Charlie was the man who raised me. He was my only true father figure. He always stepped in when I needed help with something. He loved me even when I was a bratty teenager and didn't deserve it. He was a “New Yorker”, an avid cyclist, a photographer and he was a good person.
When I was in college, in 2005-06 Charlie started noticing that his feet were “droopy”. Several years later he could barely walk and my heart broke when he couldn’t walk me down the isle at my Wedding in 2009. He was later diagnosed with ALS or “Lou Gehrig's Disease”. ALS is a progressive neurological disease that causes muscle weakness and gradual impacts on the vital functioning of the body, leading to eventual death. His last year of life was spent confined to a chair, unable to move most of his body. In the end, he could hardly speak, eat and couldn’t move any of the muscles of his neck, causing his head to hang down onto his chest like a rag doll when we propped him upright. My mom and I took care of him until he passed away in the Summer of 2011.
Seeing his gradual decline and eventual inability to move had a very profound impact on me. I started to become much more aware of my body’s abilities. When I stood up to walk, even to my kitchen, I felt thankful for my working legs. I started running more, swimming more, cycling more. I did a 5-mile open water swim, a triathlon, some 5k running races. I took up kickboxing and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. The year he died I joined a CrossFit gym. Aside from the obvious physical and mental health benefits of exercise, I had found a much deeper purpose for it.
I don’t do these physical activities to impress anyone. I don’t do them to look good naked (although that is a welcome side effect). I don’t even do it to compete. My body is healthy and ALIVE and able. So I USE IT, I CARE FOR IT and I feel so much gratitude for every day that I can move.
So my message here is this: Please don’t take your body for granted. If you have working arms and legs, USE THEM. Some people don’t. And someday you might not. If you CAN use your muscles and exercise your body, you should. Exercise is the best way to show gratitude to your body and your physical capabilities. It’s part of being fully alive.
I'll bet he's up there somewhere riding his bike right now. :)