Running to Win

Are you familiar with the world’s 800+ marathon events annually?  This long-distance foot race of about 26 miles is completed by running, walking or a combination of the two, and there are also wheelchair divisions.  Marathons are fascinating and wildly popular across the globe, crossing boundaries of culture, ethnicity, gender, language and age (and how about that Mr. Fauja Singh, the first centenarian ever to complete a marathon!)  

We seem to be a civilization that loves racing and winning—and while caregivers might not win a literal marathon, successful caregiving requires similar characteristics to those of a marathon champion. For example:

Desire.  It’s probably safe to say that no one ever ran in a marathon without first making a conscious choice to do so! Just as a runner weighs the benefits and excitement of running in a race, so a caregiver makes some deliberate determination as to whether or not to be the caregiver for a loved one.  Both runner and caregiver work hard and hope to do well to achieve their respective goals.

Wisdom.  Some of us will never participate in a marathon; in fact, the very thought of our doing so seems preposterous!  Why?  Simply, we’re aware that various factors make the race unrealistic for our situation.  We understand that our time and energies are better spent either as a relay runner (sharing the responsibility of running equally with others)—or as a cheerleader, encouraging and supporting from the sidelines.  So it is with the decision to be the primary caregiver for a loved one. A good exercise in wisdom is to personally assess whether or not you’re physically, emotionally, and mentally up to the challenge of caregiving, and make decisions that are based on these realities rather than on feelings of “should”.  Ultimately, caregiving when one is not strong enough is likely to be counterproductive for both you and the care recipient.

Preparation. How futile and absurd it would be for any of us to show up for a 26-mile race without ever having tried running a mile or two.  So it is with caregiving.  Preparation to be a caregiver—starting with a basic knowledge of formal and informal services and resources available—should occur before the need ever exists and can increase over time.  Knowing some things in advance can greatly relieve anxiety in times of uncertainty and change.

Adaptability. While a runner typically will have advance knowledge of the actual length of the course—whereas a caregiver is rarely privy in advance to the actual length of service—neither runners nor caregivers have precise knowledge of all of the obstacles they may encounter along the way, nor the twists and turns in the road ahead. Flexibility to meet these intermediate challenges and knowing how to respond appropriately can make a big difference in outcomes for all concerned.

Tenacity.  It has been said by marathon runners that the key to endurance running is finding the right pace for your level of fitness.  This holds true for caregivers, as well.  Assess your level of fitness, be realistic in your expectations, know when to ask for help, be willing to accept help if offered, and remember that you are not on this journey by yourself.

Contact CareAware at (317) 803-6140 or caregivers@cicoa.org for help from a caregiver coach.


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