The race of her life: My mother’s journey with Lupus, her desire to run, and how her disease changed my life forever

Growing up I idolized star athletes like Kobe Bryant, Paul Lo Duca, and Jerry Rice. Today, my favorite athlete has never played professionally, she has never been to the Olympics, and I’m not even sure she ever played any sports in high school. My favorite athlete is a hometown hero. She’s my mom.

My mom is a runner. She picked up the sport when I was in high school because I was pretty fat, or in her words “You’re just a little husky.” Side note: If you don’t know my mom… she’s really nice.

Back to the story – She wanted to help me lose some weight because I was breathing like Darth Vader from simply walking up a flight of stairs, so one day she asked me if I would like to start running with her. We started out by running around our neighborhood park but to no surprise, I only lasted on the program for 2 weeks. My mom kept with it though, and she started to increase her distance as time went on. She kept running farther and farther, slowly adventuring off to different routes around our neighborhood, then to the golf course, and eventually to the beach and back, a hefty 12-mile route.

After a while, my mom wanted to participate in a race, but not just any race. She had her sights on the LA Marathon. But later that year, we realized the race my mom would be participating in would be one no one ever voluntary signs up for. In 2012, my mom started to feel achy when she would run and began to lose strength to the point where she couldn’t even twist off the cap to the toothpaste. It felt like it happened overnight and then one day we found ourselves rushing to the ER where doctors found multiple blood clots in her lungs. They put her on special medication and gave her the diagnosis: She had lupus.

For those of you who don’t know, Lupus is a complicated and unpredictable disease. There’s no cure, you just have to live with it the rest of your life. According to lupus.org, it’s an autoimmune disease where your immune system can’t tell the difference between foreign invaders such as the flu and your body’s healthy tissue. Thus, when your body produces antibodies to fight off these invaders, it can also attack and destroy your healthy tissue. It’s a true you vs. you battle.

Looking back on that day in the ER, she heard a lot of tough news such as the seriousness of her disease, the loss of hair she would see from the medication, and the fact she couldn’t run anymore. I cried that entire night, I cried even more the following months. My mother had always been one of the strongest people in my life, and having to watch her lose so much in such little time hurt the most. There was nothing I can do to help. I was just another spectator in her race towards recovery.


 

Knowing there’s was nothing I could do to make my mother’s disease go away, I decided to do something else. I decided to do something that she would be proud of, something that was dear to her heart. I decided to run.

Now you have to understand, this was no easy task. During that time I weighed 340 pounds, I smoked a lot, and if you hadn’t guessed already – I hadn’t run in a really long time. So I started where I left off, on the same program my mother was doing with me when we first started together. I laced up my shoes and walked out the front door. The sad thing was, I didn’t even make it to the end of my street. As I stood at the corner I thought about giving up, and I tried finding every excuse I could.

“You look ridiculous out here. Everyone driving by is probably laughing at you.”

“You’re going to quit like the last time.”

“You’ll never be a runner.”

But then I thought of my mom, a woman who wants to run so bad but a disease is preventing her from doing so. So I kept going. I wasn’t fast, but for the first time in my life I kept up with a workout routine.

So I made running my thing because, at the core, I felt closer to my mom while I was doing it. We would always talk after I got home from a run and her face would light up. During this time she was my coach, she was my biggest fan, and she just so happened to be my favorite athlete. Everything I did over the next year and a half was replicating everything my mother had done in her running program before she was diagnosed. Thankfully, as I progressed in my running, so did my mother’s health.

Over that year and half, I lost 130 pounds and my mothers lupus was now under control with the use of medication. With my weight loss came this fear of saggy skin so instead of going running, I began to lift weights, only incorporating long distance running in my routine once or twice a month. My mother on the other hand never gave up on her dreams. Not too long ago, my Dad sent us this picture of my mom in a race. She had been participating in her work’s “Fitness Games” and she completed her first 5k since she was diagnosed.

 

 

Opening this picture opened a wave of emotions and I couldn’t wait to ask my mom about it. When I made it home she told me, “We’ll I didn’t run the whole thing, I actually run/walked.” I started to laugh, because like a true competitor, my mother still wasn’t satisfied with this enormous accomplishment. I left my parents house inspired, and recently I’ve been thinking about my mother’s passion for running and how I can implement that passion in my own life.

