RUNNING

My way through hell

I am not the hero here, my kids are. All four of them. Even though I’ve lost one, I am still a dad of four. I have not only survived because of them, I’ve flourished. I now appreciate as many moments as I can, because of them.

It has not always been like this. I have experienced some bad shit that has divided my life. Good things can divide your life, like becoming a dad. But I want to focus on two especially dark episodes that transformed me. Where I was one person before, I am now another.

***

Cold and wet. The smell of mud, and that iron smell when adrenaline rushes through your body. A lot of pain in my left arm. Blood flowing down from my forehead. I looked around and found myself in a five-metre-deep ditch, my bicycle lying on the ground beside me. “Fella, you are even more messed up than me!” I said out loud, or whispered. Or maybe I just thought it. The details are blurry.

This was October 2008. I had no idea of how I had ended up in that ditch. But indistinctly I pulled myself up to the road. Three cars passed without stopping, probably frightened of the bloodied devil who waved in the darkness on the side of the road. Luckily, one car came back.

After that, I was in and out of consciousness. I remember the ambulance, the MR tube, and waking up sitting in a chair with a doctor and a nurse in front of me. “We are going to fix your face, and this is your lucky day because I am a plastic surgeon and I am good at this!”

My face got 25 stitches that night, and the doctor was right – he was good at his job. Later, I was transported to the surgery room, my left arm broken three places, bone fragments floating around under the skin. It did not hurt at all anymore; I was in shock and high on drugs, so I did not care.

Later I woke up in a hospital bed, alone and confused. A doctor came in and told me he had done his best on my arm, but he wasn’t overly optimistic. “You have titanium running down both sides; I just had to puzzle it together as well as I could. And I did not succeed in covering the wound; the gap was too big.”

I met my family. My nine-month-old son gave his ugly dad a warm hug. Almost 24 hours after the accident I was told what had happened to me. There even was a headline in the newspaper: CYCLIST HIT BY A CAR, DRIVER ENCOURAGED TO TURN HIMSELF IN.

I had been incredibly lucky: my face had smashed into the side mirror, and my arm went into the front light. It was an 80km/hour zone, and the car that hit me was overtaking another car so his speed was likely higher. I had been lying in the ditch – luckily in some kind of recovery position, and therefore able to breathe – for about an hour before waking up.

The result was broken teeth, a broken nose, a broken index finger, three broken ribs, crushed left underarm, messed-up lower back and 25 stitches in the face. But my lucky star had shone on me. Alone again, I started to cry: a mixture of sadness and joy.

The next day they managed to close my wound after another three hours’ surgery. I was told I’d lose some movement in my hand and that the pain in my back would need to be fixed during a later surgery.

After 14 days at the hospital, I went home. I was tired, exhausted and needed a lot of help from family. I slept a lot. I isolated myself; I was invited to some social gatherings, but I could not pick myself up to go.

After four weeks I started workouts. I found motivation in the doctor’s word about not being able to use my left arm as before. And his advice that core exercises could make a difference for my back. My goal was to get back in the same shape as before the accident. I did indoor biking, cross-country skiing, push-ups, sit-ups. It took a year; a lot of hard work and pain. But there are different kinds of pain: one that tells you to stop what you’re doing; the other to keep pushing through, to bend and break limits. I was learning the difference.

Although I was rebuilding, I still felt isolated.

Except for my son I was alone, concentrating solely on my “comeback” and being a dad. I did not make room for any feelings or thoughts or any other concerns for that matter. I was in a big rush to prove the doctor wrong. When I look back there are pros and cons here, and maybe I could have done things differently. But I did come back stronger, and mentally tougher, than ever. The issues with my back and left hand vanished. I had cheated death; I was reborn!

***

Three years after the accident I had to eat my own words. My luck had not stopped: I was about to be a dad to twins – a boy and a girl! But once again life took a turn: the twins were born extremely premature, in week 23. Our boy, our Leon (nicknamed ‘Lionheart’ by the doctors and nurses), our hero, only lived for ten weeks. He put up one big fight. Even though he was so small, he was the biggest fighter I had ever seen. I will always have those inspiring and brave moments with me. Our little boy had been in a war against himself. We as parents, doctors and nurses stood by him. But in the end, he had nothing left to fight with. He died in the arms of his mother with me holding his head.

For a moment all the world was right.
How could I have known you’d ever say goodbye.
And now I’m glad I didn’t know.
The way it all would end the way it all would go.
Our lives are better left to chance I could have missed the pain.
But I’d have to miss the dance.
(“The Dance” – Garth Brooks)

I never understood why people just lay down and cry, turn indifference and give up. But after losing my son I can relate. I gave up, I gave in, I was lying alone on a floor crying, crying for my son, crying for a family in chaos and even crying because I was born. Maybe I laid there for an hour before I ran out of the hospital. I did not bother to change clothes or shoes, I just ran from it all. I do know the ‘flight, freeze and fight’ theory; I tried it in practice many times during an eight-year career in the military. I think different situations need different solutions, and back then, through the chaos, stress and mess, I chose the wrong solution and ran. What can I say, other than you live, you experience, and you learn. From rock bottom, I did not see it, but this and the hours to come were life-changing for me. Deep down I found something. I was probably hoping to get as far away as I could, but with lack of food and I did not have the power to go further than eight kilometres.

