Courage is about not giving up

Courage isn’t always about putting on a brave face 24/7.

Sometimes it’s about standing up after falling. And again. And again.

Even those we look up to have their down moments.

  • Oregon sprint star Hannah Cunliffe cried all the way from the track through the media zone when she pulled up with a hamstring issue in the NCAA semifinal. She’s since clawed her way back to become a national champion and a NCAA record holder (60mi).
  • U.S. steeplechaser Leah O’Connor ran a monster PR of 9:18 at the Pre Classic, the 3rd fastest U.S. time in the event, but her torn plantar fascia prevented her from making the 2016 Olympic team. She’s back in racing shape and has a piece on how her pain has a purpose.

I’m surrounded by so many stories of how professional athletes thought their world was crashing down on them after being stricken by injury, but they somehow launch a massive comeback within a few months and perform better than ever.

My personal breakthrough is still a work in progress. I try not to compare myself to others, but sometimes it’s unavoidable.

How do they do it?

And then I hear stories of how some run through their injury and still manage to do well.

…what’s wrong with me?

I have a lot of internal conversations with myself, but this is the summary of my dark moments:

Yet, I bristle at this mentality. My competitive streak has been directed to my schoolwork (sadly), but it still itches to show itself in another fashion.

I wanna be proud to say I’m working on it, but the journey has been…a little tough.

Let’s revisit the timeline:

  • Dec 2014: I fractured my left fibula in a steeplechase race. I got confined to crutches and a boot for 2 months.
  • Mar 2015: Learnt about the existence of aqua jogging and how boring it can get.
  • June 2015: Hit the road for the first time post-fracture, but a numbing sensation constantly bugs me on my runs to the point where it’s unbearable. I basically ran when I thought I could, which wasn’t very often.
  • July 2016: Diagnosed with compartment syndrome, which explained the constant numbness in my lower legs. Declined surgery and went to a physio to correct my running mechanics as an alternative.
  • Oct 2016: Resumed regular running while still managing the occasional numbness.

I was out for almost 2 years. Whatever little endurance I had tried to build through cross training wasn’t working out as terrific as the stories I’d gathered from the professional runners.

I first resumed regular running with 20-minute “long” runs while plodding along at 9:30mins/mile.

I’ve since progressed beyond 9mins/mile, but my long runs last a grand total of 40 minutes, which is peanuts compared to what I’d previously accomplished.

A few days ago, I completed a time trial that indicated I probably wouldn’t complete the 1,500m within 6 minutes. I’ll pluck that thought out of your head and put it here. That’s downright embarrassing.

I felt like a part of me was gone. High school me was 16 seconds away from breaking the 5-min barrier, but I’d somehow managed to get even further from it.

Meanwhile, I’m lost in a sea of runners for whom running 4:30 in the 1,500 is considered slow. Again, the comparison monster and the green monster of jealousy nip at my heels as I wallow in self-pity.

Comparison, in healthy doses, can motivate you to improve, but an overdose can lower your self-esteem. But that’s what makes us human.

And then there are stories that strike the core of my humanity like Gabriele Grunewald’s.

Instead of posting a picture of me fake smiling, ugly crying, or an inspirational quote that right now feels hollow, I thought I’d just share the real deal. The above picture was drawn yesterday by my surgical oncologist (enhanced by me & snapchat) and explains the situation with my liver, which is experiencing infiltration by a large tumor (13x15cm) — a metastatic recurrence of adenoid cystic carcinoma that I was first diagnosed with and recovered from in 2009. When you’re a cancer survivor, denial is not a river in Africa. It is a place you must live in order to keep going with your life: positively, optimistically believing that it will never come back and that you’ll live a healthy, long, uninterrupted life. But it did come back, and it sucks. Getting rid of it and becoming a 3x cancer survivor is the new reality I am now embracing. Outside of the biopsy revealing that the growth is indeed cancer, I have been extremely blessed in other ways. Feeling loved and supported by friends and family is #1. But the other lucky breaks involve the nature of this tumor itself and the 100% health that I’m expected to return to after surgery. I’m lucky there is just one solitary mass that’s resectable. I’m lucky we discovered this cancer before it fully overtook my liver or interfered with the function of other organs. I’m lucky I have health insurance and live in a place where excellent healthcare is available. I’m lucky the liver is a resilient and regenerative body part, and even though they will remove up to 60% of it during surgery, the left side will take over the space previously occupied by the affected right lobe and grow a normal sized, functioning liver within ~3 weeks. I’m lucky I’m expected to fully recover and get on with life within 1-2 months. So yes, I have cancer. But yes, I am also very lucky. My surgical oncologist is a busy guy so I’m going to get this unwelcome guest removed ASAP, but that might not be for a couple weeks — I will keep you guys posted when I know more. Thank you in advance for the love and encouragement. There’s nothing more I’d like than to get on with the surgery, recover, and hit the track harder than ever in 2017. Love, Gabe.