What am I passionate about? What area in my life would I ignore a doctor’s advice if they told me I couldn’t do _________ anymore?

The more I’ve thought about this question, the more I’ve been thinking about my fitness journey. How did I, a 325 pound community college student, end up where I am today? I couldn’t help but think back to the day we found out my mom had lupus. I remember crying a lot, feeling hopeless, and having the crazy idea to start running for her. This one moment forced me to make some big changes and every time I wanted to quit, my mother was by my side encouraging me in my own race.

I haven’t run much since then, and to be honest I kind of miss it. I’ve been slowly getting back into my old routine and it’s got me thinking of some “crazy” ideas again. The more I go for little jogs around my neighborhood, the more I think about my mom. I think about how strong she’s been since her diagnosis, and I think about how much she continues to do for our family. I don’t know if I can ever thank my mom enough, but I do know I can run. With that being said, on March 24, 2019 – I’ll be participating in the race my mother always wanted to do and still plans on doing, the LA marathon.

Mom, if you’re reading this, this is for you!

Cheers,

Emilio

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Learning to Laugh Through the Pain: My Valentine’s Day Story

There are times in your life when everything you planned crumbles and you can’t decide if you should start to cry because you suck at life or if you should just laugh because you have reached a whole new level of suck.

That was me last month.

That was me on Valentine’s Day.

You guys have to understand something – I’m a romantic guy. I love taking my girl out, I love surprising her and I love hearing her do this one laugh where she almost screams at the same time because she is so excited. She means the world to me and I can’t help express how much I love her on a daily basis, so you best believe I was gearing up for Valentine’s Day.

I wanted to be cheesy and special at the same time, so I bought her every typical Valentine’s gift you could ever imagine. We had a stuffed bear holding a heart, some chocolate, a dozen roses – you name it. The gifts were more of a joke and that’s why I love our relationship. We love to laugh but little did I know the comedy of the night would be coming from my misfortune. On top of all the gifts, I planned to have a picnic before going to the drive-in overlooking the LA skyline and finish off the night with some dessert. I had this all planned out but as the days got closer, the more all the suck started to creep in.

First, it had been raining in LA so the cool drive-in I was going to take her to ended up canceling their showings and postponed them for the weekend. Side note, it didn’t rain that day!

Then February 13th came around. My nose started running uncontrollably, and that’s an understatement. I had snot dripping down my face, getting on my phone, landing in my food and it just kept coming. I felt hopeless, so I used a whole box of Kleenex to construct a disposable bullring type shape to clog my nostrils. I started taking every cold medicine I could find because I saw many of my friends go through the same symptoms, and they were dripping snot for a week. I didn’t want my Valentine’s Day to be like that! I didn’t want to share my girlfriend with the Finding Dory tissue boxes I had been carrying around with me.

The suck didn’t care; the medicine had no effect. It was finally Valentine’s Day, and my nose thought its performance from the day before wasn’t good enough. I contemplated calling out from work but I couldn’t justify going out that night if I skipped. I gave myself a little pep talk, grabbed my stuff, took a swig of DayQuil and headed to work.

It was a long day, to say the least, but the more the day went on, the weaker I got so I decided to change my plans again. If you know Alexa, you know she loves pizza, and one of our favorite pizza places were making heart shaped pies that night, and it just so happened to be located in my hometown. So here I go again, trying to make this Valentine’s Day special. Pizza also paired nicely with the cheesy Valentine’s theme. The only downside was the drive home was an hour and a half away, but I was determined to hear that laugh.

5 o’clock finally rolled around and I sped home. I was so excited to see her by the time I reached my place I didn’t even feel sick anymore. My mood started to change, I started to feel like myself again, but the suck had other plans. As I walked through the door I felt the urgency to urinate, and I’m not talking about that feeling you get when you drink a lot of water. I couldn’t control it, and it was going to come out whether I liked it or not.

