Net Gain by Nick Mavrick
Strength in Struggle
It’s embroidered into my newest gi pants. You have heard Professor Marshall say it just shy of one billion times.
“The Obstacle is the Way.” (Full disclosure: my pants say “The obstacle is the path.”)
You know that he is right because he is so often right. You don’t know, though, until you really know.
It is written into our pre-agricultural DNA to take the path of least resistance, to spare calories at every opportunity as the environment may decide to stop providing them. Laziness is, in fact, a useful evolutionary adaptation. But human beings are adaptable and amazing in so many biological ways and our evolution also provides for growth. Growth, as it turns out, only happens after a period of difficulty, of stress. Hormetic stressors, like exposure to low-level toxins (natural toxins like plant defense mechanisms-not car exhaust) cause growth within-strength and improvement on a cellular level. Contraction and survival of a disease causes an upgrade to the immune system. Muscle growth requires repeated stress and damage. And, contrary to popular belief, a separation period can strengthen and grow a troubled marriage. I know this from experience.
An Old Friend
That brings me to my breakfast this morning. It was delicious. I had breakfast with a childhood friend today. A friend whom I haven’t seen since we were both 17 years old (we’re WAY older than that now). We were pretty close in elementary and middle school, and though we ran in different circles in high school, we were always fond of one another. As childhood friends do, we drifted apart in the slow-moving currents toward adulthood and not until I joined Facebook four years ago did we reconnect. When we did, though, I learned some unnerving and upsetting facts about my childhood friend, Jimmy Choi. He had been diagnosed some years before (at age 27) with young-onset Parkinson’s Disease.
He was overweight (he calls those days “Fat Jimmy”-his wife calls them “the Dark Days”), he was unhealthy, he was depressed. He ignored the diagnosis and pretended that it wasn’t real–that it wasn’t actually happening to him. His symptoms worsened until he had an incident that I think he would describe as his bottom. Holding his infant son at the top of a staircase in his home, he lost his balance and toppled down the flight-baby boy and all.
This, he decided, would not do.
Along with being accepted into a clinical drug trial, Jimmy began to exercise. He ran. He ran and he ran and he ran. From 2012 to 2017 he completed 13 marathons and 90 half-marathons and one Ultra-marathon. He began to garner quite a bit of notoriety in the Parkinson’s Disease community. Jimmy made a decision to use his burgeoning stature to do some good in this world. He began to raise money for PD research, joining the ranks of the Michael J. Fox Foundation.
Before long, I saw my childhood friend, who was born in Taiwan and whose grasp of English at the outset of our relationship was tenuous, give a funny, heart-felt, self-deprecating address to a crowd at a PD fundraising event. I thought to myself, “He is a braver man than I.” He has since become a lightning-rod in the PD community, spreading smiles and humor all over social media and inspiring thousands upon thousands of people-including me.
I must admit that I was reduced to tears when Jimmy recently appeared as a contestant on American Ninja Warrior. He ran the course in Kansas City. Though he didn’t finish (there’s always next time), he showed a kind of fortitude and love for his children and wife Cherryl (for whom he does all of this) that has served to some degree to re-ignite a little spark within myself, and I have to imagine about a million other folks as well.
He is personal friends with one of our childhood heroes: Marty McFly.
He has garnered some fame, though he has thus far graciously refused the potential fortune that accompanies the “15 minutes,” which he humbly predicts is almost up.
That Which Inspires
Jimmy has changed the lives of many, many people for the better. What’s more, he has shown that literally anyone can do the same. That includes me.
The Obstacle for Jimmy was Parkinson’s Disease. He let it beat him for a while and then he decided to face it with the same tenacious ferocity that made him a feared middle linebacker for our state runner-up football team in 1993. He has torn through the fear and the anger, and while seeing the oft-debilitating symptoms of his disease subside substantially, has lit fires under the butts of more people than he is likely ever to know.
“You haven’t changed a bit!” he jovially proclaimed upon seeing me this morning for the first time in decades. He was wrong, though. I have changed so much, in so many ways. He has been a positive part of that change, though he only found that fact out right……now.
So, thank you, Jimmy for crystalizing for me the concept that The obstacle is, in fact, the way.