A post shared by gabriele (anderson) grunewald (@gigrunewald) on

By comparison, I’m a privileged, whiny a**.

The silver lining from that time trial is that my mediocre speed hadn’t completely abandoned me like my aerobic capacity had. I felt light on my feet as I (kinda) flew along the bends of the track, my spikes grinding into rubber to provide traction and supplying energy back to my legs.

It then dawned on me in the shower – because that’s where all good ideas are born, obviously – that maybe it was time to reevaluate my goals.

Heck, I changed my career goals each year of school. I wanted to be a big-time Hollywood producer. Then it was a documentary producer. Then sports writer.

Someday, “rolling with the punch” will become a legitimate resumé skill.

Anything above the 1,500m may not be my current cup of tea, but right now, I’m just rolling with the cards life has dealt me.

Who knows, I might just come up with a winning hand.

Meanwhile, I’m finding the courage to not give up on this journey, even though success is far from guaranteed.

It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey. -Ralph Waldo Emerson

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Into the tunnel – my first MRI

Anticipation builds up as I switch out from my street clothes to a heavy blue gown. This sad shade of blue looks distressingly similar to those of hospital patients. Even the black outfit I was wearing somehow exuded a cheerier aura than this sheet of heavy cloth with holes in the right places that could barely pass off as clothes.

A nurse opens the door in the restricted room and motions to me. I walk in, still unaware of what lay before me.

A grey matte cylindrical behemoth sat unassumingly in the middle of the room. A small consolation lay in the fact that it yawned open at one end, but could barely fit a soccer ball. I was still unfazed. The novelty of the procedure had me, well, excited.

I lift myself gingerly onto the mattress. Calling it a mattress is grand, really – it was more of a surface. Maybe those kinds of beds that are commonly found in clinics, those that are always covered in extremely weak toilet paper-esquey sheets that change with each new patient. Are those called clinic beds?

As the motorized mattress (fine, I’ll call it a mattress since it’s not hard as a rock) on which I lie starts to bring me into the belly of the beast, the last thing I see is a glassy frame of what looks like a palm tree’s leaves. The lack of texture does little to ease my nerves. My face is the first to realize the reality of the confined space I would spend the next half hour in.

“OMG,” I exclaim.

“Are you okay?” asks the nurse.

Not somewhere I’d voluntarily spend my idle time, but too late to back out now. I grit my teeth.

“Yes,” I lie. No wonder they ask if patients are claustrophobic on the sheet of paper I’d handed to the receptionist, I thought.

My dad had mentioned he had some tunes to make the procedure more bearable as the mammoth machine scanned him noisily while he lay motionless. For me, however, I was only given a pair of rubber earplugs that were rudely jammed into my ears.

“Why would I need these things,” I foolishly thought. Much too soon, I was greeted with a slew of unwelcome noises that would ring around my head for the next 30 minutes.

It started out with wailing sirens, reminiscent of the school fire alarms. It was every schoolkid’s fantasy for the alarm to go off since the fire drills interrupted lessons; every teacher’s nightmare as their trains of thought were disrupted and they had to ensure no one was left behind in the deathly heat waves and raining debris. Did I forget to mention fire drill?

Subsequently, the sirens stopped. This brief respite was impeded by short, rapid sounds that resembled a machine gun. (And the rate at which my mother talks.)

This cycle went on. And on. And on. I half expected to hear the whirring of fighter jets overhead, readying to drop bombs and complete the war zone feel of this too-close-for-comfort, potentially PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder)-inducing experience.

