Fall turned into Winter, the days began to get shorter and the weather got colder. Like animals that go into hibernation, it was time for most cyclists to bring their bikes in off the road and burrow into a regular spot at the gym. It was time to start training indoors.
Most pedal pushers absolutely hate this time of year because it means long hours in the gym working extremely hard only to stay in one spot and watch the clock tick. I was watching a different type of clock tick as the days wound down to January when I would go back to Mayo and face my inevitable fate. I was feeling ok. My headaches and blind spot had not progressed and all and all everything was holding steady but I knew that my tumor was still there. A constant presence that would make me dizzie and have to sit down if I stood up too fast or wake me up in the middle of the night with a nose bleed. It was always in the background reminding me that even though life was becoming more steady and even, it could spiral out of control at any moment. I think in a way this is what made those winter months cooped up inside actually enjoyable. I had no idea how long it would last or if I would ever get to be here again. Each day that I could teach class or work out with friends that I had met made me so happy. I soaked in every moment and enjoyed every person that I met. I didn’t know it yet but the population of my “village” was beginning to grow.
I began bringing my bike to Swim Bike Run (SBR) on Monday nights for “Ladies’ Night.” It was definitely different than the ones I had attended in college with no cover and free drinks all night long, but there were still lots of tight pants and short shorts. I rode my bike on the trainer for an hour every evening with a handful of other women while we watched chick flicks on TV and gossiped like we were at Truvie’s from the movie Steel Magnolias. This is where I met Mary. What struck me about her most was her positive and caring nature. She just smiles all the time and is very aware of everyone around her. When new people would join our group she made sure they were included in the conversations and steered us to neutral topics that everyone could contribute to not just people we knew or gossip we wanted to share.
She is also a natural born “listener.” I put this in quotations first because I overuse them in my writing but second because there are people who hear what you are saying and then there are magical people who have been blessed with the power of “listening.” These amazing creatures once walked among us in numbers too big to count. But as the world became busier, faster, and louder their kind began to die out. There are very few of these true “listeners” left. They are like unicorns. To find one is a rare gift. A person who listens hears more than just your words.
“Listeners” also have a certain, “something”. You just feel comfortable around them. Like you could pull out the scariest skeleton that lives in your closet and they would not be frightened. They would be more concerned about the consequences of keeping something like that locked inside for so long.
So every Monday night I would park my spandex-clad rear end next to her and we would simply talk about anything and everything. Men, relationships, love, laughter, sadness, frustration, recovery, and friendship. She really should have been charging me by the hour because those were definitely therapy sessions and a couch is way more comfortable than a bicycle seat.
After the positive experience I had had at the breakfast table with Cheryl and Joni, I felt comfortable enough to openly talk with her about my health, the aspects of my life that it had disrupted, and how I was trying to mentally get past it and accept it. She sat next to me and pedaled the entire time in a steady motion, creating a rhythm to the conversation which allowed me to slowly unravel the knots of tension I had created in my own psyche. Absorbing what I said and wrapping that room in that certain “something.” Creating a safe environment for me to talk.
She has her own story of struggle which she shared with me when the timing was right. She told me about how she had made the decision to lead a more positive and healthy life and that she works at it every day. Within her I found not only a kindred spirit but a role model. She, like me, had chosen to be happy and then taken the necessary steps to get there. The reason that I look up to her now though is that she did not stop after she took these steps to achieve her own happiness. She began to focus on that of others around her. I am not the only one who calls upon her to “listen.” This is something she does for countless others. Absorbing fear and negativity and replacing it with strength and laughter.
She helped me to realize once again that I was not alone. That there were other people out there like me who knew what it was like to struggle and then resolve to overcome it. She taught me that we can draw strength from each other’s triumphs.
All I needed to do was quiet down and “listen”