It is all going to hell.

Lars, a friend, sent a text to check up on the kids (or maybe on me). I answered, “It is all going to hell.” Lars is a brave man and the first thing he did was call me. I did not want to pick up, but I did anyway and started to cry as I answered. He said what I did not want, but needed, to hear: “You get your shit together and run back to the hospital ASAP!”

I dried my eyes and started to run again – this time in the right direction, towards the hospital. I felt something; I got warm from the inside. It was time to man up for a fight. I could write so much about this time in my life – the letters, the notes, the diary we and the nurses made to our Lion, the feelings of strength and weakness – but we’d be talking of a book ten times bigger than this piece.

I continued to man up in the weeks to come. I took charge of the funeral. Pictures and videos were organised. I wrote a speech. We spent time with our dead son who looked like he was sleeping. We spent time with his twin sister. Grief on one side, happiness on the other since our daughter did gain strength and weight as time passed. (She is now seven years old and healthier than most!)

I’d had a lot of opinions about how I would react if I lost a child. But you have no idea unless you experience it. After the funeral, the priest said something I have taken with me and made mine: “The responsibility and happiness has got to be greater than the grief.”

***

I have challenges in finding any meaning in losing a child. I still have today, seven years after our angel flew away. But in 2014, we were blessed with a little peace dove, my Phoenix from the ashes, bringing peace to my heart. Not that she substitutes our Leon, but together with the two I have left, she lights up my life. It is said that being a good example when raising a child is not the main way, it is the only way. This is one of the reasons I opened an Instagram account, and why I post things I am proud of on Facebook. Before, I wouldn’t post anything that could be confused as, “Hi, look at me!” But that has changed. I have been through the worst thing a man can imagine. I am, of course, afraid that something like that could happen again, but I don’t fear minor details anymore.

I’ve concluded that direction is more important than time.

And another thing: I want my kids to be proud of themselves, who they are and what they accomplish. Who am I if I do not dare it myself? I have heard, “You cannot protect the heart by acting like you don’t have one”; I read this as “Protect what you love with love”. My concern was to become overprotective as a dad, but this quote made me think differently. Great quotes work as conclusions for me. My truth, my views, my values. I did learn more about love during my darkest period and a line from the book Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami says it best: “What happens when people open their hearts? They get better.”

I am now a more “all-in-or-all-out” person than I used to be. If I choose to participate in something, I’ll rarely be half-hearted. Pain from the accident broke me down; I used the same pain as fuel to recover, as motivation to rebuild. I built a foundation while at rock bottom. And step by step, I become better physically, slowly gaining more inner strength than I knew I had. Maybe it took me seven years, but so what – the struggle is also a part of a goal! Powering my passion has become to mean a big deal to me. I have passion in being a dad. And I have a passion when it comes to exercising – especially running, cycling and cardio fitness.

Last winter Asics contacted me to join the Norwegian Frontrunner Team as part of their ‘I Move Me’ campaign. While I don’t move the fastest or the longest, the most inspiring part for me is the movement within. It is funny that one adjustment in life can lead to something as big as like I feel this Asics FrontRunner movement is. I am happy to join, inspire and motivate others who like movement, too. I’ve concluded that direction is more important than time.

I read a biography once where the main character told his dad he had a difficult period in his life. The first thing his dad said was, “Not everyone has the chance to experience a crisis. Consider yourself lucky. Now you have a chance to show what you are made of”.

I do not consider myself lucky in losing a child, but I have remembered this perspective from the book. I have buried my son a thousand times – and that is as far from luck as it gets. But I do believe a reality check can do miracles for a person, and it can be a life-changing experience.

***

Mountaintops. In our family, we have a passion for mountains. We believe they take us as close to heaven as we can get.

August 2017. A hiking and running trip in the middle of Norway. Before sunrise, and I’m alone on a mountain. My crew and family are still sleeping in our camp, 10 kilometres away. No wind, no clouds. The silence is only broken by my breath and my feet touching the ground. Determined. I reach the summit as the sun starts to rise. As high as I get on this run, as close to heaven as it gets. Tears flowing. It is not very often I cry. But the moment and the feelings are overwhelming. Inside, I can hear my Lion roar. A quiet roar, but still full of power and strength. Tears of sadness because our Leon is not with us, his family, where he belongs. Tears of joy, because he visits me every now and then and I can feel him in my bones.

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