I tried to distract myself by thinking about how I could showcase my colorful vocabulary in this very post. As I trawled my mind for somewhat poetic words to puff up the experience,

Towards the end, my body itched to move. I hadn’t realized lying stationary could be so tiring, and what I really wanted needed was a good stretch.

My left hand fondled the mini distress alert balloon. I had half a mind to press it. I was craving an outlet to relieve my increasing levels of restlessness.

Ironically, when I was finally let out of the machine, it hadn’t felt like the 30 long minutes that gave rise to the restlessness. It’d only felt like 20.

“How was it?” asks the nurse.

This time, I ain’t lying to her. “Not a pleasant experience,” I reply.

(Conclusion: The MRI revealed no abnormalities.)

Catching up on summer!

I am back! It’s been waaaaaaaay too long since I jotted down ANYTHING. Let’s start with the CRAZY WEATHER! The heat waves this summer have been NO JOKE, peaking at 110˚F/41˚C. Too hot to function!!!

SUMMER SCHOOL

I’d heard summer school would be pretty chill, but boyyyyyy that was FALSE. At least for 2 out of my 3 classes it was. I had no idea what I was in for when I signed up for an intensive six-day zero-week class that focused on story-telling and how to make good videos from a good story! I’ll post about that experience separately, but it was truly a unique and empowering experience. Here’s a sneak peak of behind-the-scenes footage:

Since zero-week class ended on a Sunday, I had less than 24 hours before my “real” summer classes started! My first class, titled “Gender, Media & Diversity” wasted no time in plunging us right into the content. We were assigned to summarize 1-2 readings (amounting to 30-40 pages on average) EVERY DAY. Accomplishing this mean feat meant skimming the readings in order to go to bed at a healthy time. This did not sit well with my reading style of slowly digesting each line to understand the big picture of each reading. My excitement was immeasurable after I submitted the very last reading assignment! Sorry teacher, I love you, but the reading assignments were NOT fun.

Now, I’m left with 2 in-class days of my second and last summer class, Media Ethics. This is what summer class is all about! Quizzes are short MCQs, and they are open-book! No complaints about that. 😉 There’s a paper due by the end of the session, but we got to choose our topic for the paper, so all’s good!

I like how the GTFs use comedy to teach us the serious stuff. Last Week Tonight with John Oliver is my new youtube go-to podcast so I can actually learn stuff while doing other mundane chores.

That’s quite enough with academia. ON TO THE FUN STUFF!

INDEPENDENCE DAY WEEKEND!

Andy invited my bro and me to spend the weekend at his cabin up in Lilliwaup, WA. His backyard faces this huge canal of seawater, and he has a collection of kayaks and boards in his boathouse, so water activities were the primary form of entertainment!

I was certain that my parents were going to flip because we went out of town without telling them beforehand, AGAIN, but I think they were comforted by the fact that we were traveling in a group of adults. And the drive was not as long as that trip down to California. Then again I could be wrong.

When you live next to a seawater canal where crabs live in abundance, the logical decision is to go crabbing!

This crab was pretty much dead which is pretty much the only reason why I’m holding a crab.😂

Disclaimer: crab innards are coming up. RIGHT ABOUT NOW.

Apparently breaking off the crab’s shell is the fast way to kill it. Look at those beautiful innards! Nice to the touch! (I’m obviously kidding.)

I was tasked with taking out the jelly-looking things from the inside of the crab. I CANNOT DEAL WITH TOUCHING INNARDS. This is why I’m not a doctor😂

RIPPING THAT CRAB FURTHER to clean out more of its beautiful innards! We only caught two, so they turned out to be an appetizer instead of the main course. But they were delicioussssss. Just boil them and eat em up! The saltwater in them were enough to make them tasty.

The next day, Andy decided to troll us all by bringing us for a “leisurely hike up the mountain”. Never trust an outdoors-savvy guy when he ranks something as “leisurely”. It turned out to be 1.5h of uphill torture. At some parts, we were literally on our hands navigating huge ass rocks because there was no stable space for our feet to land without resulting in us tumbling down the mountain.

