Do you ever have pity parties?

I know I do sometimes.

I get whiny, kind of like those commercials for Snicker bars.

Really most of my problems are “first world” and pale in comparison to what other people are dealing with.

When I get like this, I recall one of the best moments in my life which taught me a lot.

Other than my kids being born and my wedding day, the other best moment in my life happened back in October of 2005 when I saw my longtime friend and client, Susan Peters, achieve the victory she had worked so hard for.  You see, Susan was in a car accident back in 1993.  She was hit head on by a snow plow, leaving her in a coma and paralyzed.  She went from being an active and fit woman who loved riding horses, singing and working out, to a completely helpless person clinging on to her life.

She Was Clinging For Her Life

She spent the next 7 years in a wheelchair with a brain injury that made it hard for her to speak clearly.  She then had to endure years of intense rehab and a divorce where her husband tried to take control of the money awarded to her from the accident.

In the year 2000 Susan showed up at the Northwest Athletic club where I worked at the time.  She could barely talk and was slumped over in her wheelchair. Her mom did most of the talking but we agreed to give training a try since I had previous experience working with people in a wheelchairs.

Right away I knew something was different about Susan. She had an engaging smile and a great sense of humor.  This was put to the test early on when she was on her way home from the club.  She drove her electric wheelchair to her apartment which was about 1/4 mile away.  She sneezed and that sent her wheelchair careening into the ditch.  She ended up being stranded there all night long because she had such a low voice no one heard her cries for help.  Luckily it was a warmer time of year and she was found the next morning. I was talking to her on the phone while she was in the ambulance and she started joking about her “camp out.”  That right there told me this woman was not going to feel sorry for
herself.  She was a fighter and had the attitude and determination to walk again.

The training continued and slowly but surely we made progress! As she got stronger, she walked from trainer desk to the first aerobic studio which was about 10 yards.  Then we got to the second studio which was about 50 yards then around the track – about 200 yards. She was making real progress. Doctors said she would need the wheelchair the rest of her
life – but that was for the typical person who had suffered this type of injury. Susan was anything but typical.

One day in 2004 she announced she wanted to do a 5K. Many of the other trainers and people smiled and said “that’s great” but I knew they were just humoring her, trying to be polite. They didn’t think she could do it – but I knew otherwise. This was the start of our outdoor training to get her used to the conditions of a 5K race.  She needed to learn how to deal with uneven pavement, hills and weather. Most of our walks were at Earley Lake which was located near the gym. It was about 1.25 miles around and we mostly walked 1/2 to 3/4 mile. One day I told her we were going around the whole lake. She was game so we set off to conquer the whole lake. It was a hot day and she did not do well in heat. But we pushed through.

Towards the end she wanted to quit. She was exhausted and her body was sore. She got angry and started cussing at me like a sailor. I made her finish and she collapsed into my car with a victory grin. It wasn’t pretty but we did it.  It was a turning point. Even though she was tired she had reached a new level of confidence.

From Wheelchair to 5K

So we did something big and bold:  we signed up for the Monster Dash – a 5K race in Minneapolis around Lake Harriet. It was exactly a 5K distance all the way around.  We dove into a well laid out plan of strength and balance training coupled with a walking regimen I had designed to build up her endurance.  We also got more serious about her nutrition.
She was an athlete so she needed to eat like one.

As the race drew near, she was building momentum. Finally it was only a week away.  I took our training to Lake Harriet – the site of the race – so she could be even more prepared. But it was cold and windy and Susan was completely off kilter.  I cut the walk off recognizing she was not doing well.  Instead I had her spend the week recharging her body
with chiropractic care, a massage and active rest.

Prior to race day, I called KARE 11 to let them know Susan would be attempting to walk a 5K after being in a wheelchair and they assured me they would send someone to cover the story. The night before the race, my wife asked if I thought she would make it.  I honestly didn’t know, but I did know that Susan would give it 100% and that was all that mattered.

On race day we got up early and got Susan stretched out and warmed up. We headed down into the chaotic race scene and got to the starting line. I tried to have Susan rest as much as possible knowing she needed every bit of energy she had for this race.  The gun went off and we started the walk.  Then KARE 11 showed up and started following us. Susan being Susan mugged for the cameras and talked a little good natured smack.  She was killing it for the first half of the race.

Then she started to wear down.  But as she grew tired, a crowd of people started to gather to cheer her on. This was where the real magic happened. She stumbled but would not give up. She wouldn’t let herself quit. I knew she wouldn’t and I was there to encourage her to continue.  Then the F bombs started to come as the pain in her feet and knees became
unbearable.  Her tank was nearing empty, but she kept pushing through.

You know how you feel when you get your second wind?  This was where Susan was. But when she saw the finish line and heard the crowd erupt with cheers, she came back alive! Step by step she made her way to the finish line!

At that point the Minneapolis Police Department had shown up and set up a special finish line using police tape just for Susan. She inched closer and the crowd noise grew louder.  As she crossed the line I raised her arm in victory. It had been a long journey but she finished what she started. I was lucky enough to be a part of it.  It wasn’t until later
that night, after the victory meal with her family and friends when I finally sat down and watched the evening news. Susan’s amazing story led the news that night!

You can watch it here 

The first video is from a few years ago when Jana Shortal from KARE 11 came back to do a follow up story on  Susan.  You will find the original story towards to bottom of the KARE 11 page.  Scroll down to see it.  Both of them are worth watching!

That day changed my life forever!

I learned the power of the human spirit.

I learned we all have super powers within us.

I learned that the only thing which stops us from achieving greatness are our own excuses.

No matter what your current circumstances are… you too can overcome.

The next time you feel like feeling sorry for yourself and calling “pity party of one,” remember Susan.  If she can walk a 5K after being in a wheelchair for 10 years, you can do 10 more pushups, say no to that dessert and push yourself harder.

Save this story to read every time you think about quitting.

Dedicated to keeping you on track!

Erik Peacock
Puravida Fitness