The Walk-a-thon; Death By Double-Dog Dare

I am convinced, that if girls ever learn to harness the power of the Double-Dog Dare against the common male, they would rule the world.

That’s what got me into this, most unlikely situation in the first place. Two girls, highschool classmates, asked me to join them on a fundraising twenty-mile Walk-a-thon for the March of Dimes. I calmly explained to them how, ya know, I couldn’t actually walk, and if they thought perhaps my inability to walk, might somehow prove to be a hinderance in any kind of “a-thon” that has walking in it. They said some things about being chicken;….I said some things about girls and stupid;…. and the next thing ya know they’re whippin’ out a Double-Dog Dare on me.

So there you have it. Two girls and a Double-Dog Dare have my idiot self almost a mile in, to a twenty-mile journey, for the March of Dimes. Don’t panic. They weren’t asking me to walk the whole twenty miles for goodness sakes. I was on crutches and braces. Truth be told, I’m pretty sure they just wanted me to be a part of what everyone else was doing that Saturday in our hometown. I could walk an hour or so, or however far I wanted to, and enjoy some social time with good friends. They were right too. It was a beautiful early summer morning and like teenagers, we walked, talked, and laughed our way down the road.

The social distractions kept my mind off of the difficulties that came with walking on crutches and braces. So much so that before I knew it, three, maybe three and a half miles had passed. Wow. As far as I knew, I had never walked that far before. Just as I was patting myself on the back about the accomplishment, the cool of the morning began to give way to midday heat and humidity of a Georgia summer. I was wearing full length leg braces. I wasn’t in danger of overheating. I was in danger of bursting into flames. I decided to shoot for the five-mile marker as my stopping point. It would be more than a reasonable challenge for me, and if I made it, a new accomplishment and personal best.

I dug in and pushed myself, and to my relief, the mile and a half distance passed without too much difficulty. By this time I was dripping in sweat and road grime. Blisters had formed, not only on my feet, but my hands and legs too from the crutches and braces. I was looking forward to a long cold drink, and I didn’t care what car was going to drive me back as long as it had air-conditioning.

It was at that moment that I caught some unusual movement out of the corner of my eye. I could see two men, half running/half sliding down and embankment on the side of the road. One was carrying a camera, and the other a notepad and microphone. It was a news crew from the TV station in Macon, and to my surprise, they stumbled to a stop in front of me. They had caught wind that someone was walking in the March of Dimes walk-a-thon on crutches and braces, and thought it would be a good human interest story for the evening news.

Lights, camera, and a few questions later, my mind was thinking about that air-conditioned car ride again. We were wrapping things up when the reporter put his hand on my shoulder and told me how incredible he thought it was that I had actually walked five miles on crutches and braces. I thanked him and was about to leave when he said, ” Five miles, for someone in your condition? I mean, how far does someone like you go?”.

It was a simple mistake in grammar. I’m sure he meant to ask how far “can” someone like me go, instead of “does” someone like me go, but the “does” version struck a chord with me. It was a real question, and felt correctly asked. How far does someone like me go? I had no idea how to answer that. My first obstacle was the fact that there wasn’t anyone else like me. I had polio years after the Salk vaccine. By then, cases of polio were few and far between. This left me without any polio peers, so to speak. I never knew another soul that used crutches and braces because of polio.

Now, being the only person around with polio wasn’t to big of a deal, until it came to taking a measure of yourself. Without anyone else to compare with, you can never be sure how you’re doing. Being the only person in my category, means that I hold all the top records for everything. I am the best there is in my division. Problem is, I also hold all of the worst records. I am the worst that there is in every category, if I’m the only one. So what’s my measure? Was five miles a long distance for “…someone like me…”, or was it a poor effort? I really had no idea.

It occurred to me that day that whatever I am, is what I am. The life I have been given to live will only be as high as I can reach, or as far as I can go, or as wide as I can stretch myself.

My world, my life, and my self suddenly felt like a small space to live in. I stood and stared at the first white line down the center of the road, and thought to myself that if I walk to that line, it would forever be added to the space that I get to live in. So, I walked the length of the white line. stopped at the end,  and looked back. It made me smile to think that now and forever, I have that much more space to live in. It was only a few feet, but it was mine now.

I liked having more space to call my life. So I walked.

