My parents would likely tell you that I entered the world fiercely independent and unwilling to accept any help ever. The three-year-old me and the 36-year-old me pictured here were both known for saying, “Thank you but I’ll do it myself.” That was until I walked the Komen 3 Day, a 60 mile (yes 6-0 miles) walk over three days in the Florida sun, raising awareness and funds for breast cancer research. My longest friend (we started walking to school together when we were 6) and I decided we wanted to give this a try. We knew it was a big goal but knew it would give us precious time together we hadn’t had since those walks to school almost 30 years earlier. We started out strong with big smiles and confidence. As the three days went on we both struggled in our own ways. I was in so much pain, I didn’t think I’d make it across the finish line. Every part of my body hurt, burned, or ached. I was drenched with sweat and dry as a bone all at the same time. Emotionally I was a wreck. I’d trained for this walk for 10 months, did everything right and was still struggling in pain. My blisters had blisters and it felt like my body was betraying me. It was honestly the worst I’d ever felt in my entire life.
As I entered the final tunnel of cheering fans I was determined to cross the finish line even if I had to crawl across it. I was determined and yet horrified that others might see me fall to my knees and crawl. Then, what felt like out of nowhere, someone from the crowd came beside me put their arm around me and said “I got you. Let me help you.” Leaning on this stranger was the only thing that kept me upright as the tears began to pour down my face. Then a second person came from the other side of the tunnel and said to my helper, “I’ll take it from here. Come on. We’ve got this.” As each step shot pain through every part of me, my new helper encouraged me to keep going. And finally, a third emerged from the crowd and said to my helper, “I’ve got her. Let’s do this”. As we inched closer to the finish line and I started the full-on “ugly cry, my helper asked if I felt strong enough to cross the finish on my own. I nodded, choking on my tears as she stepped aside to let me cross. By the time I crossed the finish, my helpers had disappeared. I don’t recall their faces and never knew their names but they changed my life forever. It was the very first time I accepted help.
It’s been 9 years since that day I crossed the finish line in Tampa but the lesson has changed my entire life. Just like that walk, life is hard. No matter how well prepared we are, life can throw us curveballs we never expected. Illness, job loss, horrible bosses, financial crisis, death, depression, grief, are just a few of the things that unexpectedly enter our paths. The moment we learn to ask for and accept help is the moment that life gets easier. It’s in that moment when we humble ourselves to accept the gift of love and support that we begin to truly live to our potential.