Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Letting Go (part 1 of 2)

People say you should never give up. Once in a while, however, I find that I have to let go. Last week I let go of my handcycle.

Growing up in Lincoln, Maine, I rode my bicycle everywhere. My friends and I started out with single-speed bikes. We built jumps out of cinderblocks and plywood and launched ourselves skyward. As teenagers, we graduated to 10-speed bicycles and went for long rides to neighboring towns. But once we got our driver’s licenses we couldn’t be bothered with a child’s mode of transportation any longer.

When Kim and I, in our late 30s, bought our first house in southern Maine I thought I might take up bicycling again. I bought a hybrid bike that I could use on both trails and the road. I took it out a few times but noticed I didn’t have enough strength in my legs to do what I wanted to do. Not long afterward I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

A couple of years later I saw an advertisement for a handcycling symposium to be held at the University of New Hampshire. Kim and I attended, and I fell in love with the activity. I bought my first and only handcycle that same day.

I used to exercise early in the morning. When I acquired the handcycle, we lived in Cape Elizabeth, and every day before work I would either ride my handcycle or go to the gym. On my cycling mornings I would sometimes start from my house and wind through the wooded roads of Cape Elizabeth. It was not unusual for me to startle a whitetail deer or two. On other cycling mornings I would lift the bike into the back of my pickup and drive a mile or so to a neighborhood in South Portland called Knightville. From there I would ride down the Eastern Trail to Bug Light Park. Depending on the time of the year I might catch the sunrise over the ocean or at least watch the boats leave the harbor for a day of fishing. If I still wanted to get more miles in, I would ride around and around the loop in Knightville, passing by my future home on each lap.

When we moved to Scarborough, I found new routes to enjoy. I could ride to Higgins Beach, Prout’s Neck, or if I had time all the way to Bug Light in South Portland. But I also enjoyed rides in my Scarborough neighborhood.

With Mother’s Day, 2008, approaching, I had no idea what to get Mom. She was 74 years old, a quadriplegic, and going blind from age-related macular degeneration. At the last minute, an idea popped into my head. I so enjoyed my handcycling rides around the neighborhood that I decided I would try to bring my mother along, virtually. I put together this video for her: (if you are reading this as an email, click here to go to the original post in order to watch the video)

video

That turned out to be the last Mother’s Day present I would give her, as she passed away later that year.

Over the years my arms weakened and my rides became shorter. The summer we moved from Scarborough to the Knightville section of South Portland, 2011, proved to be my last summer of handcycling. There I was, returning to the very spot where I had started my handcycling adventures, and I no longer had the ability to ride. The handcycle went into storage.

Each year I considered selling it, and each year I decided not to. Selling would mean giving up, and I'm not supposed to give up. I thought, “If this treatment works (whatever treatment I was on at the time), even a little, I can get back on that handcycle.” But a few weeks ago I finally had to admit that, barring a medical miracle, I’ll never ride  again. I put it up for sale, and the new buyers picked it up on Saturday morning.

It was an emotional day. I didn’t feel guilty – like I was giving up. I knew it was about acceptance and moving on with life. I've been through this drill many times already. But each one of these moments, each one of these losses, takes a little part of my soul with it. The mood of the day was tempered, however, by the story of where my handcycle was going, and who would be riding it in the future.

Click here to see part two

12 comments:

  1. As a mother, I cannot think of a more meaningful mother's day gift. I enjoyed the bike ride with you, Mitch. You had a wonderful mom and she created a remarkable son.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Julie, thanks for your kind words. I'm glad you liked it.

      Delete
  2. Wow, just reading about your experience is chipping away at my soul! I try to be accepting and remain positive of "what I've lost to MS", but sometimes when you come face-to-face with it, it's absolutely soul-crushing. I'm on my yearly trip to Marco Island, and came across a picture of my first visit here, about 16 years ago -- I had just run 10 miles and was smiling ear to ear -- yesterday, I could barely walk a 1/2 mile with my hiking poles - I had to take so many rest stops, and by the time I returned (2 hours later) I was so shot that I couldn't function at all the rest of the day. I'm fighting tooth and nail to stay as active as I can, but seeing that picture from my first visit was a bit crushing...I just need to tell you that although I often don't comment on your posts, your honesty has had a huge effect (positive!) on how I'm dealing with my own obstacles. I'lll look forward to your next post...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. hey pups, looking at old photos can be a blessing or a curse for us…

      Delete
  3. Giving up is not the same as letting go. Thank you for highlighting the difference between the two. I think this recognition will help the next time I have to let something go.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hey buddy, as the kids say these days, "I feel you". As the losses mount, it's impossible to not feel the cumulative effects of them. And some losses hit home harder than others, especially those that remind us of where we've been versus where we are now. Been going through a pretty rough patch myself lately, and it's difficult to not get disheartened as the plot unfolds. But still we keep on, holding onto hope despite the odds. That old indefatigable human spirit, though there are times, as you point out in your post, the indefatigable can become fatigued despite our best efforts.

    Looking forward to reading part two, more so for your ability to see the bright side of things than for the details themselves.

    On a happier note, go Red Sox! Go Mets!

    Marc

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Marc, thanks for stopping by. I'm working on part two now. I think you'll like it. You

      Delete
  5. wonderful gift for your mom, mitch. and another well written post. looking forward to part 2.
    i, too, had that feeling og letting go when my hand controls were being installed on mt car. i had to stand aside for a cry... it was - just one more goodbye in a string of goodbyes.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. on the other hand, aren't hand controls easy to use once you learn them?

      Delete
  6. Ah, bummer...but sometimes it can be such a relief, too, to let go.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Katja, I hear you. When I knew the end of my driving days were coming, I felt a slight sense of relief the day I cut my driver's license in half.

      Delete