I don’t remember the exact moment it happened, but I remember the pain. It was March 13, 2013. I was standing in St. Peter’s Square in Rome at the Papal Conclave waiting with several other journalists for some smoke to arise either announcing the new pope or not. It felt like someone had jammed a hot knife into my right shoulder, it was absolutely blinding. The pain began to radiate out and in a few moments I couldn’t feel the fingers in my right hand. Perfect.
I had been on assignment to cover the Conclave, which was rather chaotic and uncertain to begin with, and now this. What followed was a blur of painkillers, sleepless nights and days that never seemed to end. I remember sitting on the plane headed back to the States when an even more painful realization occurred to me… I might not be able to work anymore.
After the doctors got through with me, and finding no relief, I mustered up whatever strength remained, took a self-inventory and assessed the following:
- I was immobile behind a computer for too long each day
- I was at least 50 pounds overweight and totally out of shape
Not great for a guy whose job involves carrying 45 pounds of gear for 12 hours a day while I’m shooting.
So I joined a gym, determined to get “fixed.” My kids mocked me for being an “old man” as I’d paddle along on the elliptical and lift these puny weights, but I kept my chin up determined to make a comeback and get better.
After about a year I was fit enough to run. My shoulder was mostly healed from the pinched nerve and torn muscle that had sidelined me, but I had never regained the feeling in my index finger. To this day every 7th or so letter that I type now reminds me of Pope Francis.
Then one day it happened: I found this trail. It’s a gravel surface in a heavily wooded area with lots of pine trees and wildlife. I began to run on it in the mornings before Mass. At first, it was brutal; I slogged along gasping for air and feeling like I would pass out. Slowly, the weight dropped off and my endurance increased, but something else happened for which I am and will always be eternally indebted to Pope Francis and that painful Conclave. I began to experience parallels between running and the spiritual life. Perseverance, gratitude and useful suffering.
As I would run, I would think often of God and offer Him the self-imposed suffering I was subjecting myself to. The grueling heat of summer would make me appreciate and be more mindful of the suffering of others. Slowly I began to clear my mind of useless thoughts and even temptations. I became humbled – and then grateful – for God’s mercy towards me in allowing a debilitating injury to turn me towards Him in this completely unexpected way. My gratitude for every drop of sweat, every footfall, every breath surrounded by the beauty of His creation made me aware that the physical gains were exponentially complemented by the Spiritual ones.
Then, as if things couldn’t get any better, this past August, a good friend of mine had challenged me to join in praying the Novena for Our Nation.
This was a huge challenge. I have NEVER been able to pray the Rosary without either falling sound asleep, veering off the road or falling out of my chair. But she was right; our nation is in need of prayer, and I sheepishly agreed to join in. I brought the rosary on to the trail with me, and suddenly what had begun as a place of fitness became a place for prayer – the best place, it turns out, at least for me. The repetition, the running. There are no distractions, just the plodding and the prayer. Perfect.
My hope is that you don’t have to experience some sort of injury or illness to get you up walking or running; you owe it to yourself to give it a try. It will reduce your stress, reduce your weight, increase your perseverance, and if you do it right, bring you closer to our Creator.
I have found my sacred trail. Find yours; your body mind and soul will thank you.