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Measuring the Immeasurable

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

By Robert Grabel

It's been six months since I got my surprise gift, a brand new combination pacemaker and defibrillator. I learned several valuable lessons following the operation. The biggest was the importance of gratitude for the simple things in life. Being alive. Experiencing and sharing with others. And on it goes… The list of things we can be grateful for would take the remainder of the words these posts are limited to!

I was very grateful that my cardiologist allowed me to return to running just one week after my operation. I quickly realized my running capabilities were vastly improved. In February, I ran my fastest 5K in ages and then in March and May completed half marathons that were better than my recent pre-ICD efforts.

The joy of running had returned in a big way. And it wasn’t about being faster. It was simply the celebration of my body being healthy and active with the help of my bionic friend. That magical feeling started me on my running journey thirteen years ago.

But something else happened along the way… When my doctor said it was OK to return to swimming and cycling, I felt conflicted. I had been training for triathlons over the past year but really hadn’t been enjoying it. Reflecting back, I realized that I did in fact, enjoy biking and swimming. Yet my training for triathlons had somehow become all about numbers, competition and the next race instead of the feeling of happiness and gratitude I felt while running.

Ultimately, I decided to step away from triathlon training, at least for the time being. Life’s too short to spend on things you don’t truly enjoy. Or simply put: Do stuff you love as long as you can.

Here’s the challenge we face in today’s world, whether we’re talking about sports, business or just about anything else:

We can’t help but measure ourselves and too often our criteria is incredibly narrow. Recognize when you need to broaden your definitions of success, happiness and achievement.

We look at numbers but exclude the value of learning. We study metrics but discount the impact of our actions. As for me, I decided to appreciate that I’m a heart patient and will be for life. And that’s OK—in fact, more than OK. I realized by measuring my progress only in minutes and distance, I was limiting my appreciation for running, as well as other activities. Here are my takeaways from the above realization and the decisions I made around them:

  1. Cardio events can inspire changes in your life. Go with it! I had been training with a terrific and supportive group, but couldn’t help but compare my race results with them. After my operation, I re-connected with Cardiac Athletes, a group of individuals that like me, have cardiac histories. Some are quite driven, but many simply celebrate their ability to return to these sports after a cardiac event. This change in “training partners” connected me with others who share my gratitude for participation. We encourage and cheer each other on regardless of numbers or medals.
  2. Recognize that you’re special. Remember how your parents always told you you’re special? Good news: You are! Note: I didn’t say better or more important, just special. As a heart patient, you’re not built like everyone else, so don’t compare yourself as if you were. You’ve got different parts, work in a unique way, and require a specific type of doctor to keep you going.
  3. Some things just can’t be measured with numbers. One of the best pieces of advice I received recently was to move away from our typical ways of quantifying experiences. Running happens to be a great example. A coach I work with recently suggested keeping my pace sustainable by keeping my breathing where I could say hello and chat with fellow runners in a race. Another idea was to speed up when you see a new cloud formation and slow down when they separate. Weird? Sure. But it beats staring at a Garmin watch all the time.

What are you doing in your life that could use some alternatives to standard and narrow measures? One thing I know is immeasurable is the gift of being alive with a healthy heart.

Note: Always make sure to check with your ACHD cardiologist before beginning any exercise routine.


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The opinions expressed by ACHA bloggers and those providing comments on the ACHA Blog are theirs alone, and do not reflect the opinions of the Adult Congenital Heart Association or any employee thereof. ACHA is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the ACHA bloggers.

The contents of this blog are presented for informational purposes only, and should not be substituted for professional advice. Always consult your physicians with your questions and concerns.

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