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.
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.