Problems and Privileges

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Thank you to everybody who showed up for the Race Wellesley First 5K and 10K this weekend, including runners, supporters, volunteers, and sponsors!  I love events that bring the community together, and as such I was really happy to both be sponsoring and competing in the race.

I finished the 10K race in 10th place overall and in fourth place in my age group.  I missed out on a third-place medal by 0.9 seconds.  The guy who earned the bronze passed me with about a mile to go.  Rather than keep up with him, I elected to stay back.  My plan was to let him think I was out of gas, but then to take him by surprise and out-sprint him at the end.  The strategy almost worked, but I could not quite catch him at the line.  He ran a great race and definitely deserved the medal.

I have never won a placement medal in my life, so when the standings were announced and I realized that I missed out on one by a single second, I was frustrated and could not believe I let the opportunity slip away.  It is easy to look back on a six-mile course and develop a list of second-saving could-haves, would-haves, and should-haves.  I am sure the guy who beat me could say the exact same thing about his own performance, but the reality is that neither one of us gets a do-over.

This is all pretty out of character for me.  People who know me well know that I care much more about race time than I do placement.  The way I see it, time is a better reflection of my progress because I can compare myself to how I have done in similar races.  We are more in control of our own destiny with time, whereas placement heavily depends on elements that are out of our hands.  If the Kenyan national distance-running team shows up or stays home, for example, I am going to finish in a very different place in the standings regardless of how hard I run.

So, if I do not care that much about placement, why did I care in this race?  I am embarrassed to say it is because we were a sponsor.  There I was wearing my green Soolman Nutrition and Wellness LLC racing jersey, our logo printed on all of the racing bibs and centered on the race T-shirts, and our brochures stuffed into the gift bags that each runner received.  I imagined that in the eyes of everybody who was there, my race performance would make or break their opinion of me as a dietitian.

That is probably the silliest and most off-base notion you have read today.  Furthermore, it is not even in line with my opinion regarding how a practitioner’s life influences (or does not influence) patient care.  I temporarily got caught up in a belief system in which I normally do not include myself.

This morning, I went to supervision group.  That’s the term used for when a small group of dietitians gets together to discuss best practices, difficult cases, and other matters of patient care.  It turned into an emotional meeting or sorts, as people in the group shared some of their own personal struggles as well as their fears regarding what their patients might think if they found out about these issues.  Without disclosing details that might make their identities known, I will tell you that one of the dietitians mentioned a personal history of an eating disorder, another shared her struggles with a debilitating and incurable disease, and another disclosed that she will be undergoing radical surgery this winter and has been overeating due to her increased stress.

I only listened.  Had I contributed, I would have told them about my persistent back problems: the herniated disc, the four fractures that will never heal, and other associated issues.  I remember my physical therapist telling me earlier this summer that she does not get too worked up about MRI reports because almost every scan reveals some sort of structural issue, and by and large these issues are harmless.  She told me she only gets concerned when a report contains the word “severe.”  Then she looked at my report, looked back up at me, and gave me a half-smile.  “Severe” appeared in my report three times.

Dietitians are just like everybody else.  Patients often assume that we are perfectly healthy, have perfect relationships with food, and in general lead the healthiest of healthy lifestyles, but the truth is that we have our problems too.  Like a cancer patient who goes on to become an oncologist, why do you think so many of us chose to pursue a career in health and dietetics?

So, taking myself down from the pedestal that some people seem to put me on, but on which I do not belong, is actually a big relief.  I do not have to live up to extraordinary expectations and feel bad about myself when I fall short.  Instead, I can just enjoy what I have, what I can do, what I have accomplished, and what is ahead of me.

It is a privilege that I have been generally fortunate with my health and that the problems I do have are manageable.  It is a privilege that I can go to physical therapy and work towards getting stronger.  It is a privilege that you, your neighbors, and your friends allow me to help you towards your own goals.  It is a privilege that I got to race in a great community event along a beautiful course on a crisp late summer morning with my wife cheering for me.

And yes, it is absolutely a privilege that I was able to finish one second shy of winning a medal.

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