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March 2, 2006


Occasionally when I become too obsessive about running, I like to remind myself of its relative insignificance in the grand scheme of things.

So this week was an appropriate time for me to watch the movie Murderball, the documentary of the United States “quad rugby” team.

Quad rugby is played in basketball gymnasiums by physically challenged athletes in gladiator-style wheelchairs. The athletes are as tough and competitive as any able-bodied Olympians, and the movie chronicles their team in its preparation for the 2004 Paralympics in Athens.

It also provides a candid look into the day-to-day lives of these wheelchair-bound individuals. As a physical therapist, I was especially moved by watching these young men struggle through long rehabilitation sessions and make adaptations for returning to community life.

The athletes in the film have made successful transitions to post-injury life and have some peace about their condition. Unfortunately, they represent the minority in many general tendencies of this patient population.

Spinal cord injuries and traumatic brain injuries occur disproportionately with young, active males. The sudden nature of occurrence, severity of disability, and finality of the injuries are often an overwhelming combination. Many patients struggle to find a sense of purpose, and suffer through severe depression or self-imposed isolation from friends and family.

That’s why it is so encouraging to watch stories like Murderball. Certainly, these athletes have countless difficulties and limitations the rest of us could never imagine, but they still manage to provide glimpses of hope and optimism.

In one scene, Bob Lujano, a Team USA member who lost both legs above the knees and both hands to a rare blood disease, is talking with a group of schoolchildren. One of them asks how he lost his arms and legs. He tells them that he got really sick when he was nine years old, and removing his limbs was the only way to save him.

Seeing the concerned looks of the kids, Lujano immediately smiles and says, “But it’s OK. I’m all right. I just do the best I can with what I have every day. That’s what we all should do, right?”

Yes, that’s what we all should do, and that’s what brings me back to running.

How do we know if we are doing the best we can in our lives? There are few objective measures in daily life. How do you know if you are doing your best work at the office, or as a parent, or as a friend? It’s difficult to find honest methods of assessment.

For runners, periodic races are opportunities to determine the extent of your ability. Race days are days when we ask the question, “What is the best I can do today?”

I don’t believe in entering races as extra-mileage days, or tempo runs, or for group interaction. While other people’s opinions may differ (and that’s OK), I feel that when you pay your money and pin on a race number, you are pledging to give your best effort that day – whether you are in prime condition or not.

As far as this weekend goes, I know that I’m not as prepared as I would like to be. I was late in starting my mileage buildup, I haven’t done as many high-mileage weeks as I planned, and I’ve been dancing around this minor injury that could potentially become a major limitation as the race unfolds.

But none of that will matter on Sunday. I’ll pin on my number and stand on the start line determined to give my best effort, and let my finishing time be a secondary concern. Even though I’m not 100%, I’ll just do the best I can with what I have.

That’s what we all should do, right?


olga 3/2/06, 11:33 AM  

Go for it!

backofpack 3/2/06, 2:40 PM  

I have a sister with CP. Every single thing she does is a struggle. I guess I am so used to it, that I forget how tough life is for her. Thanks for reminding me.

Downhillnut 3/4/06, 2:24 PM  

Amen. Well said, and have a great race doing your best tomorrow.

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