Overcoming Fear in My Wellness Journey

by Kelli Ham

I used to be afraid. I was afraid to try almost anything that involved physical activity – hiking, skiing, playing softball, anything. I was afraid because I knew how hard physically it would be for me to do the activity. It may seem strange to think about an emotion like fear and the notion of wellness, or not being well. However, my path to wellness hinged on overcoming my fears.

Let me start at the beginning to explain.

I grew up in a household full of smokers. Both parents and every adult I knew was a smoker. Even my older siblings started smoking by the time they started high school. I never did take up smoking myself, but I was definitely a chain second-hand smoker.

My school participated in the physical fitness assessments each year, when children were tested on the number of sit-ups and chin-ups they could do, or if you were a girl, how long you could hang from the bar. I have distinct memories of the dread that would build before the day of testing. The worst test for me was the 600-yard dash. Dashing is not what I did. I ran at my fastest pace, which was the slowest pace of all the other kids. Before long, my lungs would feel like they were on fire. Even though I had a normal weight, I was always the slowest kid. Even the overweight kids came in ahead of me. I also remember having a raspy voice and the burning feeling in my chest for a few days afterwards.

Other attempts at fitness had poor outcomes also. I took swimming lessons, but could never learn how to keep water out of my nasal passages. I was terrified of the water. In the 6th grade, I went on an organized ten-mile bicycle ride for kids, and had to be given a ride home because my lungs and legs gave out. These and other incidents created huge anxiety about sports and exercise which followed me through my adult years.

In my early twenties, I met my future husband, an outdoorsy type who loved rock climbing, mountain biking, windsurfing and other crazy sports. What was I thinking?!! For many years, I tried to do some of the sports, usually failing, and other times refusing to participate altogether. My husband started running, and one day he received an ad for a marathon training program. By then I was about 40 years old and unhealthy. I decided to join the training program, just to start walking and jogging as a way to get in better shape. I had zero intentions of running a marathon. Long story short, the training program was geared to absolute beginner couch potatoes like me, and before I knew it I was able to run a marathon! Okay, it took me a year and a half, but I eventually walked/ran my first marathon. What an amazing feeling to accomplish something that in my own mind had previously been an impossibility.

As an aside, some friends had been inviting us to join them on their Caribbean vacations – scuba diving – for several years. Me? Forget about it. I couldn’t even put my face in the water without hyperventilating. But an amazing thing happened to me after that first marathon. The pain of training all those miles, and how bad I hurt during the marathon… compared to learning to swim? How hard could it be? So, I joined an adult swim group with a sympathetic and patient instructor, and I learned to swim! We accepted the next invitation to the Caribbean, and I took scuba diving lessons and became a certified diver. Another friend who knew me well asked incredulously, “With your fear of the water, how did you ever get certified for scuba”? I replied “because I ran a marathon”.

My real answer should have been “because I conquered my fear of failing, because I now believe I can accomplish nearly impossible things, and because I am physically and mentally stronger”. I’m not afraid anymore. I’ve had a blast trying new things. My journey to wellness is ongoing, and I’m looking forward to many future adventures.


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