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Rick Chambers running the Borgess 2011Half-Marathon

Three Miles

by Rick Chambers 


“True wisdom comes from pain.” That’s a song lyric, or a line from a quote-of-the-day calendar. We read it, perhaps nod in uncomfortable accord, and then let the sentiment slip away, for we would rather gain wisdom by other means.

Yet life often reveals the harsh reality of that statement. Pain comes as a raging storm, thundering with fear and despair. If we hold on, if we persevere, then wisdom gently follows as sunlight peeking from the clearing clouds, casting a stunning rainbow at the retreating tempest.

When I stepped into the predawn silence of March 9, 2004, neither torrent nor sunshine was evident. There was only the frigid air and a faint haze blurring the winter stars overhead. Still, a spring-like energy coursed through my body as I trotted down the driveway and onto the street for a warm-up jog. Within a short distance, that energy lifted me to a solid, comfortable run.

Perhaps my training is on the upswing at last, I thought. Having been a runner for nearly a quarter-century, with many miles and races pounded into my feet, the last four years had proven frustrating. It began with my second-ever marathon—18 years after my first—in which I improved my time yet fell 12 minutes shy of qualifying for the legendary Boston Marathon. I’d struggled with a kind of malaise ever since—lethargic morning runs and a constant weariness spiked by the stresses of a high-pressure job.

But by 2004, I was feeling better, stronger, and more confident as a runner. Maybe I still had a shot at that dream trip to Boston. I was already mapping out my strategy, gradually ramping up my training for a qualifying race in the fall, then joining the marathon masses at the starting line in the quaint New England town of Hopkinton, Massachusetts, the following spring. I could picture the crisp Patriots’ Day morning, the growing excitement of the noodle-thin runners, the welcome release of the start, the screaming girls at Wellesley College, the brutal hills at Newton, that last turn to the finish on Boylston Street.

But first there was this run—a quick, three-mile jaunt.

I glided along the abandoned streets, my steps light and rapid, my breathing steady, my heart pounding partly from the effort and partly from a deep, satisfying joy. Already I could tell this would be one of those magical runs.

Near the one-mile mark, the course took a turn into an unlit linear park that twisted DNA-like alongside a gurgling creek. Light snow on the asphalt pathway swirled around my feet with each floating step. It was a glorious morning, and I picked up the pace.

What would soon happen didn’t come without warning. About half a mile into the park, my right foot slipped on a patch of black ice hidden beneath the snow dust. I tottered but stayed upright, stepping quickly off the trail to gain better traction. Relieved, I jogged slowly for a moment, studying the pathway ahead. It appeared ice-free, though still thinly layered in pristine snow. I returned to the trail, tested its safety with a few strides, and felt reassured. The black ice had been an anomaly.

My pace quickened again. As I passed beneath a long archway of trees, my mind raced ahead gleefully to the warm months and all the running that lay before me.

And then my left foot slipped.           

There was no way I could stay on my feet this time. I twisted in the air, hoping to minimize any damage the coming impact would cause. Despite that effort, my left leg ended up tucked beneath me as I landed. Hard.

Something inside my leg exploded.

Raw screams ripped the darkness, shattering the silence over and over again. It took a few moments before I realized those screams of agony were my own.           

My head cleared as the pain in my leg dulled to a fierce, persistent throbbing. I found myself on my back, clutching my left knee to my chest. Gingerly, and a bit fearfully, I stretched out my leg, letting my heel rest on the asphalt. I might as well have dropped it on a bed of nails. I gasped in pain and hugged my knee again.

I  didn’t want to look at my leg. Besides, it was probably just a twisted ankle. A couple of days off, maybe some icing, and everything would be fine. I’d be back to running, back on the training schedule, back on the road to Boston—as long as I didn’t look.

Don’t look. You really, really, don’t want to look.

I looked.

I saw my left foot pointed inward at an unnatural angle. Dumbfounded, I tried to straighten it. It remained unmoved. For a bizarre moment, I marveled as my brain barked orders but my foot paid no attention.

I couldn’t deny the truth any longer. This was no twisted ankle. I had broken my leg.

This meant deep trouble. I was on one of the lesser-used stretches of the park at an early hour in the dead of winter. It could be some time, perhaps hours, before someone came along. With a raspy voice, I called out for help, but there was no one to hear.

