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.