Look at that view - Diving in the clouds with tandem instructor, Rudy. Photo by AJ Gebhardt

There are these narrow points in any long journey where it takes courage to push through and keep going but the view from the other side is breathtaking and life unfolds in completely new ways that are unexpected, bold and sweet. I’ve been passing through one of those since October of 2009 when I was told I had melanoma, Stage II, Clark Level IV and this past Saturday was the postscript with an enormous celebration thanks to PROskydiving at Chicagoland Skydiving Center, Infinity Multisport, Sydney Owen, Doug Smith, Dave Smith and Mo Wills. That’s just the start.

First of all, the great doctors at Northwestern saved my life despite the early diagnosis that there was only a year left on this life. Then came the struggle, or at times battle to walk again normally. After the initial surgery that removed part of the left side of my left leg I had to learn to stride with a normal gait.

Frankly, standing in one spot for long periods of time or walking great distances became a great and often painful challenge. I was determined to push through though as far as I could but at the same time I was looking for grace to accept what might turn out to be my new limits.

Martha and Rudy skydiving

Thank goodness for Sydney Owen and Twitter. During my very first hour of figuring out how to tweet I said something about wanting to try a 5k to show my son that I’m okay now, still not really sure if I meant it and at the same time I commented on someone else’s tweet about skydiving. I said that I had done it once and after I landed I got up and wondered why I was doing anything that no longer served me.

My entire life changed after that, including finding out I had cancer five months later when a small mole was biopsied from beside my knee.

Sydney offered to have PROskydiving sponsor me in that 5K and then to come out and jump at Chicagoland Skydiving Center in Rochelle, IL that same day. Doug Smith is the owner and his brother, Dave, a triathlete got his trainer, Mo Wills from Infinity Multisport involved who showed me the art of chi walking. I picked the Champions 5K in Chicago on August 6th because it was a ways off on the calendar and I really wasn’t sure I could pull off one mile much less 3.2 long miles.

Thank goodness I’m wrong as often as I am.

Despite how many times I gave Mo Wills the fish eye, I was walking better within the first hour and after about a month, slowly running. So far, I’ve gone from an 18 minute mile to a 14 minute and I finished the 5K in 49 minutes. Better than I expected and a place to keep building from at the next 5K.

There’s even more videos on the 5K page with Mo about chi running and this part of the journey. Soon Kigo Footwear got on board with thin-soled running shoes to go with the chi style of running. See that amazing daisy chain of events that unfolded so easily without my even asking for a thing.

The first phone call I made after I found out I had cancer was to my son and I had to choke back tears as I told him that we’d take this one day at a time. The second one was to an old friend, Juanita who started out by asking me, “What do you want to believe for?” in her usual gentle tone. Of course, my reply was that I wanted to know I would be alright.

Champion 5K and friends with Tshirt designed by PROskydiving with the melanoma black ribbon

Then that’s what we’ll believe for, she said and we’ll be okay with whatever comes. I hung on to that thought for the journey that unfolded back in October of 2009 as I was told at first that there was just a year left, then lost part of my left leg, then 30 days later a swath of the skin on my face below my lip and a lot of tests and biopsies and poking and prodding.

There was this peek into what’s usually just an idea that God is there and all is well. Life is happening and some of it is rough but none of it is happening to me. I can stand back and enjoy the view.

Finish line!

The Champions 5K race in Montrose Harbor was run next to my buddy, Cindy Biggs with several of my friends coming down to cheer me on as I crossed the finish line. All I can remember at that moment is asking Cindy over and over again if we were really finished and her enormous grin as she kept repeating, “Yep, you did it!” Some part of me that was still wondering if I was really okay got an answer but not the one I expected. To my surprise, I found out that if I break something down into pieces, ask for help and then take the advice then anything is possible.

Later that afternoon, I was strapped to Rudy, the tandem instructor, while another friend, Kyle Brumfield went along on her first jump strapped to Jacko from London and off we went into the sky. The view of the sun and the clouds was so dazzling that at first I didn’t realize Rudy was tapping my shoulder to get me to spread out my arms. It was so much fun up in the clouds that I was hamming it up for the camera, flapping my arms and giving the thumbs up but mostly I was staring at that view. I was actually a little disappointed when the canopy opened and we began to float back toward earth. This time, what I’m taking away is this optimism about what’s coming next and another incredible view.

Click here to watch the video from the jump!

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