I was on my own.

Walking was clearly out of the question, and the nearest exit was a gated service drive nearly a quarter of a mile away. How was I going to get out of the park?

I paused long enough for a simple, desperate prayer, counting on God to fill in the blanks as He invariably does. Then I looked around for anything that would improve my plight. After thrashing about in some frost-stiffened undergrowth, I found a stick to serve as a crutch. It wasn’t very sturdy, but it would have to do.

Standing was a slow, painful and terrifying exercise. I carefully avoided putting pressure on my injured leg, but just being upright heightened the pain. I could feel the foot and ankle swell, straining against my shoe. Balanced between my good foot and the wobbly stick, I took the tiniest step forward.

To my relief, everything held.

I tried it again. Still good. Once more. OK. It was very slow going, but each teetering step brought me a few inches closer to salvation.

So intent was I on my escape plan that I forgot one crucial variable: the black ice lurking beneath the snow.

My makeshift crutch, bearing almost all of my weight, suddenly found a third patch of ice. The stick leaped completely from my grasp, and I fell to the pavement once again.

Right on top of my broken leg.           

The screams this prompted were animal-like, full of sheer agony, fear and fury. Later I would learn that the two falls collectively snapped my tibia in two places and shattered my fibula, the long outer bone of my left leg. As far as my skeletal structure was concerned, my foot was flying solo.

And I was still stuck in the middle of the park.          

Exhausted, fighting the pain, I turned to the one option left. Rolling over onto my hands and knees, elevating my lower leg to keep the injured foot from dragging, I began to crawl. My hands grew wet and numb as I pulled myself through the light snow. I crossed a small bridge and continued along the winding path, passing the time by calling out “Help!” and “Fire!” and all the exclamations that are supposed to summon rescue. But again, there was no one to hear.

At last I reached the service drive and its gated entrance. A narrow dirt passage near the creek snaked around the gate. I carefully crawled through the dirt, very near the bubbling water, and continued the slow, hand-over-kneecap journey up the service drive to the empty street.

Now I was fairly close to home, but my cold, stiff hands and battered knees would take me no further. Instead, I lay at the side of the road and waited for a car to come by. Because of the early hour, the wait was eternal. At last, three motorists came along and stopped to assist. One had a cell phone, which I used to call my wife and ask if she wouldn’t mind too much giving me a lift to the hospital.

The next few hours were a jumble of pain and resignation. This injury was beyond the healing of cast, crutches and rest. Surgery was necessary, and even that would have to wait a week until the swelling subsided. Then two titanium plates and a dozen screws were added to my body, holding my broken bones together as they mended and then encompassed the metal for eternity.

But that was just the beginning. There were multiple casts, months of sleeping in a bed in my living room, being helped each morning with baths and dressing. I returned to work three weeks after the accident, coming home each night worn out, my ankle swollen and throbbing. Crutches were my constant companion for more than 12 weeks, and a stylish cane carried me a few weeks more. Physical therapy moved with frustrating slowness from pool to workout room, an intense and tiring four months.           

Through it all I struggled with a profound sense of grief. I’d lost something incredibly precious. How many of life’s fears, unknowns and disappointments had I reasoned through in miles upon countless miles of running? How could I face that life without the smooth cadence, the steady breathing, the miles passing beneath my running feet?           

As it turned out, the prognosis wasn’t quite that bad. My doctor promised I would run again. But my long-distance days were over. No lengthy trail runs on hot summer days. No training logs filled with hundreds upon hundreds of miles and memories. No Boston Marathon.           

And yet there was a lesson to be learned. The blessing hadn’t been taken away; it was merely being transformed. The storm had passed, and even now wisdom was beginning to peek from behind the clouds.           

Four months after the accident, I ran for the first time—three pool lengths in chest-deep water, harnessed to my physical therapist. As a smile slowly crept across my face, I saw a glimmer of that sunlight, a hint of a colorful glow. But I wouldn’t know the wisdom in all its glory until much later.             

That time came on another cold winter morning. In ominously silent darkness, I walked alone from my home to that same service drive at the edge of the linear park. I slipped around the gate, grateful for the good-natured greeting of the creek below. With some trepidation, I slowly retraced the path that I’d crawled exactly one year earlier. Within minutes, I was at the scene of the accident.           

