I was forty the first time I tried to walk a mile. As a child, I was hospitalized with rheumatic fever (an event covered in my memoir Rude Awakening). When I left the hospital a year later, the doctors told me I would never be able to participate in sports. But when I was forty-something and fiercely out of shape, my youngest daughter challenged and goaded me until I agreed to walk a mile with her. I wasn’t too sure what I was in for, but as we drove to a nearby park with a mile long track, I reasoned that it couldn’t be all that bad.
We were two or three minutes into it when I started complaining. My daughter tried to distract me, but I wasn’t falling for it. “Are you sure this is only a mile?” I asked after the first two minutes. She assured me it was just one mile around the track. But I didn’t believe her. “This can’t be just one mile,” I said a minute later. “No, Mom it is.” she told me again. Five minutes into it, I felt as though I’d been walking an hour.
“I don’t think I’m going to make it,” I told her two minutes later while searching for the end of the track. “Really I can’t make it. I can’t go one step further.” “That’s okay,” she said cheerfully, “we’ll just turn around and go back.”
I turned around then and happily, if unwittingly, walked the other half mile back to where we started.
Twenty years later, for some reason I can’t quite remember - oh wait, I remember now – I fell in love (which is another event covered in my memoir) - I started walking again. Slowly at first. A mile here and a mile there. And then more consistently. A mile a day and then two miles. Before I knew it, I was walking two, three or four miles a day. Then it was five, six or seven. One day I decided to try for ten. And I made it. Ten miles around the same track I had hated twenty years earlier. I was amazed. Ten miles took me three hours and twenty minutes. But I loved it, every step of it. It felt so good being athletic!
Sometimes I’d break it up into two five-mile walks, one in the morning and another in the evening. I fell in love with the weather and taught myself to tune in to the nuances of the day, those subtle but inevitable changes that came with each hour. When it rained, I had the park all to myself, alone with my umbrella.
In the months before Christmas, I lost twenty pounds. Sometimes on weekends, I would walk as many as twenty miles. I loved the way it made me feel - about my own abilities and about everything around me. I loved the way long walks cleared my head and made me feel relaxed.
Those miles did more for my self-esteem and me than anything else did, before or since. And now at seventy-one I’m ready to start doing it again! Good God, if only I could fall in love all over again!