Last December I signed on to join a weekly 22-Minute Walking Challenge. The premise was simple: carve out 22 minutes once a week to go on an outdoor walk without any sort of auditory stimulation like podcasts or music in your ears. Listen to the sounds around you - the crunch of the snow beneath your feet, the winter birds, the relentless Wyoming wind. Take in the surrounding sights - the neighborhood you live in, yet take for granted or the chilly lake with its frosted cover of ice. And, most of all, let your mind settle; let all of the frenetic concerns from daily life wisp away and allow yourself to focus on deeper reflections of life and intention.
Let it be known, I love a healthy challenge. I relished the experimental dietary reset of the Whole 30 eating plan. I spent 100 days of the pandemic beginning each day with a creative writing prompt from the Isolation Journals project. There is something enriching about setting out to better myself amongst a community of individuals taking on the same initiative, about sharing wins and struggles, about looking back and recognizing the landmarks of transformation. Therefore, when this walking challenge crossed my path, there was no question: I was doing it. I would walk around my neighborhood park, around the streets of downtown Denver during an unexpected two-day travel layover, and on the cherished walking paths of Laramie and Sacramento that hold poignant memories of my past.
On the West Side of Laramie there is an excellent walking path called the Greenbelt. It follows the Laramie River then takes a loop around a grove of aspen trees, winding its way back to the initial trail. While I occasionally visited this public space Before, it wasn’t until After my medical breakdown of 2014/15 that I unlocked the magic of the location. After my release from a month-long hospital stay, with the stylish support of my tennis ball-clad granny walker, I entered into the long phase of rehabilitation and physical therapy. I lived downtown at the time, just a walking bridge and railroad crossing leap from the Greenbelt. Once PT had graduated me from the walker to a cane, I set out on reaching that loop. With each attempt, I made it a little bit closer: first to the end of the block, then to the railroad tracks, then across the bridge, and, finally, to the start of the path where a lone bench sits overlooking the river. I sat on that bench, breathing in the frozen February air, and felt the first twinges of hope.
I’ve since walked, and then ran, that loop many times over the last eight years. It has fielded the reverberating footsteps of recovery, of strength training, of serenity. And although my 22-Minute+ walk on the Greenbelt in December left me drained of energy reserves and my pride felt wounded by the loss of endurance incurred over the last couple years, my heart held gratitude for the journey taken on that path.
A similar walking path exists near my grandma’s house in the hills just outside of Sacramento, CA. Trips along this path are tethered to my family visits during the holidays, stirring up memories of when I lived with my grandparents and traveled the walking path daily. It was on this path that I discovered my love for running. This was back in 2012, before I’d registered the name and meaning of multiple sclerosis; before I ever imagined a health upset taking my life down a different road.
I thought of this during my 22-Minute walk as December was racing to the year’s end. While I was certainly saddened by my inability to run the trail as I had in years past, I also contemplated the markers of personal growth. I was not running, but I had my health nonetheless. More than that, I held years of discovery, of experience, of wisdom. I had the assurance of inner strength, of a sparkling stubbornness that could carry me through the trials and tribulations of whatever challenge life threw my way. My weekly triumphant trek signaled an individual win of perseverance and self-care, of resiliency.
With that, I took in a deep, reassuring breath, set one foot in front of the other, and walked on.