This is the second article on how triathlon training is like mission training. Paragraphs alternate between triathlon training and mission training…
Preparing for Triathlon
We all think we are indestructible…at least I did until I was 35 years old. Starting at age 35, aches and pains became more prominent, and being out of breath when going snowboarding…that was new. Being a family doctor that delivers babies doesn’t make it easier to get in time for exercise. I have always liked to exercise. Even at age 6, I was out running around, bike riding, jumping rope. A few years ago, I decided I needed to get back to exercising regularly–for my health and mental health (exercise is great stress reduction!) The things I like best for exercise include calisthenics (pushups, situps, etc.), running, biking, and swimming. Last year, I did Pedal the Plains, which was a bike tour through rural southeast Colorado where we live. I did 69 miles from Lamar to La Junta and almost passed out after I was done. But, I thought “that was fun!” I asked around about any events like Pedal the Plains that involved swimming. Someone mentioned the Ironman, which includes a 2.4 mile swim. The Ironman Triathlon includes running, biking, and swimming. I thought “that sounds like fun!” There was no way I could do the full Ironman (140.6 miles), but the Half-Iron looked doable (70.3 miles). Little did I know what I was in for…
Preparing for Mission
Merindy and I have both been interested in medical missions since we were young. Merindy became interested at age 13 and myself at age 17. Both of us have wanted to go to another country and live there permanently, doing medical missions. Merindy has been to several countries in Africa and South America. I’ve been to Bangladesh and Mexico several times. We both have been to Oaxaca (Mexico), Guatemala, Hong Kong, and a few other places. We prayed a lot, and finally decided that Bangladesh has the most need of all the places we have been. We’ve done lots of short term missions. Little did we know what was coming…
As I started training for the Half-Iron Triathlon, I got a coach. Getting a coach was probably the best decision I’ve made so far in training. The experience, insight, and support from my coach has been indispensable. The running started at about 1 hour 3 times a week. My usual run was about 30 minutes 3-5 times a week. My running shoes were about two years old (not smart), but I was planning on getting new ones. The runs went very well for the first 3 weeks…and then I started to have a pain in the bottom of my foot. It looked like a plantar wart (small lump caused by a virus). I had treated plantar warts before, so I started to treat this one. But, it still hurt. And, I kept running. I got new running shoes, which didn’t seem to make a difference either. On one of the longer runs (now up to 2 hours), my ankle started to hurt to the point where I had to slow down. I could barely walk the next day.
After Merindy and I decided on Bangladesh as our place for missions, we applied to be part of a mission group called Interserve USA. Becoming part of a mission group was probably the best decision we’ve made in getting ready for missions. Their experience, insight, and support has been indispensable. Just prior to our first Skype interview with Interserve at the end of 2011, Merindy started having side pains. At first they were just twinges. But, after awhile, they were getting steadily worse. In January 2012, Merindy needed surgery, which helped for a while. The pains started coming back, though. By the end of 2012, she was needing medication to control the pain on a regular basis. Everything seemed under control. In January 2013 we quit our jobs and started fundraising for our mission work full-time. We became part of Interserve USA officially in February 2013. In March 2013, Merindy ended up in the Emergency Room. The pains had flared up so bad that she could not even move. I couldn’t even move her without the pain being excruciating.
