By Angela Noel
November 3, 2016
“Pain is God’s megaphone to rouse a deaf world . . . You see we are like blocks of stone out of which the sculptor carves the forms of men. The blows of his chisel, which hurt us so much, are what makes us perfect.“- from the movie Shadowlands
Jayme Sisel ran her first marathon in 2007 and her first half-Ironman that same year. “One was for me, the other one was for my mom. I forget which was which.”
Pushing herself to her physical limit — lungs burning, feet pounding — gets all the bad energy out and lets the good stuff in. Running was Jayme’s solace when her mother lay dying of cancer.
Jayme knows death. Besides her mom, she’s lost three grandparents, three uncles, two cousins and her father-in-law. And yet no one is more vibrantly, ridiculously alive as Jayme.
Wearing a wide, bright smile, her curly red-gold hair a halo around her face, she’ll hug you the first time she meets you and every day after. She rarely gets a pedicure (mostly because her toenails keep falling off). She forgets to wear her wedding ring. Don’t buy her diamond earrings for Christmas, she’d rather have a table saw. Jayme is more likely to be proud of the bruise on her thigh acquired during her last mud run, than how great her butt looks in a pair of $100 jeans.
Jayme didn’t discover the depth of her talent for athletics until she was almost out of her teens. Rugby was her sport of choice in college. On the rugby pitch she found a group of friends who shared her “go big or go home” philosophy. It was at rugby parties where Jayme both drank beer from a shoe, and met the man, Dan, she would later marry. Beth Leipholtz, a blogger for the Huffington Post has this to say about her experience as a female rugby player, “Rugby is different. Rugby envelops you, gives you an adrenaline rush and teaches you to push through.”
The lessons in pushing through would never be more necessary than when Sandy, Jayme’s mom, was diagnosed with cancer at age 46. The brain tumors and subsequent surgeries had altered Sandy’s personality in the ten years she fought the disease. Some days were good, others less so.
An only child, Jayme moved herself, Dan, and their dog, Blue, into her parents house in the final six and a half months of Sandy’s life. Jayme, in her early thirties at the time, didn’t think twice about putting her life on hold to manage Sandy’s care. But it was more than that.
Almost every Friday, while Sandy still had the ability, Jayme would take her out for the Friday Fish Fry to see family and friends. “We did as much as we could with what we had at the time.”
Once, after she could no longer stand, Sandy wanted to go outside. Formerly an avid gardener, she yearned to visit her flowers and feel the soil on her fingers and the sun on her face. Determined to give her mom any moment of joy, Jayme placed a patio chaise lounge on a tarp, gently eased Sandy onto the chair, and hauled her around the yard. Jayme knew the neighbors might stare, but she didn’t care. “She was my best friend.”
On the worst days in 2008, when her mom’s illness threatened to consume her, Jayme and Dan would go running. She would run and cry. Dan would try to rub her back while they ran, “Do you want to stop?” he’d ask. “No. Keep going,” she’d say, tears and sobs making it hard to breath. But the pull on her lungs felt good, even necessary, to keep the pain in her heart at bay. “Some people would drink. I’d seen that happen in my family. I didn’t want that. I ran instead.”
Irish novelist John McGahern said, “When you’re in danger of losing a thing it becomes precious and when it’s around us, it’s in tedious abundance and we take it for granted as if we’re going to live forever, which we’re not.” Many people, myself included, grow up with a sense of timeless invincibility. Life makes sense, we have control over our fate, and even though we won’t live forever exactly, death isn’t anytime soon. Jayme painfully escaped the prison of this comfortable delusion.
The 1994 movie The Shawshank Redemption, based on the similarly titled novella by Steven King, puts banker Andy Dufresne (played by Tim Robbins) behind bars for murdering his adulterous wife. Though a wealthy banker, he was brought low by circumstances outside his control. None of the rules he knew or believed in could protect him.
Dufresne, struggling with a corrupt situation, was forced to abandon all attachment to “fairness.” Escape from Shawshank was less about leaving the stone walls and guard towers behind him, and more about affirming his commitment to life, love, and hope.
“I guess it comes down to a simple choice really,” Andy says to his friend Red. “Get busy living or get busy dying.” Where the other prisoners focused on the walls, Andy focused on the sky above and the earth below.
Isaac Lidsky, author and entrepreneur, asks “What reality are you creating for yourself?” in his June 2016 TEDtalk. Blinded over the course of thirteen years by a genetic disease, Lidsky was certain,”Blindness meant I would live an unremarkable life, small and sad, and likely alone.” Confronting the reality of his blindness meant, similar to Andy Dufresne, he would either need to get busy living or get busy dying. Lidsky chose to allow his lack of sight to expand his vision in other ways. He chose to confront his fears on what blindness would mean in his life.
Andy, Isaac and Jayme share a simple belief, born of the circumstances they have found themselves in: Life is for living — no matter what.
On September 9th, 2013, the day after she had watched her uncle Dave (just four years her senior) cross the finish line of his Ironman, Jayme decided it was time to train for her own bucket list goal: Become a finisher herself. She began to prepare for the 2014 Ironman event with the support of her family and close friend, Gretchen. Up at dawn before her twin daughters, Olive and Abigail, and not-quite-two-year-old son, Miles, awoke, she would swim, bike, or run. She’d get in a second workout in the evening. With Dan’s help, she worked almost full-time, cuddled her babies at every spare moment, and worked out like a demon.
While training for the 112 mile bike race portion of the Ironman, she was introduced to a group of cyclists. “This great group of guys (it’s an all men’s cycling group) are just addicted to biking — they eat, sleep and
breathe biking — they watch movies and insane races about biking. When they’re at the coffee shop, pub or beer garden they can’t stop talking about biking — they’re totally fun!” They invited her — the lone woman — along on their rides. Suddenly, she’s thirty or forty miles away from home with people most of whose names she didn’t know. But, that happens all the time to Jayme — people invite her along and she accepts their kindness. The same thing had happened in 2006 when she and Dan wanted to learn to swim so they could compete in triathlons. “I still remember his name, Todd,” she says of her swim instructor. “You could tell he had this great energy, he really wanted to help his students learn.”
The essence of Jayme-ness isn’t her will or her indomitable courage, though she has both in abundance. It’s her glowing, overflowing, radiant heart. Hatched from pain, she transcends the walls most of us feel closing around us. She says “yes” to adventure. She’s willing to try something to find out what she thinks about it, without worrying what anyone else is doing or saying. She sometimes drinks beer from shoes.
If Jayme can do it, so can I. So can you.
Be awesome in real life.
Your turn: What reality have you chosen? How have you used your life experiences to help you live more fully?
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