I ripped my pants off, ran butt naked to the bathroom hoping to at least reach the sink, but somehow ended up in the bathtub because my toilet was clogged with someone else’s crap. The weird thing was, I didn’t even pee that much but I soon realized this urgency to urinate wasn’t because I had to go, it was something more serious. As I walked outside to pick up my pants, my left testicle felt like a high school drumline decided to perform their latest set on it. I fell to the ground, feeling like one of those senior citizens in the lifealert commercials and crawled slowly back to my bed.

After some deep breathing exercises and a lot of prayer, I somehow made it to Alexa’s house without any pain. We exchanged gifts, she loved hers, I loved mine and that was probably the best I felt all night. Shortly after we were on our way to Oxnard. I took a different route home to increase the surprise factor, but it added an extra 20 minutes to the commute. It was 20 extra minutes for the suck to figure out how to ruin my night once again.

Right before we reached the restaurant, I started to get the chills. The suck had shifted from my nose and went full on virus, but at least my boys downstairs we’re doing okay. My girlfriend noticed my discomfort but I swore I was fine. We were seated fairly fast but as I sat down, the drumline was back, and they weren’t going to take a break this time. The more pain I felt in my testicles, the worse my fever became. I tried being a good sport, but I started feeling nauseous, and it was clear something was very wrong.

We left the restaurant, made our way to my parents’ house where we were going to surprise my mom and what a surprise it was! I was sitting on the couch with a 102-degree fever and could barely stand due to the pain. I somehow formed a smile and jokingly said, “Happy Valentine’s Day” before my dad asked what was wrong. After a brief recap of my night, he thought I was going to pass a kidney stone. If you don’t know what that is, it’s my deepest fear in life and is basically the male version of giving birth.

We headed to the ER where I spent the rest of the evening. I was in and out of sleep and by the time they discharged me it was 4 A.M. The doctor ruled out the kidney stone, but couldn’t diagnose the pain so he referred me to another doctor who sent me to another specialist. My fever was still alive and well, and it was at that moment where I reached my breaking point. It was at that moment I began to laugh.

I began to laugh because, amidst all the suck, I got a glimpse of how great life really is. I had people who loved me, I didn’t have to give birth, and out of the 4 people who saw my junk that night, only one of them chuckled when I pulled my pants down. In all seriousness, it was a great reminder that we may not choose the circumstances we find ourselves in, but we do get to choose our attitude.

I’m learning to choose joy.

I’m learning to appreciate every moment.

I’m learning to laugh.

Cheers,

Emilio

40 Pounds of Hope

Have you ever looked at a physical object from your past and feel like you’ve been teleported to the moment you first saw it? I truly believe this feeling is the only form of time traveling I will ever experience during my lifetime. Whether these objects remind us of good or bad times, they all help show us how those moments in our lives have shaped us into the person we are today.

My Dad has a Rawlings Mark McGwire MAC300 youth baseball bat sitting on the side of his bed in case someone ever tries to enter our house unwelcome. It’s the first bat my parents bought me as a child and every time I see it I just remember my dad handing it to me and telling me to be careful when I’m practicing in the backyard.

A couple of days after I received my new bat,  some kids from our neighborhood came over to play whiffle ball. We used a plastic bat and plastic ball while we pretended to be playing under the lights of Chavez Ravine, home of the Los Angeles Dodgers. After a hard-fought 18 inning thriller, the Dodgers beat the Giants 18-12. As my neighborhood friends left one by one, I decided to take some practice swings with my new bat. Everyone was gone at this point, so I thought what’s the worst i can do.

Unbeknownst to me one of my friends left his glove at my house. It so happened to be on the ground about a foot behind me. I never heard him come through the side gate, but I did hear him crying on the floor when I connected my bat to the top of his forehead from my back swing. Our friendship didn’t last long after that, at least the bat did!

