This article is an extract from the parkrun USA newsletter and shows the power of positive thinking can be life changing. Julie is blind and Neil has avascular necrosis – their journey is inspirational and humbling:
Over a post-parkrun coffee last winter, one parkrunner commented, “My body is falling apart!” A newcomer to the group chimed in, “Let me show you what that really means.”
Neil Jograj really knows what it means for a body to be struggling, after confronting many issues following a 20-year military career. But he is always smiling at College Park parkrun, which he generally runs while guiding his wife Julie, who is blind. He was recently surprised to be named as parkrunner of the month. The next week he sprung his own surprise by stepping up as a debut run director.
Neil and Julie have very different athletic backgrounds.
Neil did a lot of sports: “In high school I ran track, played soccer, wrestled, and more. In the Navy I was a fitness coordinator for most of my commands. I ran 5Ks, 10Ks, half marathons, and marathons. I also loved to swim.”
Julie wasn’t so sporty. She was talented academically, but just did a bit of exercise on the side. When she was in college in New Orleans, she and her girlfriends would go running on a Sunday morning after a late night out with friends, “mostly to check out the guys in the park.”
One morning when Julie was 21 she woke up blind. That made it harder to do many things, but especially to pursue physical activity. Her mind was strong and she went on to enjoy a lot of professional success, but it was hard to stay fit.
Neil’s Navy career took him around the world, including to Iraq. But the career took a toll on his physical health. After retirement he developed avascular necrosis, a gradually acting condition involving death of bone tissue. He had 9 surgeries in the space of 4 years. Julie: “My house is a graveyard of medical hardware: wheelchairs, walkers, the works.” X-rays of Neil’s legs show that there are big chunks of bone that are missing.
At some point in their early 40s it became clear that they needed to make a change. Neil’s health was struggling and they did not want him to become a patient with a chronic disability. At 42, Julie realized that she had been blind and out of shape for half her life. “I told myself, I can’t change being blind, but I can work on being in better shape. If we don’t get in shape now, it’s just not going to happen.”
Julie was accustomed to being surrounded by fit people, working on health programs for the Air Force. “At my work, you can bring a dozen donuts, and nobody touches them. It’s pathetic!” But she felt less comfortable getting fit in public. She started working out alone on an elliptical.
Over time, Neil and Julie did more and more to get fit together. Neil: “With Jules in my life, I developed a love for sailing, indoor rock climbing, and other activities. We ride a tandem bike, hike, and run.” They sail a 35-foot sloop up and down the East Coast, from Virginia to Connecticut and Martha’s Vineyard. They even sailed together in a regatta on the morning of their wedding.
Neil’s relentless positivity is a big part of the story. He rarely stops smiling. “After 20 years in the Navy you learn to look at life with the outlook that there are joys in everything. I have a more realistic attitude after the decrease in my vision, the deterioration of my bones, and tons of other crazy changes to my body. The changes in my health have driven me to hold even more to the things that I value. No matter what, life keeps me strong and motivated. If I am the positive one when all hell breaks loose, people will focus on the positive, and we will all succeed together.”
Julie: “I’m the shy one. Neil doesn’t even know what shy is. He’s never met someone that’s not his friend.”
Neil and Julie started running together only fairly recently. They did their first 5K together in a Thanksgiving 2017 Turkey Trot. It was fun, but it was a one off. Julie wanted to do more, but $25-$30 wasn’t sustainable on a weekly basis.
Julie started looking around for other options. “I looked for something that brought together things important to us: health, people, and food. Everything’s better with food!”
They first showed up at College Park parkrun the week after Thanksgiving. They ran slowly, towards the back of the field, but they immediately felt like they fit in. Neil: “No one gets left behind, no one is last, and no one is a loser.” Around them on that day were an 80 year old, a 4-year old, a Muslim woman running in an abaya, and a walker. All smiling. At the post-parkrun coffee they enjoyed meeting new people. They promised that they would return.
Read the rest of Neil and Julie’s inspiring story on:
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