By Kristen Schulte
“Okay, Grandpa, I am going to toss this pillow at you, and you have to kick it back to me,” a twelve year old version of myself instructed my rather amused-looking grandpa sitting in his chair. Grandpa’s ability to walk was deteriorating rapidly; there was hardly a day when we did not get a phone call alerting us that he had fallen again. At my age, I just did not understand why. He was a World War II veteran who, despite no longer having any hamstrings in one leg from a gunshot wound he sustained while serving, went on to fifty more years of manual labor in his construction business. This man was stronger than anyone I had ever known, but I reasoned that somehow his legs had just gotten weak. Maybe if I kept making his legs stronger by having him kick the pillow to exhaustion when I came to visit, then he would walk like he used to again.
It quickly became evident that our pillow-kicking was a futile attempt at regaining strength, though he humored me by continuing to participate in it until the day he went to the nursing home where he would stay until he made it to heaven five years later. Watching my grandpa continue to decline over the years came with a certain guilt: How was it that I was able to have a body that I could push to its limits running races every weekend while he was trapped inside one that would not even let him walk?
There was even a point where I resented my own youth and health.
But what was living with that guilt doing? It was not helping my grandpa. It was not helping me. Why, then, was I squandering my God-given gifts (youth and health) and talents (running) by turning them into burdens? I could no longer physically help my grandpa at this point (he would go to heaven years before I would even imagine that I would become a physical therapist), but I could run and could also pray. Thus, I began the practice of dedicating each of my runs to someone whose body does not move as mine does on that day.
At the beginning of each run, I praise God for the strong legs, lungs, and heart that he has allowed me to work so perfectly together for that day. Then I think about someone specific who may not presently have that same ability. Sometimes, it is someone I know with a transient condition, such as when my mom had surgery on her back; other times, it is someone with a more permanent condition like one of my pediatric patients born with a development disorder. There are even times when I do not know the person I am praying for other than having heard an ambulance off in the distance.
When I settle on the person I want to run for on that day, I spend a portion of my run praying that that person may be healthy and that they get to use one of their gifts or talents to do something that brings them joy today.
Getting into this practice has allowed me to tamp down any guilt associated with being healthy as well as to celebrate that God has given me the ability to run. It also allows me to help a person in the most effective way possible, by taking the time to pray for him or her. So if you are reading this today and have a body that allows you to do anything at all physical, whether that be playing soccer or walking to the mailbox, I encourage you to do it not only with praise and joy but also with someone else in mind.
ABOUT THE AUTOR
Kristen Schulte believes that any day on a lake is a good day, in baking pumpkin muffins as the key to friendship, in Settlers of Catan for quality family time, that God often speaks during long runs, and in enjoying the journey. Having earned her Bachelor of Liberal Arts degree at Xavier University, she continued onto the University of Dayton where she is currently pursuing her Doctor of Physical Therapy degree.