For a third time, I fell—this time on purpose, and to my knees. I thanked God for the years I had spent as a distance runner, and for allowing me to continue to run. I thanked Him for healing my body. And I thanked Him for the wisdom I’d gained. My running had been about reaching a mythical goal. Now it was a way to celebrate life and health, of simply being.           

I stood and glanced upward at the same fuzzy stars that had watched me suffer a year before. Then I began to run.

I passed over the small bridge, following the winding path with increasing confidence and rising speed. Sweeping past the service drive, I continued on—through the cathedral of trees, onto the street at the trailhead, then arcing back toward home, finishing that long-delayed three-mile run, my heart and my life awash in a dazzling rainbow.


Rick Chambers is an award-winning writer, communications professional and former journalist. A native of Kalamazoo, Michigan, he is the author of the science fiction novel Radiance, as well as three novelettes and many published short stories, including several that have won awards. He also wrote two episodes of the online series “Chronicles” and an episode, now in pre-production, for the highly acclaimed online series “Star Trek Phase II.”



Yellow Dog Storm, print by Margo McCafferty and Tom Rudd

Endless Cornfields


by Kelly Haught



Her scars are not the kind caused from physical harm. They ran much deeper than that. She has the type of wounds that are formed from innocence lost. She believes what he did to her was what men do to little girls they love.


When the scars start to scab, they are violently shredded open again. The memories surface like flash backs on auto-play. There is no off button and the thoughts run concurrently. Resentment starts to bubble and fester inside. She thinks of the manipulation, the threats. She knows the time is near. She will see him again. She will be required to sit on his knee and smile pleasantly.


The boys in blue often have pity on her. Due to her age, a physical pat down is at the officer’s discretion. She is often spared that humiliation. The visitation room is bright and open. The offenders rush in with smirks on their faces; they greet the visitors with hugs and warm, tender embraces.


She hides behind the leg of a woman. She doesn’t want to be seen. Her few short years flash before her eyes, the secrets, the hiding and the pain. She lowers her head so as not to be seen. He acknowledges her with a full body embrace and an offer to sit on his knee and ride the pony.


She looks around and notices the guards. They patrol the room with intent glares on finding any mishaps or wrong-doings. With tear-filled eyes, she looks at them and wonders. She wonders why they don’t protect her from the one who holds her. The abuse is ongoing and they don’t even know.


The word “parole” is tossed around often. He has enrolled in a class to understand the harm he has caused to his victim. He has discovered that he can express himself through art and writing. He talks of promises no longer being broken. He is a changed man. Time has helped him realize and admit his short-comings. He was sick and needed help. He says it goes back to his childhood; it is his father’s fault. He                                                                                                                             

did not get the attention he needed as a boy.


The girl recalls the endless cornfields and the dark lofts of barns. How could anyone have not known?


A country music singer from an era long gone saves her. Tom T. Hall is surrounded by children in a commercial. He says that kind of touch is inappropriate and to tell someone you trust. She sees the commercial for months. After dinner she purges of her stepfather’s deceit and nastiness, his pleasure for little girls. That night there are strange moans coming from the other room. She is unable to sleep.


She did the thing she was encouraged to do. Her extended family has empathy for her. A jury of his peers finds him guilty. The circle has been broken. She sits there wondering if he has the same thoughts. Does he remember her cries in the cornfield?


With nervous eyes, she looks at the clock. The minutes are paralyzed. The guards do not know the crime the man has committed. They are useless. She looks at the women in front of her, the one she calls mother. She is the one who brought her here to see him. The one who encourages hugs and kisses with the imprisoned, convicted molester. The one from whom she needs protection.


The guards are useless. How could they possibly know?




Kelly Haught is a 36-year-old non- traditional student. As part of her class work, she was assigned a task to write a creative essay. The above essay was the result. “I have never written before.” she says. “ At the age of six, my step father started sexually abusing me. I went to therapy and was classified as someone who had not been highly affected by the molestation. I was taken by my mother to see my convicted step father in prison. My visits were worse than the abuse. I was seven years old during these visits and this is what haunts me.”


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