Was I prepared for something like this? No way, no how. On my feet I wore laced up high-top orthopedic shoes. Brown. Had to have a prescription to get ’em. Attached to those shoes were long-leg braces that ran all the way to my hips. Two heavy metal bars ran up either side of my legs, with a hinge at the knee’s. Thick, heavy leather was sewn, fashioned, shaped, and riveted to the metal frame. The leather wrapped around my calves and thighs, and was tightly laced into place. A separate leather piece was strapped, and buckled down as tight as possible, over each knee. There was even a leather strap on my ankles, that lessened the severity of rubbing against the brace.

My crutches were more like construction projects. Custom built to stand up to the pressures I put on them. Part steel, part aluminum, all heavy. My handgrip’s were solid wood, about the thickness of a broom handle. The only padding was the callous’ on my hands. Each crutch extended high on the arm with leather and metal bracing, at the forearm and bicep.

If that wasn’t bad enough, I also wore bell-bottom jeans and a fish-net football jersey, that made a nice checkerboard pattern as I sunburned. This wasn’t exactly the gear of the modern-day athlete. I wasn’t prepared. Just stupid.

It wasn’t courage;….it wasn’t will;….and it definitely wasn’t because I wanted to prove to everyone that I could do it. The man from Macon asked how far do I go;…..and I didn’t know.

At first, there where hundreds of people offering encouragement as they passed. Several even slowed their pace to walk with me for a while. I talked a lot in the beginning, but soon became quiet as I thought, and struggled along. I was in a bit of a trance when a friend put their hand on my shoulder and informed me that we had reached the half way point. At last I would get a long drink and some food. I can’t tell you how badly I needed it. I was afraid to sit down, so I leaned against an oak tree and rested in the cool of its shade, while one of the girls ran off to get food.

What was I doing? My legs had been rubbed raw by my braces, knees and ankles were bleeding. I was past anything I ever knew to be exhaustion. But I had ten miles of life that were forever mine.

When Libby returned with our burgers, I started to reach for one, and found that I couldn’t. I couldn’t let go of my crutches. My hands had frozen into place, gripping my crutch handles. My palms were an open wound, and a layer of dried blood glued my skin to the crutch. This was worse than I thought.

So, was this it? Was this all of me?

Libby held a burger so that I could grab a few bites. Then she turned the handle of the water fountain, so that I could have a drink. And then, in unison, my friends told me to stop. Not quit. Stop. They were right.

Each one hugged me, and then left me leaning against that tree. They still had ten miles to cover before dark.

Now I was alone.

I should have gotten into a car. Hell, I should have gotten into an ambulance. I didn’t.

There was this steeple ya see. When I left my tree and went to say goodbye to my last white line in the road, I made a mistake, and lifted my eyes as to where that road was going. It disappeared into a sea of green trees and blue sky. In the distance, was the only thing taller than the trees for miles. I was a white steeple. A beautiful white steeple contrasted against the trees and the sky.

If I stopped now, the place that was mine to live my life in, was only gonna have a steeple in it. I guess I wanted a whole church.

The walk-a-thoner’s were thinning out. I had countless offers for help, and countless offers for rides, until there was no one left. The constant pounding of my crutches on my rib cage had them bruised to the point that I could only take shallow breathes. My legs, arms, and hands were a bloody mess. My body was a train wreck. And my soul? Ohhh my soul.

How far do I go?

The finish line parking lot had all but cleared out by the time I arrived. Sponsors were taking down tents and folding tables. I could barely speak.

At some point, an official came up to me and said that the mayor had dropped by and heard about me, and wanted to shake my hand before he left.

The mayor of our little town stood before me politician clean. I looked like what I was;….twenty miles of road-kill. I struggled to peel my hands from my crutch grips, and when I did, it opened the wound all over again. Before I could warn him. Before I could say no. The mayor clutched my hand in an election year grip that made me wince in pain. Not seeming to notice, he pulled in close to my ear so that no one else could hear, and said;…

” What you have done is unbelievable Jay. Especially for someone like you. The way you are and all.”.

  Completely empty;….completely whole.


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Cozette Hightower
    Jun 08, 2012 @ 14:19:52

    I never considered that accomplishments increase the space you live in but now I realize it’s true….very inspiring and well written. I need to throw down on some Double-Dog Dares!


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