Having The Stuff

I worked hard and trained for over a year to complete a triathlon. I triumphantly reached the finish line and found I had The Stuff. Twenty years later, I use The Stuff daily.

My version of Warrior 2 pose in yoga. Photo by Alan Viau
My version of Yoga’s Warrior 2 pose. Photo by Alan Viau

In a fit of mid-life crisis, I announced to my wife that I wanted to complete a triathlon. At 35, I wanted to see if I had it. The Stuff. The last 12 years had been focused on work and family. Feeling like a blob and finally having some free time where I could re-introduce physical training – I needed a goal. Not any goal – something that would push me beyond where I was now. Something where I could prove to myself that I had The Stuff.

Participating in a triathlon intrigued me because of the cross training aspects. It offered the opportunity for variety and overall body training. I decided that my goal was to complete the Guelph Lake Olympic Triathlon in 1994.

I did my research on the best training regimes. I enlisted in the health club at work so I had access to weights, cycles and treadmills for training in the winter months. I enlisted in a course to correct and improve my swimming. I found a bicycle to hit the road once the winter subsided.

When I look back, I see that I was focused and maybe even obsessed with my goal. With abandon, I trained two hours per day. I worked up to running half marathons every Saturday morning with my dog. I’d bike to the pool, swim and bike back. I admire my wife for tolerating me during those days.

Come race day, my wife and three kids were gathered at the starting line. They saw me through the swim and transition to bike. Then I saw them again handing out water along the road.

Near the end of the bike, I was tiring. This is where the going got tough and I needed to dig deep. This is where I found out if I had The Stuff. I didn’t care where I placed – I only wanted to finish. At the transition to running, I saw my family cheering me on. I dug deeper. The running got tougher and tougher. Now I didn’t want to finish for me, I needed to finish so that my family could see me cross that line.

Struggling, physically and mentally exhausted, I stumbled towards the finish line. Most of the audience was gone by this time. Except for my family. They were there to greet me. We hugged. I proved to myself I had The Stuff and more importantly I had my family.

I started to participate in other road races – enjoying them. With each one I found that my recovery time was getting longer and longer. I hurt more and more – not muscle pain – bone pain.

Several visits to doctors later, I had a diagnosis. One of my parathyroid glands was tumorous. I was in pain because I had lost 25% of my bone mass. I had surgery. Normally, a parathyroid gland is the size of a kernel of corn. Mine was the size of a baby carrot. When I woke up from surgery, my son was there, at my bedside.

You’d think that was the end of the story. I hoped it was. I did feel better but something still was not right. So I started pushing my doctors. They needed to dig deeper. And they found it. I had a pituitary tumor, probably the size of a walnut, in my head.

The pituitary gland is called the master gland for your hormones. We’ve all seen what it is like for a woman to go through their monthly hormonal fluctuations. In my case, I produced too much of one and zero of three others. I was a mess – physically, mentally and emotionally.

It has been fourteen years of trial and error in finding the right balance of drugs and hormone replacement. I take one drug to suppress the tumor. I take replacement hormone therapy for thyroid, testosterone and cortisol.

Many times I’ve wondered why not just give up the struggle. A roller coaster ride of emotions, mental turmoil and physical limbo. Then I’d dig deeper to The Stuff, think of my family, and keep on going.

A few years ago, my cortisol had gotten so low that it was life threatening. This situation is called adrenal insufficiency. I was not in pain. Pain I could deal with. No – for the first time, I felt I was dying – I could see that finish line.

Luckily, my endocrinologist gave me the right meds. I decided that I wanted a different finish line. What got me to dig even deeper into The Stuff was the love for my family. I started on a new path. A path of keeping on top of my meds, healthy eating and yoga practice. It is like training for a triathlon; mixing different disciplines, constant practice and finding The Stuff everyday. Today I feel as healthy as when I trained for the triathlon.

It was 20 years ago that I started my journey to cross a triathlon finish line and greet my family. I found I had The Stuff then. I use The Stuff daily to love my family and life. I have The Stuff to guide me towards a new future.


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