My poor back. My poor legs. My poor body. 😦 But I did it!

The cabin gang pre-hike! The pregnant woman was seriously considering subjecting herself and her elderly dog (the black lab Humphrey whom I’m getting to look at the camera!) to THAT. I’m glad she turned back early.

View from Mt. Ellinor. WE RULE THE WORLD!

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Just kidding it’s ME who rules the world.😎

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There were 2-3 dogs hanging out at the cabin as well so I was never lacking in furry company :)))

1. Clover the one-year old golden doodle! She was the baby of the furries at the cabin so she pretty much went wild. And she intercepted our ball game because she thought we were playing with her😂 I walk her sometimes so she was my best furry friend going into the trip.

I can only imagine hugging Clover in the winter……warm furry bolster. Heaven.❤️

2. Humphrey the twelve-year old black lab! He’s an oldie but he still loves being active. He doggy-paddled next to his owners while they kayaked/stand-up paddle boarded in the canal! And he climbed onto the paddle board when he got tired. If only I had a waterproof camera to capture those golden moments😔 Thankfully he stayed still while I pointed my what could only have looked like a black monstrosity in his face. He’s an angel.

What. A. SIR. That Darlie smile.

  

3. Duchess the speckled spaniel! She’s an oldie too, so she was able to entertain my lifting her off the ground for pretty long before she started wiggling out of my hug. Creepy comment but…..her butt is so silky.❤️

SATURDAY, JULY 18TH

I spent the day chilling with my bro’s Team Run Eugene teammates playing beach volleyball and river floating! So glad I still remember some of the volleyball basics from PE last time. (Thanks Old Chan! 🙂 ) River floating has been a summer bucket list goal ever since last summer, and finally it’s my turn to kick back and chill! I had considered taking my camera/phone with me to go river floating, but I hadn’t brought anything that would protect wither from the water. I was sure glad that I chose not to bring either in: I was dragged unceremoniously into the water twice! Here are some beach volleyball photos to make up for the lack of chill-in-the-middle-of-the-river photos.

I especially appreciate Mel’s (the blonde in the chili pants) seemingly doubtful look as Dan gets the ball.

I lied – I told Jordyn (the birthday girl that day!) I’d make a gif from her action shots, but I was only really happy with these three. Maybe next time I’ll be better at working that manual focus!

  

Power couple Rob and Caro. 😉

In a nutshell, that has been my summer in Eugene! I’m headed back to Singapore for a quick break in five days to a much more humid and warm climate. Joyyyyyy. But I miss my friends. 🙂 Being overseas has cost me quite a few of my friends’ 21st birthday parties, and I doubt I’ll be attending one on my short break home. 😦 But that means I have the privilege of having a private celebration with them to welcome them to adulthood! Haha.

To California We Go!

My brother was driving down to California to go cheer his Team Run Eugene teammates on at the Payton Jordan Invitational, a big distance athletics carnival hosted at Stanford University. He asked me to tag along; I jumped at the opportunity. Eugene’s weather had been really dreary lately, and it was taking its toll on my mood as well. No one passes up on California’s good weather! (Despite the droughts that the state has been facing recently.)

And thus we began our 10h drive down. (Our car can only go at 110mph max, so…)

My brother had the honor of getting us on the freeway, before handing the wheel over to me after 2 hours or so. He was tuckered from his morning workout.

Bro: (in perfect Singlish) “You know how to drive on the highway hor?”

Me: “Not really.”

– I relished the anxious look on his face: I hadn’t driven long distance before, nor had I been driving that much lately. –

A crash course later, and I was driving us on the freeway. A little jerk here and then while I learnt how to hold the wheel steady, but all seemed fine. I had my tunes blasting, so the likelihood of me falling asleep due to boredom had dropped significantly.

Bro: *grabs a pillow from the back* “When I wake up, I wanna be alive, alright?”

– Ha bloody ha. –

About 70 miles away from our destination, a friend’s place in San Jose, a tyre popped. Twilight had descended. All the light we had was from a glowing billboard next to use, and the headlights of the passing cars. It wasn’t too bad in terms of lighting actually.


Apparently I did something cool that makes him look like the Flash…such as fumbling with the camera while shooting in unstable Night Portrait mode. (Doh.)


