The Erik Way – One Man’s Everest
Bonsai (ing) v. 1. The art of running down a forested hill as fast as one can possibly go without killing themselves. 2. To come extremely close to breaking bones. 3. To participate in an activity that mothers would rather not hear about. 4. A sport where participates can throw-up in the case of him/her being grotesquely out of shape.
I was number four. My body, soft and dangerously out of shape, was deciding to betray me in the middle of an epic bonsai session. My buddies, Erik, Tim and Adam, were patiently waiting for me as I threw-up the Pepsi and other crap I had for lunch. It was humiliating.
To make matters worse, my buddies were all in shape, chiseled young men who didn’t know the difference between a cheeseburger and a salad. Their body, my jealousy, was no more than a brief thought in the morning. I however, agonized over what I ate, how much I exercised and when husky had turned from cool to fat.
Fast-forward 13 years.
It’s an early Saturday morning, and the dwindling fog is starting to burn off. Erik and I are on mile seven of an eleven-mile training run for the San Francisco Half Marathon. We aren’t running fast, but we’re not running slow either. It is the perfect pace and will keep us on track to finish in less than two hours. For Erik that is equal to heavenly bliss.
The first time I ran with Erik was in the pre-dawn darkness. I rolled up to his house at 6:15 in hopes of getting in a few miles before leaving for work. The car thermometer read 24 degrees, and I was cursing myself for forgetting gloves. The warm blanket of my heater begged me not to go, but once my door was open the blanket evaporated and I was set into forward motion.
Erik ran less than a mile that day. His lungs burned, his head pounded and his body screamed in pain. Leaving him walking towards his house, it was hard to imagine this was the same man that years before had waited so patiently for me to throw up. I called him later that morning to make sure he was still alive and up for trying again the next day. His answer surprised me.
“Dude, I wanted to die this morning, but sure I’m up for tomorrow!”
He was sold. The next two weeks went the same way. I woke up, drove to his house, braved the cold, ran a mile or two and then went to work. His enthusiasm was infectious, and he demanded results that only hard work could produce. Then in typical new years resolution fashion, I got busy and had to cancel our runs. I figured Erik would collapse into the ever so popular post-start syndrome and circum to his warm bed.
I was wrong.
Erik continued to push himself on his own. At first it was running in the morning. Then it was running after work. Then it was running on the weekends. Erik’s job, installing hardwood floors, did not send him home full of energy either. His knees were wrecked from hours of kneeling and his hands callused from the harsh reality of manual labor.
His daily ritual of drinking beer and watching CSI also started to change. Instead of plopping down on the couch, Erik would run first, then reward himself with three hours of CSI instead of four. His eating habits changed too. For lent, Erik gave up meat and alcohol. Six weeks may seem like a short time, but for an individual who likes beer as much as Paris Hilton likes partying, the commitment was mind blowing.
Instantly Erik started to lose weight. It wasn’t uncommon for people to see Erik and comment on his success. As Erik’s waistline shrunk his confidence grew. When I casually asked Erik if he would want to run a half marathon with my brother and me, he jumped at the chance.
Which brings me here, mile seven of our eleven-mile training run. Erik expressed anxiety before we stared about not being able to finish it. I told him not to worry, that the training program I had given him would help build him up, and that no matter what we would finish the run, even if we had to walk.
He didn’t like that last part. “No way am I walking,” he said. “Fair enough,” I quietly replied.
Less than 40 minutes later Erik and I stood at the end of our run. His face was flush with sweat, heat and exertion, but a smile only accomplishment could provide was on his face.
“I seriously didn’t think I could do this,” he said between breaths. “But I did.”
Three weeks later as the fog was burning off in Golden Gate Park, I stood on the sideline and cheered on Erik as he ran down the chute towards the finish line. His face was stoic, his feet shuffling along, his knees obviously in pain, though he continued. He could see his goal in sight and nothing was going to stop him.
Later that night as we attended a friends wedding, Erik wore his finisher’s medal. Even though I felt a twinge of embarrassment for him, it was obvious that his accomplishment was more than I could understand. Now as I’m traveling around and meeting new people, I see just how special that accomplishment must have been to Erik. He took himself out of his comfort zone, played against the odds and overcame the anxiety of the unknown. I only hope that when confronted with such a task I can remember the Erik way—Push, do and then rejoice.