Blogger, A Road Less Traveled...
“Well, at least 1991 was a good year.”
My childhood friend, Mark, sent me that text not long after another heartbreaking loss of our favorite team, the Washington Redskins. Unfortunately, it was a result we’ve come to expect from the team of our youth. It wasn’t always that way.
An Army brat, I moved with my family to Northern Virginia in the early ’80s. I grew up 15 miles from the White House but back then even politics took a backseat to the Redskins. There were very few solemn cases of The Mondays from September – January in the Washington, D.C. area; instead we usually started each new week basking in the afterglow of another victory.
In 1991, the Redskins finished 14-2, breezed through the playoffs and won their third Super Bowl in nine years. It all seemed so easy, expected and natural. Sunday afternoons were joyous occasions spent with friends; the smiles, the cheering, the enticing smells of pizza, nachos and homemade grilled cheese sandwiches – it was all too perfect…and we thought it would last forever.
LIVING THE DREAM
In the spring of 2007, I was still toasting the birth of our first child the previous December and when I wasn’t helping my wife change diapers, I was finishing up my MBA. Good things were happening in my career, with an upward advancement into a Director’s role at my company. We had the luxury of Angela shifting to a part-time job so she could spend more time with our new baby boy. It was all so perfect, our future lay sparkling ahead. We truly were living the dream … sometimes I wish we had taken a few more moments to enjoy it.
Over the past several years, I had mysterious physical ailments. Whether they were pains and numbness or a decrease in coordination, I had presumed these oddities were side effects from a hectic life or just the realities of growing older. In my mind, it was a small (and maybe expected?) price to pay in an attempt to further my education while navigating the corporate ladder.
WAKE UP TIME
But seemingly overnight, my health worsened and instead of numbness, tingling or random abdominal pains, things became more serious with falls down the stairs, ER visits, hospital stays and endless visits to numerous doctors … I lost count of the number of times I was tested for brain tumors or exotic diseases that most have never heard of. Along the path, I was even misdiagnosed with Crohn’s Disease. Eventually, a diagnosis of optic neuritis led to these mysteries being solved at The Mayo Clinic in May of 2008, where I learned that I have multiple sclerosis.
I dream of feeling energetic again, being able to stand in place without pain, and living without daily medication and monthly infusions to treat my MS. I lived to be active. My wife would always chuckle, seeing me take the stairs when there was an escalator, walking when I could have driven, carrying all the groceries in one trip. I loved running, playing racquetball, going on walks with my family. I lived this way to offset a world that was dominated by sitting in traffic, cubicles and classrooms and without it sometimes I feel something’s missing…I know something’s missing.
Having a chronic disease like MS has served as my gateway to a greater appreciation for day-to-day life. The high moments are so much richer because I know how far down the lows can go. I might not be able to celebrate like its 1991 or move like it is 2006, but my spirit remains unfettered to make every new day better than the last.
Each new season I hope will be a return to the Redskins of my youth, when the wins were expected and the celebrations were constant. Perhaps, I think that a return to the Redskins’ gloried past means a return to my world before MS. Life was so innocent then. My health seemed so perfect.
I wish I could reach out to that teenager I was in 1991 and share my new belief that all moments are golden moments in life … with family, friends, your career or even just cheering for your favorite team. The expected might actually be fleeting and good health is not guaranteed. I live my life now thankful for each day and savoring the special moments – the Redskins might not win the Super Bowl in 2013, but I’ll continue to live and enjoy my life as if they had.
In 2008, Michael Wentink was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. At 31, he was a new father, a recent MBA graduate and a Director at a Fortune 500 company. MS altered this path and after an early retirement, Michael is now navigating life on a road less traveled. A native of Northern Virginia, Michael currently resides in San Antonio, Texas with his wife and two young children. Read about his journey with multiple sclerosis at mjwentink.com.