I was lis­ten­ing to a pod­cast recent­ly (Moth Radio Hour). The show fea­tured Charles Upshaw, a wheel­chair-bound man with MS, who described his strug­gles to qual­i­fy for a drug tri­al. To qual­i­fy, he had to walk 25 feet in under 45 seconds.

shallow focus photography of person walking on road between grass

Unfortunately, he failed – quite miserably.

I took it his actu­al time was many mul­ti­ples of 45 sec­onds. Disappointed but deter­mined to “stick it to the man,” he began prac­tic­ing to reduce his time. After many months he man­aged to get with­in the required time.

But Charles was­n’t sat­is­fied. He kept going. Eventually, he could walk those 25 feet in under ten sec­onds. Ironically, he still did­n’t qual­i­fy for the drug tri­al — his time was now too fast! Charles lit­er­al­ly was no longer con­sid­ered sick enough to need the exper­i­men­tal drug.

Interestingly though, he seemed okay with that. The point of the new drug was to increase the walk­ing speed of MS patients — by 20%. But Charles had achieved far beyond that mod­est gain with noth­ing but sheer willpower.

I had sev­er­al reac­tions to this. First, I was impressed with his grit and deter­mi­na­tion. It must have been excru­ci­at­ing and dif­fi­cult to achieve what he did.

Secondly, it’s incred­i­ble to con­sid­er that this man had the pow­er all along to improve his con­di­tion — beyond even what a new exper­i­men­tal drug could deliv­er. Apparently, all he need­ed was the moti­va­tion and the belief that he could do it.

But the les­son that hit home with me was how the sto­ry of Charles Upshaw applies to the rest of us.

We all take things for grant­ed, don’t we?

I love to walk. I walk at least 30 min­utes every morn­ing, about 2 miles. That’s about 4,500 steps in 30 min­utes. So 10,450 feet in 1,800 sec­onds, or 5.8 feet per second.

So I walk 25 feet in 4.3 sec­onds. Not a whole lot faster than a wheel­chair-bound guy with MS.

But that’s not my point. My point is that I should be grate­ful for every step I take with ease, with no pain, with no thought what­so­ev­er at the mir­a­cle of bipedal locomotion.

Think of the fan­tas­tic coör­di­na­tion and motor con­trol going on with­in one’s body as they effort­less­ly take those steps. We can con­scious­ly think of any­thing from yesterday’s bas­ket­ball game to what to have for din­ner tonight. Meanwhile, our uncon­scious mind coor­di­nates every step, every mus­cle flex required to take those steps, and con­stant­ly adjusts our bal­ance, so we don’t top­ple over.

We nev­er give those steps a sec­ond thought. Nor do most of us think about what life would be like to be unable to walk. Unable to see or to hear. Someone read­ing this has a dis­abil­i­ty, but there are things to be thank­ful for even then. Everyone can do some­thing that some­one else cannot. 

I’m going to try to think about such things more and be grate­ful for every bless­ing in my life. And try to remem­ber Charles Upshaw every time I go for a walk. 

  • Pete Koutoulas

    Pete is an IT pro­fes­sion­al work­ing in Lexington. Formerly of Campton, he and his wife have lived in Winchester since 2015. Pete is a for­mer week­ly news­pa­per pub­lish­er and for­mer colum­nist for the Winchester Sun. These days, when not work­ing he can often be found on his back porch read­ing or writ­ing, in the back­yard tend­ing to his toma­to plants, or put­ter­ing around in his garage or work­shop. Reach Pete at pete@wincitynews.org.