My fight to live began about 6 years ago when my body attacked itself, causing my heart to fail and almost taking my livelihood. I thought my biggest battle would be clawing out of the black hole that was my health. Back then, everything was just so difficult and I had so much fear for what my life would look like. The life I was living wasn’t a life at all. I was merely just existing, hoping to figuratively bubble wrap myself in hopes of self preservation from anything that could hurt me. Once I was out of the darkness, it was a fight to get my heart healthy again. Upon the realization that my heart was healthy enough to live life again, it was then the fight to become strong. So, here I am today, strong, healthy, full of life and ready to experience the world. There is just one problem; I never anticipated there would be one last step. I now face the challenge of learning the limits of my heart and what my body can tolerate. Each adventure I set out on will be a leap into the unknown.
I kind of came to this realization that if I’m going to live the life that sets my soul on fire, I have to find out the limits of my heart. Back in April, I came across the first test, which was hiking a strenuous route in Red Rocks to Turtlehead Peak. Although the elevation peaked at only 6,400 feet, my body went into hypoxia after only 15 minutes at the summit. This moment has continued to affect me, as it made me realize that I still have obstacles to overcome. I have had countless anxiety attacks since then, but none have made me want to turn back. If anything, it has created more of a need to persevere and find out exactly what I can do.
This past weekend, I was faced with a scary challenge; drive over a 6,400 ft. elevation pass to discover a beautiful alpine lake, or stay back and not risk the potential uncertainty. I chose to follow my heart and trust my cardiologist recommendation; test everything and report back. The night before our trip, I lied awake in bed for a while, scared that I would experience hypoxia again. It’s a scary feeling to not be in control and know that my heart is unable to convert oxygen as efficiently as most. During our drive, Dave devised a plan; he would distract me during the drive so that I would not even know when we hit 6,400 feet. He had hoped that this would rid me of my anxiety and allow me to really see that I could do this without a medical emergency. He knew that the only thing holding me back was anxiety. I looked at him like he was crazy and tried arguing against his idea. Well guess what? He won! We may have played Beastie Boys in the car while he enthusiastically “rapped” and I secretly recorded him. Don’t ask for those recordings, as I have already deleted them. Yes, he won again! It was one of the most fun drives I have ever had with him, and that says a lot. Before I knew it, the app on my phone stated we were at 5,800 feet elevation and had already made it over the pass. Dave kind of laughed at this point, because he realized that the distraction technique worked. Upon reaching the alpine lake known as Sparks Lake, I was still nervous because it was at an elevation that I was still psychologically uncomfortable with. My partner in crime was absolutely amazing at reassuring me that everything would be okay; he continued to reinforce that I just need to trust my heart and acknowledge how hard I have worked to get to where I am today. So here I am, at this amazing lake and I realized that this is exactly where I was supposed to be. It was beautiful. I saw everyone at the lake paddle boarding and camping, completely unaware of how amazing it must be to not have a worry in the world. So many people were there enjoying themselves who never have to worry about if there body will properly convert oxygen. In that moment, I stopped worrying about them, and just looked at the lake with mountains in the background; it was an awestruck moment for me. I realized that to have more of these moments, I would need to test my body at varying elevations, and set limits as to what I can do at those elevations.
After seeing that lake, I realized that I can’t set elevation limits for myself to only travel to locations below 6,000 feet. Doing this is just another form of self preservation due to being afraid of the unknown. My unknown is completely around cardiac output at various elevations. There are only a few things I know:
- I can snowboard at 6,000 feet elevation without issues.
- After a strenuous hike in Nevada, my body cannot efficiently convert oxygen at 6,400 feet
- I can tolerate driving over a 6,400 foot mountain pass without any issues
There is so much to see in the world, many of those places being above 7,000 feet in elevation. So this is now when I decide to take that leap of faith. Beginning this year, with the guidance of my cardiologist, I’m going to start traveling to destinations about 6,500 feet elevation. I’m extremely scared, frightened even, but I know it’s something I have to do in order to overcome my fear. If I can make the unknown, known, then I can place realistic limits on my traveling, versus basing them on fears due to one bad experience.
We have a trip planned to go back to Red Rocks in October, and that will also include a drive over to Zion. I placed a lottery submission to hike in a place called the Subway in Zion; max elevation is 6,900 feet. I have read and seen so much about this place, that I want to experience it myself. I want to travel to these places I have seen in photographs, and experience them in person, rather than viewing it through someone else’s lens. I feel like I at least owe it to myself to see if I can do it. Not only do I owe it to myself, but I owe it to every heart patient who has tested their limits and are unable to do this. As a heart patient, I am not only fighting for myself, but for every other cardiac warrior who has more limitations on them than I could even imagine.
This step into the unknown is going to be challenging, filled with anxieties and will take more perseverance than I have ever had to muster up in my life. I’m scared about what lies ahead, but also know that I am being safe, smart and following the guidance of an amazing medical staff. I’m still learning to trust myself and am looking forward to my “someday”, when my limits are based upon fact and not fear.
The photo below was captured by Dave Burdick while we enjoyed Sparks Lake together at sunset at 5,400 feet elevation. In the distance is Broken Top Mountain, which contains a beautiful unnamed crater lake at 8,400 feet elevation. There was one point during the evening when I looked over at him, tearing up slightly and asked, “Will you go Broken Top and take a photo of that lake for me? I don’t think I will ever be able to make it to an elevation that high.” Being the amazing individual he is, he said yes and meant it. However, I just changed my mind and want to be there next to him, just like I was when he captured this amazing view. Sometimes the best views are the ones you experience with the people you love. I refuse to allow fear take that away from me, so into the unknown I go.
“The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.” – Eleanor Roosevelt