The cancer treatment had left her empty. Her bones like swiss cheese as she now suffered from osteoporosis. Her hair was gone except for random clumps, so she just shaved her head bald and wore a scarf. She swore that when she passed a mirror, her skin looked greenish-purplish which was not her color scheme at all. All she wanted to do was suck on sugar cubes. The doc told her she couldn’t have sugar. Sugar, she said, fed the cancer and now she must be very careful of her diet.
She couldn’t think anymore. She needed sugar. She pulled a mushy bag of marshmallows from the cabinet. They were all stuck together. In went the fork to scoop up a mass of marshmallow which would head directly to the gas stove for roasting. The gooey goodness slid across her tongue as she slid down the wall to sit on the floor enjoying every molecule of sweetness dripping down around the tines. The depression was setting in. She spent the last 3 years bed ridden (or bathroom bound depending on proximity to her treatment). Now she was mentally paralyzed, body weakened. She beat it, but it killed her doing so.
Days passed. When you are depressed and processing life, days can pass and you can find yourself at the end of the week without having really done anything you wanted or needed to do. “You’ll never run again,” they said. “You can’t have any children,” they said. “You need to get plenty of rest,” they said. “Don’t do anything strenuous.”
Don’t do anything strenuous? She pondered this lifeless existence blankly while biting her apple. Fuck that. Fuck them. She’s going to do some fucking strenuous shit. She didn’t know what, but spending her life avoiding things, good things, because it was risky or because ‘maybe’ it would put a strain on her was just too sad and lonely. She didn’t beat this cancer so she could be afraid to cross the street for fear of getting hit by a bus.
The very next day after work, she walked into the gym. She decided to just remove the head scarf. I mean, it was just going to get in the way or get sweaty anyway. Circuits, she thought: kettle bells, suicides, ropes, planks. She knew what to do. Ten minutes later, she was puking in the toilet.
Maybe she didn’t know what to do. I mean, it had been three years. More than three, really, if you include the beginning of her illness. The doctors hypothesized it was because she was so close to Hiroshima when the bomb went off. She was 14 at the time. It was rare for Japanese women to have cancer these days because of their healthy lifestyle, the American doctors believed. And now, here she is almost 16 years later. She was too young to be immobile.
She came back to the gym the next day, and the next. Slowly but surely, she grew more adept at her workout. New Mexico in the 1960’s was stark and in the very early day it was cool enough so she could walk. Soon she was walking a few miles a day before work and going to the gym after work. Her walks became jogs. The fresh scent of sagebrush in the cool morning mountain air was delightful. Looking back on her small but mighty accomplishments, she smiled brightly to herself while opening her bottle of water and taking a satisfying sip.
“Hey,” a gentleman said.
“Hey,” she replied.
“Mind if I sit down?”
“Uh, no. Not at all. Have a seat.”
“I hope you don’t mind me saying so, but I’ve noticed you out here every day,” he said. “Are you training for something? I mean, are you in the military or something? Not a lot of women run, you know. Well, anyway, I’m sorry for being so nosy. I really just meant to say I admire you.”
“Haha… well thanks. No, I’m not in the military. I just want to live my life fully,” she replied. “You see, I just recovered from a really long struggle with cancer. I want to get my health back. These small challenges keep me going.”
“Well, I don’t know if you would be interested, but a group of us run the canyon every year.”
Days went by. Now all she could think about was this handsome native fellow who sat down to talk to her. It was pretty unusual. Maybe because she looked like she could be native, he decided to talk to her. She blended in well when she came to document the tribal people as an anthropologist from the very beginning. It may even be part of the reason she got the job: her dark hair, eyes and skin. Often the native people did not want to give anything to the white people – so much so they often wouldn’t even speak English.
She began to research the run in the canyon and Phantom Ranch. It seemed pretty remote. It was 24 miles across, 8250 feet high on the North side, 7260 feet high on the South and about 2400 feet in elevation at the bottom where the ranch is.
Twenty-four miles. That’s almost a marathon. Women don’t do things like that. She was out of her mind for even thinking about it. That guy was out of his mind for even suggesting it. Was that some kind of pick up line? Who picks up women by suggesting crazy outlandish things like that?
She paced back and forth in her trailer thinking about what to do and how absurd the thought is. I mean, she was just doing this running thing for her health after all. She wasn’t trying to prove anything to anyone. Plus, she IS a woman. She really was just walking fast – I mean it started as just a walk in the morning to start her day right. Who was this guy anyway? The nerve he had. How inappropriate he would even suggest this.
She began training. Her morning runs grew longer and longer. Soon she had to save herself for weekends because she was now running 2-3 hours at a time. She maintained her kettle bell training and weights. She probably started consuming 5000 calories a day – she was ravenous.
The gentleman would watch her from a distance. He lived high on the hill and could see her efforts from above. Every now and then he would go into the town and he would nod a head as they passed each other in the store or at a cafe. She would become frustrated at this and although she would behave politely, she did not want him to know what she was up to or that she cared for his suggestion at all. Coy, she called it in her mind.
One day she decided she wanted to take a look at this North Rim. She packed up her station wagon and headed out on the 9 hour trip. She gazed into the vastness of the Grand Canyon. Grand it is, she thought. So humbling. She booked herself a room at the Grand Canyon Lodge where she could relax for a few days and hike around, study maps and really consider what it is she would be in for if she decided to admit she wanted to do the run. “No one, especially a guy, ever really challenged me before like that,” she thought. “He was either very bold or very rude.” And she just couldn’t decide. Even so, there was something about it that gripped her mind.
A few days later, she returned home.
“Hey,” a mans voice called from behind her.
“Oh. Hey,” she said… coyly.
“What did you think?” he asked.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“You went there, didn’t you? You went to look at the canyon.”
She began to walk away. She felt her cheeks turning pink. The Tanoan accent in his speech reverberated in her mind as she walked away. He trotted up along side of her.
“We’ll see you again out there in a few months. Oh, and if you want, come by in two days. 5am. We’re meeting for an easy run.”
With that, he was off.
By now, she was easily running 20 miles. But she knew this man ran 50 or more. They all did. She went inward. There is a place where race does not exist, gender does not exist – it is the place where we are all animals. Beasts. Wild and roaming. She feared this as she adored it.
She clothed herself, animal fully contained and subdued, early the morning two days later. In the light of the moon and stars, she trotted over across town and up the hill. She entered the warmth of new friends and kindred spirits on his patio pouring coffee and chattering about life and the beauty of the morning. He introduced her to everyone after finally asking her name, gave her a cup of hot coffee and, as they say, the rest is history….For in the end is the beginning.