Athlete. That word had such a different meaning to me growing up. I looked at the other kids playing sports and my clumsy, lacking-hand-eye coordination, shy self, did not equate to what I believed was an athlete. I didn’t realize that all the things I did in my everyday life contributed to my athleticism and my eventual acceptance that I, too, was an athlete. I swam every day the water was above 70 and I ice skated every day the lake was frozen. I walked a quarter-mile every day to the bus stop and then back. I rode my bike from sun up to sundown and, to my parents’ dismay, I asked them daily to take their cars out of the garage so I had a smooth surface to rollerblade on. 

Little by little, I became more involved in athletics, from mountain biking and paddleboarding and then, to my eventual love for running. I started a few short years ago with the couch to 5k app and within my first two years went from running 5k’s to 10k’s. Then from 10k’s to half marathons. I ran every day, through sun, rain, and snow; 90-degree weather or 7-degree weather. Covid hit the year I challenged myself to run my first marathon, but it was also the year I was given the biggest opportunity of my life: give my kidney to a friend who needed it to live. I attribute my running to my ability to donate. Sure, there was the whole compatibility thing but  my health, above all things, made me a perfect candidate for my recipient. 

After surgery, I was eager to get back to running. On my walks early on, I would try to jog for small jaunts against doctors and my husband’s orders. I only did this for a few days, until I accepted that my abdominal muscles really needed time to heal. I truly expected that on the first day I was cleared for activity, I would pick up right where I left off. The truth is that I could not have been more wrong. Recovery and the race back to activity was not a race at all. It is a well-paced journey of learning to listen to your body. Some days I felt strong and I would go as long as my body felt strong. Some days, within a few tenths of a mile I could tell that my abdominals were being taxed and that was not the day to run.  

It can be discouraging not to bounce back immediately, but everyone gets there. I still haven’t run a half marathon since surgery. This is partly because of Covid race cancellations, partly because of surgery, and partly because I’ve decided on building strength slowly and with purpose as opposed to jumping in too fast. The biggest thing donation has taught me is patience. I used to run no matter what. Now I am training myself to run stronger and to give my body the grace it needs to take a break when needed. I am working with a trainer twice a week to rebuild my strength in a way that not only supports my running but also rebuilds the muscles in my abdominals. I am learning to support my body, as a whole, so that I can be a better athlete and also so that I can perform for a very long time. 

Donation has not only filled a huge space in my heart, but it has also given me an awareness of my body and what it needs. I am more in tune to when it needs more hydration, better nutrition, more exercise, less exercise, or a complete break.  Donation has pushed me to be a better athlete. 

Michelle Reardon 

Donation Date: September 8, 2020 

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