I had a heart attack earlier this year. A "widow maker" heart attack. I fell into cardiac arrest and was clinically dead for a couple of minutes. I'm incredibly fortunate two nurses happened to be nearby. They defibrillated me and administered CPR until the ambulance arrived and took me to the hospital. Those nurses quite literally saved my life.
In 2019, I crashed my bike while descending a mountain road at 30mph. I went over the handlebars, cracked my helmet on the pavement, and slid for some time. A mother and daughter found me trying to get back on my bike and ride home. They kindly called an ambulance, then my wife, and waited with me. I don’t really remember the wait, ambulance ride, or hospital visit due to the concussion.1 I've only ridden my bike twice since.
In 2018, I was diagnosed with chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML). Cancer. Fortunately, it was the best possible kind of cancer: easily manageable with targeted medication (though as of now, incurable). Thanks to the advent of Bcr-Abl tyrosine kinase inhibitors, it shouldn’t effect my lifespan. Still, that word - cancer - carries a lot of weight.
These three events have derailed me over the last few years.2
When the CML diagnosis came, I was training for what would have been my fourth imperial century. Cycling had long been my mental and physical outlet. I'd just begun to take it more seriously, including bike commuting and training throughout winter in Chicago. I was probably in the best shape of my life, both mentally and physically.
When I crashed my bike, I was working my way back into that fitness. My wife and I moved to San Francisco not long after my CML diagnosis. I couldn't have been more excited to do the type of riding I'd longed for: lush, beautiful scenery, mountains, and gravel trails. The crash scared me away from all of that.
The heart attack came at the end of a 3.5-mile run at Crissy Field. Again, I was working my way back into that fitness I’d first lost when the CML diagnosis came, and then never fully gained back after being scared off my bike.
Why am I writing this?
To finally get it off my chest.
I've written countless drafts of this post over the years. Each has been heavily influenced by the period and mental state in which it was written. They've typically been a mix of dramatics, confusion, and depression. Eventually they reach some form of acceptance, but they all ramble in the same way.
I've never been able to figure out the point of publishing them. It felt like this wasn't the place. It wasn't "who I was." My online identity was that of a software engineer and data scientist. My writing focused on technical topics. My identity felt singular.
Still, I've found it hard to write much of anything over these last few years. I've wanted to, but it always felt as if there was some imaginary hurdle I couldn't clear. I felt mentally blocked. Those drafts were standing in my way.
The point hit me during a recent run through Golden Gate Park. That lush, beautiful scenery I'd dreamed of cycling through when we moved here.
Those unpublished drafts - and this published one - are for me. They've allowed me to let it all out. To process it. To begin moving forward.
Of course, lots of therapy helped too.
I feel back, and in better shape than before. Both physically and mentally.
Prior to my heart attack, I couldn’t run a 5k without walking. I never even considered a 10k.2 I'd never run more than 66km in a month.
Last week I ran a 5k in 26:18, an 8:30 per mile pace. This morning I ran a 10k in 57:18, a 9:13 pace. My last three months of running distances were 75, 89, and 111 kilometers.
It's been a long road back, but I'm writing this to remind myself - and maybe you too - that goals are achieved by slow and steady progress. There are no quick fixes for physical and mental health. But you can work your way to where you want to be, little by little over time.
This post is for me. It's me allowing myself to be proud of the mental and physical work I've put in these last few years.
- I only know what happened because the daughter Googled me, found this site and my email address, and checked on me via email.
- Let’s not forget a global pandemic in 2020 and 2021.
- And here I was thinking I was just out of shape.