Learning to take control

?In through your nose, out through your mouth. You can do it, Karyn. Just take control.?

We were 14, Carrington and I, marching elbow to elbow through the streets of Pasadena, Calif., during the Rose Bowl Parade. We weren?t even halfway through the parade, but I was at my breaking point. As the miles of pavement continued to unfurl beneath my feet and the drumbeat propelling me forward seemed to quicken, I was unable to catch my breath. Each gasp was becoming more panicked than the one before. The only thing keeping me from dropping out of the parade was Carrington. And the fact that I had already tried to and our band director told me to get back into line. But mostly it was Carrington.

As a kid I loved playing sports ? basketball, softball, and even street hockey. I wasn?t an all-star athlete by any means, but I was competitive and even though I wasn?t ?quick on my feet?, I was quick thinking on my feet. I wanted to be an athlete, but I just couldn?t keep up.

I was playing softball one summer, the last summer I signed up, and the girls were all talking about middle school tryouts. That was a list I was going to sign my name to. I never made it, though. We were running drills and I missed a grounder. That meant running the outfield. I couldn?t do it. Not even a quarter of the way through and my chest was on fire. My heart was beating so fast I thought it would break a rib. So I walked. All the way around, all of the girls looking at me and the coach shaking his head with anger. When I made it back to the dugout I asked my dad for my inhaler. At this point we didn?t know about my heart condition, instead I was told I had a heart murmur and exercise-induced asthma. The coach told me to run it again. I collapsed on the bench as he and my dad went round and round about my athletic ability and attitude. In the end I knew if I wanted to be on a team, I?d have to find one where running wasn?t a part of the drills.

Carrington, on the other hand, was an all-star athlete who towered over everyone at 6?4?. Whether he was on the football field or the basketball court, I was there cheering him on. Yes, I was a high school cheerleader. It was my way of being a part of a team without having to run. But in Pasadena, Carrington was the one cheering me on.

?You?ve got this, Karyn. In through your nose and out through your mouth. Take control.?

I didn?t take control. Not even after my open-heart surgery. It wasn?t until over a decade later that I finally fully listened to Carrington, took a deep breath, in through my nose and out through my mouth, and finally took control of myself.

In May 2016 I took the first step, literally, by challenging myself to walk three-miles, three days a week. I did great that summer. And I lost nearly 30 pounds. After my grandma passed away that September and summer truly came to an end, I had a tough time keeping myself motivated. I maintained my weight, but I wasn?t making any progress. So last August I took another step. I asked for help.

For the last six-months I?ve been working out with a personal trainer at the REC Center. It?s been tough and very challenging at times, but Raul is an eternal optimist. One of our first sessions together, Raul wanted to see how I ran. It was not pretty, or in good form. I was still a band nerd and my gait had been conditioned to include my foot landing on my heel and rolling to my toe. Our band director Mr. Dooley had always said he wanted our heel to hit so far up that if we had a message for our mother?s written on the sole of our shoes they?d see it on camera. A half-hour of sprinting and tweaking, my form was looking better, even if it felt completely unnatural and awkward.

A few weeks ago, Raul had a ?fun? workout planned. I?ve blocked the exact details out of my conciousness, but I once again felt like I was at my breaking point. My legs wiggled like they were made of jello and I was sure my heart would burst at the suture. I felt my body panicking as my gasps for breath became shorter and higher-pitched. It was like I was 14 again, scared my body was going to give out on me. But it didn?t. I took a moment, closed my eyes and put my hand over my heart, making sure it stayed in place. Across the years and the distance, I could hear Carrington in my head. ?Deep breaths; in through your nose and out through your mouth. There?s no need to panic, Karyn. You?ve got this.?

And I do. I?ve got this and any other challenge the universe sends my way.