New Normal Continued…

This has been a long time coming.  It has nothing to do with my recent diagnosis of retinitis pigmentosa.

These knees of mine and I have been through a lot together.  In my youth, it was baseball (pitcher, catcher, first baseman and second baseman), football (defensive end, tight end), basketball (center…6’5″ used to be tall), track (440 and mile relay….that’s right…before metric) and field (discus and shot put) as well as many hiking trips into the wilderness on Boy Scout expeditions and up steep mountains on my own.

They’ve served me well and have the scars to show for it.  I’ve got an old-school scar from cartilage removal surgery (arthroscopy wasn’t invented yet) and another one from blocking home plate when a kid came in fast….with his sharp, metal cleats high.  No one ever got past me playing catcher.  No one.  I had everyone by a good 10″ in height and 30 pounds of weight.


Thanks to my parents, I had opportunities to participate in sports in grade school, junior high, high school and college.  I even spent some years serving as a chaplain in the U.S. Army Reserve and got through basic training at Ft. Jackson, SC, with these knees.  While stationed at Ft. Snelling, MN, I ran the fastest in my battalion on the two-mile course as the second oldest soldier.  I was 39 and finished the course in 13:06 which scored 100 on the old APFT.  (If you’ve served in the military, then you’re already wondering  how many push-ups and sit-ups Wilder managed to do in two minutes…aren’t you?  72 and 76, thank you very much.)

Since then, I’ve participated in Train to Hunt Challenges in four different states.  I’ve run a long “meat pack” course up and down mountains with 60 lbs on my back.  It was great fun.


As you can see, I was just a bit taller and bigger than the other men in my age division.  I always felt like Gulliver among the Lilliputians…and those Lilliputians were fast and strong!

I’ve always enjoyed running.  There’s just something about it.  It makes me smile…especially at the end.


Recently, my knees have been hurting when I run….and hurting even more after I finish.  Ice and ibuprofen did help, but my 61 year old digestive tract doesn’t need the NSAIDs.

So I’ve been hiking lately.  I don’t work up the same sweat from my head to my feet.  My dogs, Dixie and Ruby, wonder why I’m moving so slowly as they look back.  It’s different from running in countless ways.  Some of the differences are positive.

I never really looked up at mountains or around me when I was trail running.  My head was down making sure I wouldn’t trip on rocks, loose gravel or exposed roots.  Now I look high and low…and what I see is beautiful.

Better yet, my knees don’t hurt.  Back in my Army days one doctor told me that my left knee was “bone on bone” and that I must have a high pain threshold.  That threshold didn’t keep my knees from aching in recent years.  When hiking, I am pain free.

So I think this grandpa is now a hiker instead of a runner.  I admire the men my age who still run.  Christopher Cudworth and Jim Witcombe come to mind…true athletic beasts in my opinion.

Today I hiked just over 12 miles in just under 2.5 hours….about 12.5 minutes per mile.  It was downright enjoyable and I finally started sweating a little around mile six.  So this may be the new normal for me.  I’m thankful for all the running I’ve put in since my youth.  I’m grateful for my wife’s undying support in all my athletic endeavors.  I can still hear her voice among the crowd as I came down the home stretch of a Train to Hunt event, Move it, old man! MOVE…..IT!!!” 

Her words made me grin….and they did help me finish strong.


I look forward to another hike tomorrow.  If my running days are behind me, then I give thanks for all the miles and all the smiles.  I’m adjusting to many new normals these days.

Life is still good….very good.







New Normal


This photo was taken at one of my favorite places in the Sandia mountains behind our home. I would run up the trail with our dog, Max, and at this turn-around spot I’d give him some water before heading back down. Max’s ashes are there now…placed beneath a scrub oak where he would seek the shade from the hot New Mexico sun. Now I run up the same trail with Dixie and Ruby. The first time we took that route, both of them went straight to Max’s spot to enjoy the shade and cool sand. It was a powerful and precious moment. I wept.


Max left us two years ago at Easter. Kirsten and I are still adjusting to the “new normal” without him. For us, he was the perfect dog. We loved him…and still do. Dixie and Ruby are sweet dogs. They are fiercely loyal and keep me company on my trail runs. They sit at my feet when I’m in the Mancave writing at my laptop. We love them, but they’ll never replace the sacred space in our hearts and minds that Max fills to this day. They have a place that is uniquely their own.

dixie and ruby

Kirsten and I have adjusted to many “new normals” through our nearly forty years of life together. Becoming parents for the first time and then parents of twins, moving from place to place as I accepted new calls to different congregations, transitioning from a house full of lovely daughters to empty nesters, hitting our sixties in full stride after some challenging health issues in our fifties, mourning the death of our dear sister, Karen…these are some of the changes that have come our way.

Last month, yet another “new normal” appeared. I was diagnosed with “late onset” retinitis pigmentosa (RP). I’m legally blind and have been for many years according to my retinologist who looked at my medical records. I didn’t know I was “blind” when I went for those runs with our dogs. I didn’t feel blind hiking in the wilderness, competing in archery contests, driving my truck to remote trailheads or stalking deer and elk in the mountains. Truth be told, I don’t feel blind now. Just yesterday I went for a five mile run with no problems. Even so, my field of vision test indicates that I have only 20 degrees of vision. New Mexico requires no less than 120 degrees to have a driver’s license.

Kirsten dropped me off at the coffee house where I am now writing this blog. I used to come here fifteen years ago to get away from the interruptions at my office to write my sermons. That came to a halt when people found out they could find me here and stop by to ask “a quick question.” The questions were not quick…they never are. I now write my sermons at home where the interruptions are fewer.

Here I am again…legally blind. I needed to get out of the house and come here this morning. There is something strangely energizing in this joint. The sounds of conversations all around me…the servers taking orders and bringing food and drinks to each table…the music in the background ranging from pop songs I’ve never heard to the rock and roll tunes of my youth. The vibe is good. Better yet, I’ve not been interrupted once.

I’ll be writing more often now that my normal has changed…again. It’s good for the soul. I was motivated to start these reflections years ago by the wonderful writing of our daughter, Melinda, and a different affliction that rocked my world. It helped me through that difficult time. I’m hoping it will do the same now that I know I’ll be seeing less and less as the years go by and my retinas slowly degenerate.

Thanks for reading this. God bless you as you face the “new normals” of life that are uniquely your own. Don’t let any diagnosis define you. I may be “legally blind,” but I’m going to break that law by going for a run later today.

I’ll stop at Max’s grave and thank him again for all the love he poured into our lives.