September 19, 2023

I have four family members who have run marathons. I’m simply in awe of this accomplishment. Our oldest daughter Elizabeth has run three and I’ll never forget her first one, the St. Jude Memphis Marathon. The whole family went downtown on a very cold December morning, sometime around 2008, to support her. I wasn’t prepared for my emotions as she finished the race.

Months of discipline and training brought her to the finish line, and when someone handed her that silver blanket, I could not hold back my tears. Tears of respect, awe, and admiration for the tremendous sacrifice and work involved, and for her resolve and sheer guts as she ran the last few miles on an ankle she sprained when she rolled it on a curb.

There is no challenge accepted and overcome without sacrifice. I have to believe my family members did their training runs in weather that was cold, hot, rainy, humid, windy, and otherwise awful when they would rather have taken a nap or propped up their feet with a glass of wine and a book.

Now, in my second week of cardiac rehab, I’m in the midst of the challenge of my life. I know I’ll have to sacrifice; we’ve already begun making changes and there are more to come. Changing the way we eat is an adjustment and a challenge. Just like doing 20 minutes of cardio one month and one day after a heart attack. But challenges lead to growth and growth makes us better. I know after I do 36 sessions of rehab, my heart will be stronger, my confidence will be greater, and I’ll be healthier.

I already miss my salt so much in the strangest of places: my morning oatmeal. For years I’ve eaten a bowl of oatmeal (made with water as I don’t like milk) in the morning. Jim usually makes it for me and adds cinnamon and … salt. I’m not gonna lie, I don’t like my oatmeal nearly as much without salt. I still eat it, I just don’t enjoy it so much.

We like to have specific meals on certain nights of the week — Wednesday is steak night (which has never been my favorite) and Fridays are burger nights. We’re currently on hiatus from Taco Tuesday until we find a recipe that’s more compliant with the food plan. My rehab program includes cooking classes and the last one we attended featured a black bean burger that was absolutely delicious. Jim made it for me last Friday night and I absolutely loved it. I’ve never been a big meat eater, so I’m completely sold on the veggie burger. Jim and Mom had regular burgers, but I like mine better. With whole-wheat buns and sweet potato fries seasoned without salt and cooked in the air fryer, it was a healthy meal that would have been approved by the Wellness Center. Right now, we’re sticking pretty close to the food plan as we figure out how to cook without salt and with much less fat. And chicken with non-salt seasoning is really good in the air fryer.

For probably 55 years or so I’ve done crossword puzzles. My favorites are The New York Times crosswords. If you’re not familiar with these puzzles, they get progressively more difficult through the week. Monday and Tuesday are easy confidence builders, and I can usually breeze through Wednesdays pretty easily. It gets tricky on Thursdays, Fridays are a little tougher, and the Saturday puzzle is the toughest of all. Sunday is a bigger puzzle, but not so difficult.

When I first started doing these puzzles, the Monday offerings made me feel smart. Tuesday and Wednesday were fun, but when Thursday rolled around, I was often stumped. The weekends, forget it. What I noticed was that the more crosswords I did, the easier they became. My vocabulary was growing, I was learning new facts and new words from the clues. Over the years I’ve progressed to completing the puzzles every day.

My crosswords and my marathon-running family members taught me that there is no growth in the comfort zone. If I’d continued to just work the Monday – Wednesday puzzles I’d never have stretched and I wouldn’t have the 234-day streak I had put together before my health problems interfered.

So now I’m stretching in the kitchen, learning to eat without salt (😔), cutting back even more on red meat (this one is easy for me), and skipping the butter on the baked potato (ahhh, butter, I remember … ). It’s not without difficulty, but the goal is worth it, so I’ll meet this challenge head on.

I love my cardiac rehab program. We have a great facility here in Jonesboro, associated with one of the hospitals. It’s shiny, new, and well staffed. I go three times each week for a total of 36 sessions. I love that Jim goes with me, even if he doesn’t get to exercise.

On arrival, they check my blood pressure and oxygen saturation and attach EKG leads to my chest. I then do 10 minutes on a treadmill, rest a bit, then 10 minutes on a recumbent bike. As I write this, it’s Tuesday and I’m pretty sure on Wednesday I’m going to have to go more than 10 minutes. After exercise, we watch videos about heart-healthy food from the Pritikin Diet and Eating Plan, which has plenty of scientific research to back it up. They advocate healthy, non-processed, plant-based foods. So I’ve given up my salt, but I get back sweet potatoes, regular potatoes, corn, beans, whole grains (bread!) and fruit. Seems like a pretty good deal to me, so I’m trying not to complain about the salt.

That’s not to say I’ve been 100 percent positive. I’ve been whiny, irritated, and I’ve despaired of ever enjoying a good dinner out again, something Jim and I enjoy. I miss bacon, and it can be a pain in the butt to try to replicate favorite recipes with less salt and fat.

But, much like my marathon-running relatives must have, I see the finish line through the confusion, frustration, anxiety, fear, and uncertainty. I see that finish line and I want to be there, with a healthy body and a healthy heart, and that’s a challenge I’ll gladly sacrifice for.


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