Famed swimmer Diana Nyad was once a student at Emory University, but was expelled for jumping out of a fourth-floor dormitory window wearing a parachute, an incident which proved a fairly accurate forecast of her future career. In 1979, she swam from Bimini to Florida and in doing so snatched the world record for long distance swimming sans wetsuit. It is a record that still stands today. She holds another record for swimming around Manhattan Island. It took her seven hours and fifty seven minutes to do so. In spite of these phenomenal feats, since turning sixty (sixty?!) Nyad has thrice attempted to swim from Cuba to Florida only to be hampered by lightning storms and jelly fish stings that caused a flare-up of her asthma. (Asthma?!)
In the 1996 Summer Olympics, tiny gymnast, Kerri Strug, helped her team win gold by famously performing a second vault despite having severely injured her ankle during her first one. Needing to land on both feet to secure her team its medal, she limped to the end of the runway, ran like the wind to the vault, jumped, twirled and twisted high in the air and did indeed land on both feet, though instantly hopping onto one as she saluted the judges. The gold medal secure, Strug was carried off the mat and straight to hospital.
Having been born without an athletic gene in my body, I find this pertinacious focus, this sheer physicality, really quite remarkable. Individuals with this type of wiring ignore obstacles that would turn me right around. They push through pain that would send me, whining, back to bed. Every single day, I witness a version of this plucky athleticism up close. Not in the mirror, mind you, but in the indefatigable spirit of Edward’s best friend, Apple.
She’d only been ours for a couple of weeks before she shocked us by climbing up an oak tree after a cat. She runs full out, a black furry flash streaking cross the back garden any time a squirrel even considers a trespassing foray inside her domain. Unlike Edward, who saunters along on walks like a gentleman in a park on Sunday afternoon, Apple pulls The Songwriter along at a clip, straining at the leash as if on an urgent mission the nature of which only she is aware. She sleeps soundly each night, on her back, utterly exhausted by her own endurance. However, like the aforementioned athletes above, sometimes such dauntlessness brings with it a risk for physical injury absent in the more sedentary lives of those fireside types like Edward and myself.
So here I sit, writing this tribute as Apple is, at this very moment, in surgery to repair a torn ligament in her knee. A burst of speed, a violent pivot, all in pursuit of the dreaded squirrel. She limped in last week on three paws. X-rays. Diagnosis. Surgery. We are grateful a procedure exists to repair this injury. We are grateful that our vet is an orthopedic specialist. We are grateful that her prognosis is good. She should be back to normal, God help us all, in three months. But oh, those three months. No running, no jumping. No rough-housing with Edward. But we’ll get her through it.
There is no more strenuous Olympic event than the heptathlon consisting as it does of seven (!) extraordinary physical challenges rolled into one. Shot put, javelin throw, hurdles. Long jumps, high jumps, races. Last year in London, the gold medal for this event was won by Britain’s Jessica Ennis who had, only four years earlier, suffered a broken ankle that threatened to end her chances completely. But following rest, rehabilitation, and that sheer determination unique to the athlete, the gold was hers. I’ll tell Apple all about Jessica when she comes home tomorrow.