The Empowerment Of Athletics

The Empowerment Of Athletics

Hello Campbell’s World visitors! Here we are at the end of this most awesome series. If I truly did neglect to post part of this most valuable and inspiring series, please forgive, make sure to check it out and let us know in what way this has touched your life. 

For me, it has shown that with faith, and determination anything is possible. 

Thanks Penny for taking us on this journey with you.

The Empowerment Of Athletics

Penny Fleckenstein

This is the continuation of my series on Biking The Great Allegheny Passage. First I wrote, Conquering My Fears (the first morning), The Resilience Of Children (about Moriah’s mouth injury and how she persevered to finish the trip the first day from Buena Vista to Connellsville), Weighing Our Options about the various decisions we had to make so things would run smoother (Connellsville To Confluence Day no. 2), The Power Of Praise about how God wants us to praise Him so we learn to praise and love each other (from Confluence to Rockwood, PA day no. 3) and now The Empowerment Of Athletics about the changes in me, and how I changed my mindset by accomplishing an athletic goal (from Rockwood, PA to Cumberland, MD Day no. 4.)

This would be the longest day yet with the most miles accomplished in one day to get to our goal of the Western Maryland train station in Cumberland, MD. It was a sunny, breezy, beautiful Sunday with no stores open along the trail. we’d rely on our remaining snacks and drinks. With plenty of gatorade and water and just enough snacks to be our lunch, we rode up Big Savage Mountain. Beth noticed how the smiles of people going down themountain were different from the smiles of the people going up the mountain. We knew we’d be going down, but first we had to make our way up.

It was our last day, and we were all feeling jubilant. Beth’s kids were looking forward to seeing their Dad and going home. I was excited about going home to see my son Eric and guide dog Bryanna. I longed to spend the night in my own bed with Bryanna close by.

The bathroom facilities up the mountain were sparse making it necessary to occasionally get off the bike and off the trail. My digestive system was rebelling, and I was feeling weak. As I traveled each mile, I put it behind me in my mind counting the miles down to the end. We passed a family picking berries right after spotting some venus fly traps. We resisted the urge to buy ice cream. Mark said, “There will be ice cream in Cumberland.”

Mark showed us a monument listing donors where St. Matthews Mileposters had been recognized for making a $100 donation. He beamed as we reached the Continental Divide. Beth and I got excited about the approaching Mason Dixon line. A couple times, I had to get off the bike, and when we got back on, someone had drawn a line in the dirt and wrote “Mason Dixon Line.” Beth and I believe it was either Mark or Moriah or even a combination effort. We laughed as Beth and I realized we were being teased. It felt good to know that while all of us were stretching ourselves, we could still laugh and carry a positive attitude.

Conquering the mountain, going downhill, I told Beth of how when I was 12-years-old I was on the ferry with my summer school. We were crossing the San Francisco Bay, and it hit me that I was blind. I became jealous of all the sights sighted people can see. How they can experience sunrises, sunsets, rainbows, and fully enjoy life with their eyes. I had cried the whole trip feeling angry with God for having made me blind depending on others for many life skills and recreation. I hated being blind, and still do, and have resented the need to reach out and make connections with people. Not just because I want friends in this world but because it’s mandatory. I depend on the grace, generosity, and kindness of others. I need help shopping, cleaning difficult messes, learning a new area, learning new technology, and gaining employment. Now at 51, after birthing six children besides helping to raise four stepchildren, I have a lot more health problems. Although my blindness is permanent, I don’t have to have permanent pity party. With the help of Mark, Beth, and her children, Zachary and I were able to conquer Big Savage Mountain. I felt tears run down, and choked up as I said, “Thank you, Beth. Thank you for helping me and Zachary do this. I couldn’t have done it without you.”

Beth responded, “Penny, thank you for inviting me to be a part of this. I feel so honored to be included.”

I never thought athletics was important. I’ve read about those who have climbed Mt. Everest, the blind man who hiked the Appalachian trail with his guide dog in “Blind Courage”, and, honestly, I felt they were just insane. Biking the Great Allegheny Passage, conquering Big Savage Mountain, empowered Zachary and me for the rest of our lives. We can do it! We can climb the mountains of life! We can overcome! we can struggle and  complete our ventures with the help of God and others. The spirit of “I can” took over my spirit and has empowered me to do more in life, press forward, dream big, and keep stretching my faith and myself.

With Beth and I experiencing only one fall, Moriah’s mouth injury, a cracked screen on the IPad mini, and Mark feeling pain from his injured knees, we all made it to Cumberland safely with our team intact. Tim came to drive Beth, Hayden, Moriah, Zachary and I with my tandem home. Hayden helped Mark load his tandem and the tripplet in Mark’s van. We headed to really delicious dinner at Cracker Barrel while Mark went home separately. Beth and I  marveled at having a plentiful supply of fresh vegetables and fruit available to us. I worried that we weren’t properly dressed. I felt grubby in my tank top and bike shorts. Beth assured me there was a whole baseball team present who were dressed less elegantly than we were. I felt relieved and could bask in the the pleasure of dinner. I chose a salad, vegetable soup, chicken and dumplings (my favorite on the Cracker Barrel menu), and broccoli. Afterwards, I was heading home with a new sense of confidence in myself and in my team mates especially the children. I felt great burden had been lifted from me because Beth thanked me for allowing her to help me and be part of my life. As I crawled into bed after 1 in the morning, I finally understood why people set athletic goals–stretching themselves physically. The Great Allegheny Passage adventure changed my perspective. It helped me to be more compassionate and loving–kinder and gentler to myself. It helped me to overcome fears, become more patient as empathized with Hayden, Gabe, Moriah and Zachary, and I learned the power of praise and how it strengthens love. We developed our abilities to make good decisions. I was made more aware of my judgmental critical spirit. The guilt of being born blind and experiencing many health issues washed off me. I slept a lot for a week or two afterwards. Biking The Great Allegheny Passage made me a better Mom, a better worshipper of God, a better friend, and a better person. I plan to attain more athletic goals, stretch myself more, and learn more in this lifetime. With physical endurance comes spiritual and emotional endurance. Go and have fun! You’ll receive more blessings than what you expect.

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