The bat is only one example of these physical objects in my life. Most recently I’ve been looking back on all the souvenirs I collected and all the photos I took during Ride for Water this summer. I’ve been getting pretty sentimental as the remaining days of our campaign has reached 6 and  we’re still trying to raise $10,000. There was one object from our journey which transported me back to the day I committed to take part in this campaign and took me on a journey all the way to the day we walked out of charity: water’s headquarters in NYC.

jerrycanThis object is known as a Jerry Can. It’s the yellow gasoline jug I’m hoisting on my shoulder in the picture above, it’s the symbol of the charity we partnered with and it’s the way most developing countries transport and store their drinking water. Every day of our trip I would walk to the nearest water hose and fill up our personal can. I would stare down at our at our bright yellow Jerry and see a problem with our world. I would see the women and children who take on the responsibility to carry the 40 lb jug from the nearest water source back to their homes. I would think of all the possibilities families would have if they didn’t spend most of their day collecting water. Not to mention the water they collect often contains diseases which leads to sickness and death.

For most of our trip when I looked at the Jerry Can, I would see a crisis, but God has a way of turning something negative in this world and making it into something beautiful. Now when I see a Jerry Can I see 40lbs of hope. I see an object that portrays a world where everyone has access to clean water in or just outside their homes. I see a charity organization which empowers all types of people to make a difference. Most importantly I see YOU! Yes you. I see you reading this blog post and being presented with an opportunity to change someone’s life forever.

We only have 6 days left in our fundraising campaign and all im asking is for you to consider giving $5 dollars each day for our final week. Your willingness to donate each day would amount to a total of $30 and would give 1 person clean water for the rest of their life. It’s up to you on what you’ll see when you look at a Jerry Can.  I’m inviting you to see the beauty in it and believe me, it’s an amazing view.

Cheers,

Emilio

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You’re my hero

If there was was one thing I learned on the road as I traveled with Ride for Water it was that not all heroes wear capes, they don’t all have superpowers, and they sure don’t all get their own movie. It was especially clear when I visited the 9/11 memorial, the battlefield at Gettysburg, and other national monuments that are so important to our country’s history.  But do you know what all heroes do have?

They have this calling in their lives to put others before themselves!

There was this moment in Fargo, North Dakota where the Safe family opened up their home to us. They had three children and their 2 year old son, Charlie, was so excited to show me his new bike. He kept going up and down their front driveway, gaining more speed with each try. Then these 5 strangers rolled up on the driveway with their bigger and more expensive bikes. They all had the same outfits on, which were skin tight resembling that of a fictitious super hero. Charlies face immediately lit up and he turned around to take it all in.  As he turned his head, there was Paul with his bike in hand and all his gear still on. Charlie looked up at him like, “Wow! I want to be just like him!”

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Charlie trying to take it all in, also the moment which inspired this post!

Chills immediately ran down my arms & once again I was reminded that this ride was bigger than all of us. We started this journey because there are 665 million people who don’t have access to clean water. At the end of it we left, at least I left, understanding that this ride accomplished more than bringing awareness and funds to our cause.

Throughout our journey there were individuals who always thanked us for caring and for our willingness to sacrifice our time to make a difference, but to be honest I never saw myself as a hero. I just sat in a car, found housing for our team, and made them lunch so they wouldn’t starve as they peddled anywhere from 80-130 miles a day. I think people looked up to the boys and wondered how they got up every morning and continued to bike.  It wasn’t because they loved cycling that’s for sure. Pretty much every guy on our team hated their bike.

It goes back to that call, which all heroes have, to put others before themselves. Someone once said, “The engine of the bike is the person who sits on the seat.” The engine in our lives for those 50 days we were on the road, was those who don’t have immediate access to one of life’s basic needs. I admire the hell out of all of the riders on our campaign this year, but the heroes I saw every day weren’t just them. The more cities we entered and the more state lines we crossed, the more I began to realize a hero doesn’t have to take on some magnificent quest or tackle some huge problem in this world.

A hero is Kari Burrows, a Director at Boeing, who opened her doors for 7 strangers as she was planning a wedding with her whole family and then answered her phone for these strangers when they were in great desperation, while she was leading a meeting in front of a board room of managers. A hero is Nate and Alice Safe, a football coach and a mom, who have a 7 week newborn and two other sons, yet they still decided to welcome in 7 strangers into their house. They fed us, cleaned up after us, and gave us entire access to their basement where their kids play. Who in their right mind would do something like that with a newborn in the house? A True hero, that’s who. 

