By Api Sulistyo
Translated by Tami Sulistyo
On Saturday morning I often run with a group of long distance runners who participate in a marathon training program. This spring training program I participate in is organized by the Minnesota Distance Running Association (MDRA) of which I have been a member for over ten years. The plan that morning was to run 16 Km (10 mi), around several lakes. However, the temperature in that morning was very cold with the freezing wind from the North Pole, minus 18 degrees Celsius. So, I decided to run indoors instead, in the Eagan Community Center (ECC), a community center that can also be used for sports, parties, performances, as well as skill development activities.
It only took five minutes to reach the ECC from my house. After paying for the entrance fee, I went directly to the locker room. To be able to use the indoor track during the week, the price of the ticket is $10. To become a permanent member to be able to use other sports facilities, the charge is $30 per month. I don’t want to become a permanent member because when the weather is getting ‘warm’ I prefer running outside.
The indoor track is located on the top floor. Reaching the top of the stairs, I saw dozens of people walking, jogging, or running to the left direction. The direction is determined based on the even or odd date of the day. Some were running while listening to something on their mobile phone. Some were walking while chatting with friends. Quite many of them spent some time alone and I belonged to this last group. To finish one mile run it requires 11 laps. That morning I decided I must complete 110 laps. “Don’t you get bored?” my friends often ask me. Running by myself is also an opportunity for a quiet contemplation or reflection and I do not find it boring.
My attention was fixed on an elderly couple who were approximately in their 80s. I felt sure they are husband and wife. It’s amazing that at that age they are still actively exercising. Sport indeed actually knows no age bounds. The husband was quite tall, wearing dark colored clothes and it looked like he also had a safety belt around his waist. I am not sure what it was for. His shoes were black and it looked like they had more layers of pads to make them more convenient. The wife was a bit thin, wearing a dark red dress and white shoes. Her blond hair was cut short.
When I passed them, the wife was supporting him to be able to cross over into the slow lane. I almost stopped to ask if they needed help. His wife gave the sign for me to keep running. It was obvious that the husband could not walk on his own and I saw there was a walking stick near the pile of jackets on a chair.
On another occasion I saw his wife help her husband to be able to hold the iron fence and they walked together slowly. Several times I saw his wife walking alone and then she got back again to her husband. I didn’t see a cheerful smile on her face. Yet, I did not see any look of complaint on her face either.
I observed the husband walking alone. His right hand was tightly holding the iron fence and with great effort he dragged his left foot on his black shoe. Step by step he moved forward. “Could it be that his left leg is paralyzed?” I asked myself. On another occasion I noticed that his left arm was dangling without power. “Could it be that he is paralyzed on the left side of his body?” I was curious.
After more than half an hour, his wife finally made him sit on the dark blue chair where they put their jackets and the walking stick. She helped her husband put on a down jacket, gloves, and a winter hat. She lifted him up to be able to stand up on his own and gave the stick to his right hand. The two of them slowly walked out through the upper door of the indoor track so that the husband did not have to walk down the stairs.
While running to complete my 16 Km run, I reflected on what I just observed. The elderly couple gave me some insights. The first is awareness of their passion to want to continue living a healthy life. I don’t know how many laps can be done by the husband. Perhaps no more than five laps, less than a half mile. But he didn’t want to just sit at home even though he had a limb that is not functioning as usual.
The second awareness is that the wife reminds me of our wedding vows we said more than twenty years ago. In that official ceremony we promised to love each other for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, till death do us part.
The wife kept their wedding vows by accompanying him through his physical challenge. Maybe she doesn’t like having to watch out for her husband 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. But she held her promise and decided to stay with him.
This inspirational couple makes me think about my parents and other older people who live in our village in Central Java, Indonesia. They do not go to the gym to exercise because there is no gym or indoor track. We have dirt roads that divide our rice fields and sugar cane plantations. Yet, they do not exercise because it is not a customary part of their lives – it is not a cultural tradition. However, it does not mean that they do not have some physical activities. They wake up early in the morning and work in their fields and most of the time it is all manual work. Whatever they do, I hope they all stay active and healthy.
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Note: Most pictures for this story are uploaded from Google Images.