mark Leder.
"Awesome! How far have you walked? I got worried and thought you had fallen. You've been gone an hour. I'm so proud of you."
My husband is my biggest cheerleader. He told me that I had walked a mile. I had no idea I had walked that far.
What activity are you limiting? As you look back at your personal best, what is the barrier that must be broken in order for you to do more? Are you acting like the baby elephant? What chain is holding you back? What do you need to do in order to accomplish new goals?
As you engage in physical activity, challenge yourself to do more. Do your personal best and check your progress the next time in order to exceed it. Count your steps, and check out your speed.
As you pursue other activities, measure your accomplishments in some way and take pride in doing better each time. Incremental advances add up over time.
Rosemarie Rossetti, Ph.D. would like to read your comments about her column and the impact it has made on your life. She also encourages your ideas for future columns. Contact her at: Rosemarie@RosemarieSpeaks.com, or 1008 Eastchester Dr., Columbus, OH 43230-6230.
Byline: To book Rosemarie Rossetti, Ph.D. to speak at a conference, contact her at: (614) 471-6100; www.rosemariespeaks.com Rosemarie works with organizations and corporations that want to bring out the best in their people, and she demonstrates how to live life with conviction.