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Gratefulness makes life good

Published November 27. 2010 09:00AM

It was only a short phone call and a few weeks ago but it still has me thinking.

During most Saturday mornings during the bicycle racing off-season, I will ride from my father's house near Reading to meet anywhere from two to 20 cyclists who gather about nine miles away in Oley for a training ride that's usually 60 to 65 miles. We call the leader of the ride Big Jim, and if the wind chill is in the single digits or rain or snow is in the forecast, I'll call him on the phone that morning to find out if he's riding outside that day.

Big Jim's phone greeting does not change. Even though he might eventually say it's too cold or too wet or too icy, his first words to me will always be "Just another beautiful day."

Usually, I poke fun at his Pollyanish and obviously inaccurate greeting, and, usually, he lets me.

Until that short phone call a few weeks ago.

This time, I called on a Friday for some reason, and this time, when I began busting his chops, he cut me off.

"I have a job I love, a wife I love, and I get to ride my bikes or my Harleys any time I feel like it," he said in a tone that seemed more exasperated than angry. Later, I learned that he had just endured a string of business-related phone calls that had been less than cheery. "So how can it ever be anything other than a beautiful day?"

His question made me pause.

I had never really considered Big Jim much of an intellectual. An intelligent guy, sure. After being downsized a few years ago, he had, in fact, built a business that allowed him to work when he wanted, ride when he wanted, and seemingly buy whatever he wanted.

The guy has 15 bicycles and three motorcycles.

I had always been the dime-store philosopher of the group, the guy who would say something like, "Be more mindful of the pedals," when somebody asked, "What can I do to ride faster?"

Yet it finally it occurred to me that Big Jim's salutation, "Just another beautiful day," had nothing to do with the weather. It was his mantra, his way of reminding himself to be something that we all should be.


By now, you may have gathered that this is not going to be a typical Fitness Master column. Those are driven by studies, statistics, and other information designed to help you improve your health and fitness.

This one is driven by one abstract noun and something Sir George Pickering said long ago: "Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts."

When it comes to improving your health and fitness and your outlook on life, too that abstract noun, gratefulness, definitely counts.

As you may recall, I broke my right leg in a bicycle race in late April of 2009. Immediately after the accident, I was not bitter. I was genuinely grateful.

I recognized that if my head had hit the ground with the same force as my hip had hit enough force to create a J-shaped fracture just about the full length of my femur the injury could have been far worse. And I continued feeling grateful as I feverishly rehabilitated the leg.

The prognosis for full recovery was one year, but I felt if I would treat my rehab like a full-time job, I could cut the time in half.

I was wrong.

Even though the bone healed in record time, the muscles cut to insert the metal rods didn't. At the one year mark, I appeared to be fully recovered, but not for high-level cycling.

I had unwittingly altered my pedal style to compensate for a lack of power in the cut muscles. I would now have to stop racing and learn how to ride again 13 months after the initial accident.

Two months later, I needed another break from racing.

This extra work produced some good results I finished second in my age group at the state time trial and won a significant time trial following that, but in my mind, that wasn't enough.

Just before the accident, I had won two of the three races I had entered, finished second in the other, and was a full minute in front of a top-notch field with less than two miles to go when the accident occurred. I had worked harder than I had ever worked during my rehab, so I felt I deserved those same sort of unbelievable results and to experience that unbeatable feel on the bike again.

In short, my sense of gratefulness was gone and my mind was screwed up. Because I had worked so hard to rehab my leg, I felt as if I was owed something. My friend's words reminded me of how misguided my thinking had been.

My bet is that you're guilty of the same sort of thinking in one aspect of your life. Come to grips with it, and you'll be better because of it.

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