The Long Walk of Recovery

Recovery (etymology): to come back or return

Today was supposed to be it: my return, however humble to the world of training and fundraising for good causes. For those not in the loop, I had debilitating knee pain that stopped me cold after my last triathlon. That led to knee surgery last July (refurbished, not replaced!) and now eight months later I’m approved to run 2-3 times a week for six minutes at a time. Six minutes is not even close to the half marathons I had been running, but I can walk without limping and take stairs foot-over-foot and just those simple things make me incredibly grateful these days.

A knee, a CPM machine, a cat and a crutch
Instead of gory post-surgical photos, I’ll give you this largely accurate picture of my initial recovery.

Beth, my partner, signed up for an entire series of events (three running races and her first triathlon, to be exact) and so I’ve gamely thrown myself into the role of coach. The word coach, literally comes from the horse-drawn vehicles—its root meaning is to carry someone through something. It gave me a ton of encouragement in my own healing process to be able to carry someone else through their training, even if my leg wasn’t quite strong enough to carry me through a race yet.

Then we came across the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center’s Walk for Change. As humbling as it was for me to think of walking as a challenge, I got pretty excited. The cause was a no-brainer: helping survivors of sexual assault in numerous physical, emotional and legal ways. The task itself was difficult but achievable: a three mile walk on paved, mostly level terrain. Without needing much encouragement from my church to start a team, I jumped at the opportunity with Beth right alongside.

Beth and me in our matching high-vis yellow jackets, ready to train in traffic.
Beth and me in our matching high-vis yellow jackets, ready to train in traffic.

But come event day, the morning worked out a bit differently than we’d planned. After months of searching for the right canine addition to our family, we’d recently found the right match for us. But for those who haven’t been through adoption, animal or otherwise, the timeline is often a bit fuzzy. Rescue organizations are careful in their placements, having rescued their animals from pretty rough circumstances. This translates to a multi-step process including calling references, having a phone interview, and hosting a home visit to scope out the environment—all of which can make it a little tricky to know when that actual day will be, if ever. When the day came, we were ready, but there was one hitch: the charity walk was the very next morning. I called a friend, arranged a vehicle, and crossed my fingers that a three mile walk wouldn’t outpace the pup’s endurance. Beth and I talked it over and agreed to a bail-out clause: if at any point the crowds or the walk seemed like too much, we’d bail on the walk and head home.

Three happy girls, one of them canine
A picture from the first meeting with Juno—she’s such a sweet pup!

The morning arrived after a tough initial first night. The pup was in a brand new place with brand new people and she’d had a little trouble calming herself enough to pee. So at nearly 1AM she’d had to wake us up with a tinkle emergency. We didn’t quite make it out the door before nature sprang into action, so all of us were up: some of us peeing, some of us holding a leash in our pajamas, and some of us cleaning up pee. Fast forward to this morning, we groggily packed carefully for the morning ahead, bringing treats and water for both dogs and humans, and with harness & leash on we headed down to the car. Having heard car trips were a bit nerve wracking, Beth tried to get her to pee before climbing in back to ride with her. I started the car and waited…and waited… Finally Beth came tell me she didn’t think it was going to happen. The poor pup was shaking and even as Beth leaned in to tell me this, I could see her straining at the leash to get back into the side yard.

Of course. Car rides, for the last few weeks, had often meant new homes. In fact, the car ride that had happened less than 24 hours before had resulted in this new home and the disappearance of her foster dad. And who even knew what sort of car-related PTSD was in her canine brain from her prior history. It was too much, too soon. She didn’t trust us or the permanence of her home with us enough to make that step yet. She was a survivor and still very much in recovery.

Some post-walk snuggles
Some post-walk snuggles for our brave little girl

So the plan changed. The three of us had our own mini Walk for Change through the nearby Franklin Park. And perhaps it wasn’t the giant step forward I’d pictured that day for me, but it was a big one for her. If there’s something I’ve learned from triathlon training and, less glamorously, in surgery recovery, it’s the value of knowing how hard to push. If you push just enough, you can build muscle and quickly advance—a process that requires some amount of strain and soreness. But if you push too hard, the soreness becomes sidelining injuries and huge set-backs. For this little dog, the walk in an unfamiliar park, getting to know her owners and a few others besides, was probably just enough of a push to help her grow. I looked at my little survivor on the end of the leash and realized this was probably the best way to honor who BARCC is and what they do. (Really, could I have *asked* for a better organizational acronym?)

Survivors thrive when there’s someone to walk alongside. For encouragement and reassurance. For guidance and maybe a little nudge, but in a way that respects the right pace for each recovery journey. For the past eight months of surgery recovery that person has been my physical therapist. For sexual assault survivors that may be someone at the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center. For Juno, right now, that’s us, as it’s been the foster family before us. And when we get “there” finally, when we get to recovery, it won’t technically be back where we started (personally, I will forever have a different knee). But all of us, in our own ways, are on our return journey back to our most whole selves, each on the long walk of recovery with someone to walk alongside.

What big-small thing have you overcome or helped someone else overcome this week? We’d love to walk alongside, if you’re willing to share below.

2 thoughts on “The Long Walk of Recovery

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