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Why the Olympic Hurdles Are Just Like Life With Chronic Illness

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I’m not a sports person. I was never super interested in playing them and I was even less interested in watching them. I blame the many Saturday mornings I was dragged along to stand out in the cold and watch my brother’s soccer games.

My lack of interest in watching sports means that I’ve never watched much of the Olympics before. That said, this year I have quite the case of Olympic fever! When I get involved and interested in something I tend to go all out, which means I’ve watched more sports in the last week than I have in probably the last 10 years of my life.

I can’t believe how much fun it all is. I also can’t believe how much I’ve learned along the way, such as why they allow ties in swimming and just what on Earth an omnium is. I could go on about all of the Olympic fun facts I’ve picked up, but I’ll get back on track.

Speaking of track (and field), and speaking of things I’ve learned about sports, let’s talk about the hurdles. I always thought if you knocked over a hurdle then you were out of the race, but as it turns out, this is not the case. You can be disqualified if you deliberately knock down a hurdle or if you knock one into another lane and interfere with another runner’s race, but if you just don’t fully clear a hurdle and it falls over, there is no penalty. You just keep going. Doing so might mess with your speed and your rhythm, but you get to keep going.

Upon learning this after watching a race and being shocked by the number of downed hurdles, I jokingly said that it’s just like in life where a lot of the time we don’t smoothly sail over the hurdles in our way, either. At first I was just being silly, but then I thought wait, no, this really is just like life. Especially life with chronic illness.

If my life were an Olympics hurdles race, then I’m pretty sure I would not be doing so well. I’m pretty sure I would be getting tripped up by every single hurdle lately and knocking over all of them. To be honest, a lot of things are slowing me down right now. I’m dragging my feet. I’m sighing every time I come up to a new hurdle because I feel like I’m still trying to get my rhythm back after catching my foot and knocking down the last one.

Anyone else feeling like that, too? Anyone with me, finding yourself in the middle of a race you aren’t prepared for?

Maybe it’s because the hurdles are too high. Or maybe it’s because we’re too short. Too tired. Too uncoordinated. Too sick. Too scared. Maybe it’s because we’re too distracted, looking around and wondering why it seems like all the other lanes have lower hurdles, fewer hurdles and friendlier hurdles.

Whatever the reason, it’s OK. We’re not going to be disqualified. It doesn’t matter if we don’t seamlessly sail over every hurdle. It doesn’t even matter if we don’t sail over any of them. And it doesn’t matter what any of the other lanes look like. All that matters is that we face forward and keep going. Oh, and not deliberately try to slow anyone else down, of course, because we’re all doing the best we can with the hurdles in front of us.

We get to keep going. We get to compete. And chronic illness doesn’t change that.

So here’s to knocking down every single hurdle in our way. Here’s to feeling slow and out of sync. And here’s to finishing the race anyway.

Originally published: August 18, 2016
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