One step at a time. That’s what people say when they want someone, anyone to push just a little harder or get started on something that is outside a person’s comfort zone. I get asked all the time how I completed a full 140.6 mile Ironman with my multiple chronic illnesses and living with an ostomy. The normal answer would be one foot in front of the other, yada yada yada. But the reality of that isn’t true.
The journey to me becoming an Ironman didn’t even start with steps. It started by gathering the strength to roll over in my parents bed so a visiting nurse could pack my wound after a major surgery didn’t heal properly. I remember being asked to rollover onto my left side and thinking this was the most difficult challenge someone could imagine. It was at this moment I realized something, and it’s something that really has changed my life.
When battling a chronic illness and trying to get started on a goal or overcome a challenge, it’s not about taking one step, and then another, and then another. It’s about taking small and slow turtle steps to get started and heading in the right direction. The distance and pace don’t matter one bit. What matters is that you are starting to accomplish something, anything to move in a direction you want.
Slowly I noticed that rolling over in bed, turned into walking to the kitchen to make my own grilled cheese. After a little while that turned into getting out around my neighborhood for a walk with friends, which then turned into going to a mall to walk around in public. This turned into going for a jog or doing an activity that I liked. I’m sure you see the pattern that I am building up to here.
Living with a chronic illness doesn’t mean setting a goal, creating a schedule to complete it, and then following that plan to a T. Living with a chronic illness means doing what you can, when you can, and still doing whatever it might take to make a small and slow turtle step forward that day. Some days might be more than others, some days might be faster than others. Breaking news, some days you might even get pushed backwards away from your goal while taking a turtle step forward.
The important thing is we don’t let the pace and the distance we are making towards our goal get us down. We accept that things are going to move a little slower for us and being okay with that. In fact, you may come to a point when you’re really happy about it. We are living with challenges we must face every day. Don’t set the bar too high or compare yourself to a healthy friend doing something similar. Set the bar for your body, for your mind, and for what you would be happy with.
A good example is my Ironman, it started in my parents bed with a visiting nurse. Then 5 years later I was crossing the finish line. This didn’t happen over night. It was the culmination of 5 years of turtle steps combined, knowing that on August 19th, 2018 my time didn’t matter, what mattered was that I would cross the finish line at my own pace and I would be able to hear “Brian, you are an Ironman” from Mike Reilly. It was hands down the biggest accomplishment of my life, and it all started with turtle steps.