When I was twelve years old my doctor told me something that would impact my life for years to come. I was an average kid living an average life by 12-year-old standards. I liked to play and run around outside with my friends just as much as any other kid. But lately, I had begun to experience pain and swelling in my knees. Occasionally, I would lose all use of my legs as they would completely give out causing me to drop right where I was which at times was not a particularly good place (think middle of busy street as traffic approaches). After several hair raising tumbling events, my parents who first chalked my plethora of occasional calamities up to growing pains, decided a trip to the family doctor was in order.
So off I went for x-rays, poking and prodding until the final diagnosis was revealed. Due to a congenital defect, both my kneecaps were unstable. I didn’t understand the medical technical explanation of it all and frankly, I still don’t. Suffice it to say, I could move my kneecaps all over the place without any pain. Since the knee caps didn’t stay where they were supposed to, my knees could not do that all important task of keeping me upright, at least not on a consistent and reliable basis. I sadly came to realize my childhood would consist of fewer romps and runs outside with my friends, and more lonely days spent watching television with one or both of my swollen knees elevated and iced. In addition, there were many painful surgeries in my future. It was probably after the third of fourth of these surgeries that my doctor gave me the news. He told me even after all of the surgeries were complete, I would never have normal knees and that meant I would always have certain limitations. I would never be able to run.
Not earth shattering news for a then 15-year-old who had already spent a few years on the sidelines anyway and kind of liked getting the free pass from mandatory gym class. However, as I got older I began to want to run. I wished and yearned for it as I watched the fit and slender bodies of the track team at my high school. I wanted to be one of them, to feel the wind on my face as I challenged my body to go faster and farther. But the words of my doctor always rang in my ears. I can’t run. So, I stayed on the sidelines. I didn’t think of challenging what was said to me so many years ago. Those words were so strong. The words of one person, had so much power they stifled my will and strangled my ambition. So much so that whenever any dream of running began to arise within me it was quickly stamped out by those strangling words, “I CAN’T”. This was the course of my life until the day I decided I wanted to go to the Police Academy.
Many things are required of a police recruit. The police academy is very challenging both mentally and physically and yes, running is part of it. I suppose I could have tried to get a pass on the running requirement due to my physical disability and in these politically correct times perhaps such a request would have been granted. But I didn’t want that. My ebbing desire to run had returned full force and I wanted to be with my fellow recruits during those long, grueling 6 a.m. runs. When I went for the pre-academy physical, I wasn’t surprised that after taking one look at the scars on my knees the doctor refused to clear me to enter the academy until my knee specialist signed off. I went to see the specialist, the one who had performed my last two surgeries. He immediately said he would not support me going to the academy. “It’s too hard, you can’t do it.” There were those words again, “I CAN’T”. I could have taken those words to heart the way I had all my life. I could have walk out of that doctor’s office and turned my back on my dream of becoming a police officer. But something inside of me wouldn’t let me do that.
Right then I decided that the course of my life was not going to be determined by people on the outside looking in. People who knew nothing about me or what I was capable of. People who would judge me without knowing my strength and my determination. That was when I realized that I was stronger than the word that tried to destroy my will. That word, “Can’t” was not going to stop me. I explained to the doctor while I was aware I had physical limitations, I was not equally limited in spirit. I knew it was possible that my body could indeed fail me, but I had every right to follow my spirit which was screaming at me to try, just try. I believed if I could follow that call deep inside me, that years old desire that had never died, if I could just go where my spirit was leading, my body would surely fall in line. Almost begrudgingly my doctor signed the paper work clearing me to attend the police academy, warning me that when (not if) I had the inevitable breakdown of my knees, it would be best for me to find another doctor to fix it.
I graduated from the police academy with academic commendation which was an accomplishment that I was proud of, but what made me proudest was the fact that I ran. I ran every day. I ran upstairs, I ran in the rain, I ran in the cold weather, I ran in formation, I ran up and down hills. I ran with my fellow recruits and that made me so proud. I was not the fastest runner, I was never at the head of the pack, but I was not at the end of it either. I continued to run even after graduating from the academy. I felt the wind at my face and challenged my body to go faster and farther. That feeling was as exhilarating as I had imagined it would be.