Saturday, February 02, 2013
The first day we visited our health club, I worked out on an exercise bike. An elderly man, I’ll call him Charles, was slowly walking on the indoor track and sat down on a bike next to me. It was obvious he was struggling to breathe. In fact, Charles was having such a hard time that I was concerned he was having a heart attack. I asked him if he was OK, and he nodded, but I wasn’t convinced. He was sitting slumped over, had his hand on his chest, and was wheezing. I had completed my workout, but I wasn’t going anywhere and kept peddling. Eventually his breathing returned to normal. He smiled at me, got up, and went back to shuffling around the track.
The next morning I saw Charles and watched him carefully to see if he was better. But he wasn’t. He walked half of the 1/12 mile indoor track then sat down to catch his breathe. During the hour I exercised, he completed a quarter mile. Because I belong to a health club associated with a hospital, it was obvious Charles must be at the gym on doctor’s orders to gain strength from either a heart condition or perhaps emphysema.
A few mornings later I knew I had made a friend. Charles greeted me with “Did you know I’ve got bird dogs?” We soon had our new routine. When I lift weights or on a piece of equipment that borders the track, Charles sits down next to me to catch his breath after his half lap. When he can talk, we do a little visiting and then he gets up and walks again.
One day Charles asked me if my son Joshua plays basketball. We get this question frequently because Joshua is tall. Even though I answered no, Charles’ face lit up as he shared that he had been an outstanding ball player. In fact, he played professionally. He proudly told me his lifetime stats and some of the places around the world he had traveled with his team. Half in jest, I asked him to autograph my workout log, and without missing a beat, he did. It was obvious it was something he had done many times. As he handed me back my sheet, he got a melancholy look in his eyes. He dropped his head and quietly said, “I used to beat everyone running up and down the court. Now I can’t even walk across one.” His deep sense of loss pieced my heart and brought tears to my eyes. I told him how much he inspired me that he came every day to walk and get stronger. I said that his doctor must be very pleased at how faithful he is to come. Charles head snapped back up, and he looked me squarely in the eye. With the conviction of a competitor he replied, “No doctor makes me come. I’m here because I am an athlete.”
No one who meets Charles today would say he is an athlete, but they would be wrong. Over 90 years of life has robbed him of physical strength, but it has not won or changed who he is. I can relate. Regardless of what life brings I will always be a follower of Christ, a wife, a mother, and teacher. These four roles are at the foundation and motivation of everything I say and do. They are who I am, but Charles made me think of all the times I have said I am not athletic. If the definition of an athlete is someone who skilfully plays and wins games, I will never be able to claim that title. But, if an athlete is someone, like Charles, who doesn’t quit, and is willing to physically fight the challenges life brings, I choose to add athlete to my list. Like Charles, I choose to not quit fighting until the final buzzer. Who are you?