Jackie Gingrich Cushman
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Elevator conversations can be intriguing – sometimes they are extreme in nature, either light or profound.  Yesterday’s was profound. 

The elevator stopped on the fourth floor, where I was waiting.  There were two occupants when I got in to go to the lobby.  A man who, based on his attire and the large number of keys hanging off his belt, was the maintenance man, he was talking with a lady, whom he appeared to know.

My walk was slower than normal, my left foot hurt and it took me a few extra moments to cross over the elevator threshold.   I had walked 23 miles the day before and was feeling the effects.

As I got on, the man said, “Any day I wake up is a good day, it does not matter what comes along. I can handle it, as long as I wake up.”  I looked over and nodded my head in agreement.

The lady did not seem persuaded, so he continued, “I just can’t imagine not waking up.”

This conversation reminded me that I might need to step back and reframe where I am and why I should be grateful.

I don't know about you, but I shuffle a bit first thing in the morning when I get up.  However, I am glad that most mornings, after a few minutes, I loosen up and feel better.  Not everyone feels this way.

Two decades ago, my sister Kathy was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis.  Just a few years ago, she had days when she could not get out of bed unaided, she walked with a limp, and had trouble moving her fingers.  Once, while visiting my family, I had to close the back of my car because she could not raise her arms high enough to close it.  

But, sometimes assisted by researchers, scientists and doctors, miracles happen.  Kathy is now on a new medicine that has transformed her life.  With determination, physical therapy and constant work, she is in great shape and has regained full range of movement in her arms.  Last time she was here, she closed the back gate of my car.  That’s improvement!

Last year, we walked the Athens, Greece marathon, the original marathon, with three other team members.  We created a team, “America to Anywhere for Arthritis,” and raised almost $40,000 for the Arthritis Foundation. 

Not willing to rest on our laurels (or anything else), we established a goal of $60,000 and seven team members for 2008.  We have recruited all seven members, and we have raised more than $57,000 so far this year for the Arthritis Foundation. 

While this has been an exceptional year for the team, it has been a tough year of training for me.  I broke my left little toe on Memorial Day weekend walking on the beach.  Once my toe recovered, the fascia in my left foot ripped during hip-hop class.

Together, these injuries kept me off the road for 10 weeks.  On-road training resumed a month ago. My last long training walk – the one before my elevator epiphany -- has just been completed.  

It took me almost seven hours to complete the 23 miles.  I started when my children went to school, and I finished back at the house 15 minutes before they returned.  At mile 12, my left foot began to hurt.  Walking through the pain led me to contemplate what it must be like for those, like my sister, who walk through pain every day due to arthritis.  I thought about stopping, but I decided to walk on.  My gait changed as I tried to compensate, my stride shortened and I began to hitch a bit.

I made it through the 23 miles.  Two days later my foot still hurts, but the icing, ibuprofen and rest are helping. 

The reason this is important and relevant?  There are 46 million Americans with arthritis, and it is the nation's leading cause of disability, affecting one in five adults and nearly 300,000 children.  There are more than100 types of arthritis and three out of five people with arthritis are under the age of 65.  Arthritis affects individuals and their quality of life, and it costs America more than $128 billion annually.

What have I learned so far through this experience?  That every day I wake up -- and can walk -- is indeed a good day.

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Jackie Gingrich Cushman

Jackie Gingrich Cushman is a speaker, syndicated columnist, socialpreneur, and author of "The Essential American: 25 Documents and Speeches Every American Should Own," and co-author of “The 5 Principles for a Successful Life: From Our Family to Yours”.