These people were ordinary individuals doing extraordinary things. What drives them is what also drove us as a group. At the core we all want to make this world a better place and we all do it in our own ways. We ride bikes; they house strangers. So here’s your chance to go make a difference; ride your bike, cook a meal, or in all seriousness just be nice. You never know who is looking at you wishing they can be like you someday!

Cheers,

Emilio

Here’s a brief slideshow of some real heroes from this trip!

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Just Keep Going

Just keep going. The thought that was going through all of our riders minds on day 2 of our trip as they climbed 36 miles up the Cascade Mountains in Washington and the thought that is constantly going through my head as I try to find them housing each night.

On day 1 of our trip, we had no plans for housing and the only contact we had from last years team made weed cookies and didn’t have a phone. Gio, the other support driver, and I were frantically looking and at each stop the boys would ask us if we had any leads.  I would sadly respond with a no. I felt like I was letting them down. They were biking 85 miles that day pushing their bodies to the max. I was sitting in a car and failing at my only job.

After our third stop Gio got on the phone and called Citipoint Church in Marblemount, Washington. The pastor’s wife, Nikki, answered the phone and told us she had no housing for us, but she wanted to know more about our cause. We started telling her about the ride and what we were doing it for and after a couple more questions and some brief answers, she offered to let us stay at the church. She started to give us the address, but the service in the mountains is terrible and we started to lose our call.

Nikki could sense the call was about to drop and calmly said, “I don’t know if you can hear me, but just keep going. Come to the church. Just keep going.” Chills were sent down my spine. Not only did we have a place to sleep, but how many times in our walk with God does He whisper, “Just keep going.”

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Pastor Matt and the Ride for Water Team

Just keep going and I will take care of everything. Just keep going and your worries will be put to rest. Just keep going and I will show you that I AM God! I always had a sense that I would see God provide for us on this trip, but I never thought it would be this powerful on the first day.

Citipoint was a huge blessing. They housed us, they fed us, and the church just so happens to be a food bank so we stocked up on snacks for the next couple of days. Since then God has continued to provide for our needs. He has placed us in homes where we are treated like family and he has provided funds to fix a broken transmission. It’s crazy to think that it’s only day 4. Here’s to the other 46 days ahead of us and all the new adventures along the way.

Cheers,

Emilio

A Season Full of Questions

What are you going to do after you graduate? 

The dreaded question most seniors in college hate to hear. My response changes every day and if you would ask me at this very moment, I would simply respond by saying, “100.” Tomorrow I would say 99 and the day after that I would say 98, because as of right now, I have no clue what I’m going to do after I graduate. The opportunities that are available to me are endless and I’m constantly praying for patience in this time of uncertainty. If there’s one thing I’m certain about, it’s the number 100.

In 100 days, I will graduate.

In 100 days, I hope to provide the answer that pleases my Heavenly Father and everyone else on this earth who won’t stop asking me this question.

In 100 days, I will be doing _______.

 

The writing above came straight from my journal. I tend not to leave blanks in my writing, but when I wrote this piece I had a strong feeling that a new opportunity was about to reveal itself. I thought it would be cool to come back and fill it in. I pictured myself scribbling in a new job with a different color pen, so when I would look back on this entry it will serve as a constant reminder that everything will be ok. Unfortunately, like most of my plans, the reality of the situation ended up being the exact opposite from what I  envisioned.

Rewind to November of this past year. An internal battle between pursuing all of the materialistic things I could ever imagine and pursuing a God centered life was slowly taking over my thoughts. More and more questions began to surface. What do i want out of life? What do I value? What would my life be like if I wasn’t a Christian? With every question, came an answer and the only answer that mattered was that I couldn’t picture a life without Jesus.

We are called to be disciples in the Great Commision(Matthew 28: 16-20) and everything I had learned in my small group had been preparing me to go out and spread the Gospel. I immediately started applying to long term mission programs, but every application resulted with a denial letter that had some sort of encouragement for God’s plan in my life. I was confused, I was angry, and at one point I looked to the sky and asked God, “What do you want from me?” A question with no answer or at least so I thought.