Training through Injury: Triathlon
I contacted my coach after hurting my ankle, and he took me off of running and put me on biking for a few weeks. He had me see the doctor (a good idea). The doctor took a look at what I thought was the plantar wart (same foot as the ankle injury) and thought it looked more like a corn. Corns develop in areas of high pressure and are not due to a virus. He removed the corn, and I started physical therapy for my ankle. Everything should be instantly better…right? Um, no. It took a long time for the physical therapy to really help the ankle. The ankle started to improve when I was able to be consistent with my home exercises, foam roller massage, and icing the ankle. Through all of this, my coach was having me start to run again–a little at a time. The theory is Training through Injury, which is a very new concept to me. As a doctor, my usual rehabilitation advice for injuries is to rest, ice, elevate, and slowly start a home exercise or physical therapy plan after the injury was feeling better. My injury was not better yet, but I could not lay off of training. I eventually did take off about a week for Merindy’s birthday, as we were travelling. Yet the ankle and foot felt the same. No miraculous improvement. So, I decided my coach’s approach of training through the injury was probably better. Currently the ankle is almost (but not quite) back to 100%. I’m glad I trained through the injury. The bottom of my foot where the corn was is still painful, but not as bad as before. X-ray shows no fracture, and the foot doctor thought some metatarsal arch pads should help. Thankfully they are. Training through injury has probably been the most mentally and physically challenging part of the training for me. I’m not saying everyone who gets hurt while exercising should just push through the pain. If you need to train through injury, make sure you have a good coach, doctor, and physical therapist working with you so you can continue to train safely.
Training through Injury: Mission
We contacted Interserve after Merindy ended up in the Emergency Room. What would this mean for our mission work? We obviously couldn’t go to Bangladesh with Merindy in this much pain and the possibility of her having an exacerbation at any moment. Interserve was supportive. Jason went back to work (and Merindy, too, after a while), and mission plans were delayed. There was a doctor shortage in our area, so perhaps this was part of God’s plan anyway. Maybe we were needed here for a while longer. We went to see several doctors about Merindy’s side pains. Options for treatment included a more permanent surgery, medications with a lot of side effects, or pregnancy. We had been trying to get pregnant since a couple years after we got married in 2005. Merindy had one miscarriage in 2009, which was very heartbreaking and had led to complications needing surgery that time as well. We had one last chance now. Neither of us was getting any younger and the odds were not great, but we decided to try. The first attempt did not work. The second attempt ended up with…well, 3. That was all I could really think about when we saw the first ultrasound…”there’s three.” Merindy’s mind was already on what we would need for their college graduation, but I was still on, “there’s three.” Now, 32 weeks later, there’s still three, and we’re getting ready to have triplets. Yes, three new missionaries for Bangladesh, besides ourselves, God willing. We are still planning on doing medical missions in Bangladesh, if that is God’s plan. Many kids grow up in the mission field, and we will consider it a great privilege to raise our children in Bangladesh as well. They will know at least two languages and two cultures better than even we will by the time they are able to speak and go to school. They will taste food from Bangladesh and the USA. They will know what it is like to have Muslim, Hindu, and tribal Christian friends in Bangladesh as well as cousins and friends in the USA. Perhaps they will better know how to solve this world’s problems by the time they are adults. Or, perhaps they will simply be trying to figure out how to be parents, much like we are. All of this will depend on the health of the triplets, but we are hoping and praying that they will do well and be healthy. All of this is from mission “Training through Injury.” Who could have guessed this was part of God’s plan?
In Bangladesh, we will most undoubtedly encounter difficulty. These difficulties could be physical, mental, spiritual, or emotional. We don’t know exactly what these difficulties will be, but we can expect them to be there when we get there. Getting sick in Bangladesh is almost expected (especially for myself). Difficulties with language, adaptation to the heat, adaptation to the work environment, getting discouraged, and life-threatening political situations can all be expected on a regular basis. Yet we will have a good coach, our mission group, to help us navigate through all of these problems. More importantly, we will have God with us. We will be “Training through Injury” at almost any one time or another. Yet we will be there to help the people of Bangladesh. We will be helping train local people to diagnose, prevent, and treat disease. We will be helping local people to become midwives and community nurses. We will be helping local people to treat diabetes, burns, and various other diseases. Kailakuri Health Care Project is not a free clinic. It is a health project aimed at helping local people (many of whom are very poor) learn how to manage and treat the medical problems of their own communities as well as manage pregnancy care, child care, and many other things. We will do these things with God’s help. And it is why we will continue to train through injury.