He finally figures out how to change a tyre after an hour! And roadside assistance still hasn’t showed…!

It’s after 10 at this point, and now we can only go at half the speed we were previously going at, meaning we’ll only reach our destination in an hour or so. Also, I had a real urge to answer nature’s call. That was the longest hour of the drive ever.

But enough about the flat tyre incident. On to our adventures in California!

Cupertino, CA had at least two Singaporean restaurants, providing a sense of food from home. It was so good, but I’m not much of a food photographer. My first instinct when I see food is to shove it down the hatch, not photograph it!

We did snag a photo outside an explicitly Singapore-themed restaurant:
The girl in blue is Grace, a fellow Singaporean who grew up in San Jose, CA. She runs too, and fast; she covers a mile in 5:08!

The Merlion is Singapore’s national symbol, although admittedly if anyone tried to imitate the Merlion in a game of charades to make me guess Singapore as the correct answer, I would fail miserably. To me, Singapore is all about the food!

The Payton Jordan started really late, perhaps 3pm, but the three of us (me, my brother and Grace) only went just before 5 to catch his friends racing. The really cheap $5 entry fee is definitely not on my complaint list!

Since I’d survived a 10 hour trip down, why not (attempt) to snap some photos from the sidelines? I saw professional photographers milling around on the inside of the track, with their media passes and monster lenses. Someday I’ll be joining them.

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I used to do the steeplechase, right before I fractured my fibula in December last year, so nevertheless this is one of my favorite events to shoot. One day when I earn a media pass, or stumble upon an open track meet where I can wander freely, I’m getting myself a cool water jump shot of a steeplechaser!


I burst into giggles when I first saw Jeremy, Alexi Pappa’s partner, carrying Alexi’s shoes and shoebag. He was the track equivalent of a guy holding his girlfriend’s handbag. Unfortunately before I could explain myself everyone was judging me for my seemingly random outburst. He was really nice about it after I caught my breath, the darling director.


Only Alexi is able to shine for the camera after 11pm. And having run a spectacular 10km on the track no less. She met the Olympic ‘A’ qualifying standard, clocking a time of 32:02! Can’t wait for her upcoming film Tracktown: The Movie to come out sometime in 2016! Where I cameo for 10 seconds tops. (That shameless advertising on my part though.)

There were many other cool views on the drive, but unlucky me happened to be the one driving during those cool times when we passed Mt. Shasta, so my brother has all the cool snow-topped mountain photos while I had the honor of admiring a windscreen of insects the car slammed into on the drive through Oregon. Those splotches can get really annoying.

And that was my weekend of inter-state exploration! I have another inter-state exploration planned during the Memorial Day long weekend, but I’ll be headed north this time, to Vancouver, B.C. in Canada! Exploring is what life’s about.

Saturdays in Eugene

Recently, I set myself a goal: To explore new places each weekend.

Today, I visited the Eugene Backyard Farmer at 5th and Washington St, the go-to place for people looking to raise chickens in, well, their backyards. They had live chicks for sale!

The chicks all congregated on this side away from me when I lowered my camera down….guess they’re camera shy!

I think there were at least 5 different breeds of chicks to choose from, but these two tanks were the best lit as compared to the others lit by red bulbs!

 

After ogling over these chicks, I spotted this dog outside a Starbucks just a block away!

Hello beautiful 🙂

“Why are you still here taking photos of me?”

“Help me master, this strange girl refuses to leave me alone!”

“Why isn’t master coming out yet….oh well, I’ll stretch first.”

“Maybe if I sit down and not move a muscle, this strange girl will finally leave me alone.”

And so I did, only to pass by the Eugene Public Market held every Saturday! (excluding Winter) It’s an occasion when people can set up shop and peddle their handmade merchandise, mainly consisting of jewelry, artwork, tie-dye shirts. There were also food carts that sold fair-like food, like churros! Definitely touring the food carts next time when I’m not so full.

The sun appeared momentarily, and this jewel caught my eye when it reflected the sun’s rays back at me 🙂

 

And that was my journey through Downtown Eugene today! I should probably hit the hiking trails soon, Oregon is supposed to be known for its nature!