 

Back to the present. I recently obtained an amazing opportunity to intern for a hospital in East Los Angeles implementing wellness programs into local high schools. I thought this was it! I thought to myself, “Oh man God, you’ve outdone yourself.” I get to work with underprivileged youth and share my passion for a holistic view of health. I started getting my ducks in a row, picturing myself pursuing this after graduation and moving to a full time position.

I finally looked forward to answering the dreaded question I once hated to hear, but then I met Andy. Andy recently joined my discipleship group and is participating in Ride for Water, which is a group of 10 college students who are cycling across the United States to support Charity Water in the fight against the global water crisis. Back in November I jokingly  told my friend Aaron that I would drive for the group. Not knowing that Aaron took me seriously, he brought up the idea of me driving to the group unbeknownst to me, which led to debates over whether I would be a good fit or not.

These debates were going on during the times of my rejection letters and my angry conversations with God. Now I’m sitting at table, eating dinner with this guy named Andy, who I barely know. Were talking about God’s calling for our lives and the significance of Ride for Water. Our conversation was extremely uplifting and we were affirming one another in our search for God’s calling. At one point in the conversation, Andy looked at me and said, “I want you to drive. You need to drive!”

I immediately stepped back from the conversation. Questions started flooding my brain. What about my internship? Shouldn’t I get a head start on my career? What about my student loans? If I do this, what does life look like after I get back? I went home and called the one person who would speak truth into my life, my father. I asked my Dad for his advice and was waiting for him to tell me not to do it, but he told me the exact opposite.

What I realized in this moment is during this whole process of discovering God’s will for my life, I made everything about ME. I wanted to be a missionary because it was the admirable thing to do, in MY eyes. I wanted to continue with my internship because it could potentially bring structure to MY life. If there was one thing that was true in this whole process, it was a desire to make a difference for the Kingdom of Heaven and here it was. Here’s an opportunity to make a difference, so through this, God will be glorified. It’s not what I previously envisioned, but by doing this there’s a possibility of providing clean water to some geographical area that a missionary could be working in right now. Same purpose, different mission. 

I texted Andy that next night, “I’m in!” Then I picked up my journal, opened it up to the entry you read above, and scribbled in “Ride for Water” with a different color pen. It was now official. It’s going to happen. Most importantly, it’s God providing not only for those who need clean water, but also for a college student who strives to serve in this type of ministry.

Thank you God! You amaze me each day.

Emilio

 

 

The power of resolutions

Every new year I get asked the same question. Do you believe in New Year’s resolutions? Up until 2012 I would’ve probably said no, but if you would ask me today I would tell you hell yeah I believe in them!

Many people laugh at my response and follow it up with saying, “You’re going to wake up in the morning facing the same problems you did yesterday.” Although this is true, there is something special about waking up to the first day, of the first month, of a new year. It’s like losing  your last life in your favorite arcade game, but you enter another quarter in the machine so you get a new set of lives. You’re still going to face the same level you lost on, but you get to start over. You have experience from your previous failures and you can create a new game plan to help you succeed in the future.

A common mistake that most people make with their resolutions is selling themselves short. People laughed at me when I made a resolution to lose 80 pounds, but here I am 5 years later writing this post 100 pounds lighter. I knew I was overweight and I didn’t decide to try and lose 10, 20, or 30 pounds. I decided to lose all of it.

If there’s one thing I hope you to take from this post it’s to dream big, take risks, and be relentless. My life was transformed 4 years ago and it started with a simple resolution. It started with a decision to say enough was enough and not being scared to fail along the way. It will be hard, you will fail at some point, but it will be extremely rewarding once you achieve your goal.

So if someone has the courage to be vulnerable with you and they decide to share their resolutions, don’t laugh at them or roll your eyes, because that could be the day they change their life for the better. That could be the day they decided to make the rest of their life, the best of their life! Your response can be remembered as support at the beginning of a new journey or it can serve as a source of motivation due to your lack of faith in one’s ability to achieve their dreams. It’s your choice.

So here’s to the new year, a fresh start, and to the remarkable things you will accomplish along the way!

Cheers,

Emilio