Be Fit For Life

with Ellen Cohen-Kaplan

Wait, What?

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When writing my last blog post, I wanted to hear from an inspirational athlete about his journey toward marathon fulfillment. I spoke to Marc Fucarile, who, as a result of the marathon bombing, lost his right leg above the knee and has shrapnel in many parts of his body. He was the last to leave the hospital because of the severity of his injuries. Marc let me in on his motives and how he prepared for the race.

Marc said that one of the main reasons he competes is to be a role model to his 9 year old son, Gavin. He’s showing Gavin through his actions that no matter what happens, you must still show up, and participate to the best of your ability.  Although he says he doesn’t have much time to train for the marathons, he stays in very good shape and has completed them all, and this speaks volumes. His determination and spirit have propelled him to complete several marathons since the bombing in 2013. In the last four years, he has competed in the Los Angeles and New York Marine Corps marathons in the hand cycling division.  He raises money for Semper Fi/America’s Fund which provides “immediate financial assistance and lifetime support to post-9/11 wounded, critically ill and injured members of all branches of the U.S. Armed Forces, and their families, ensuring that they have the resources they need during their recovery and transition back to their communities”. He also raises money for the Achilles Freedom Team, which is composed of wounded war veterans and civilians who were severely injured as a result of the 9/11 bombings.

In thinking about his story, I came across the 2016 commencement speech of the dean of education at Harvard University, James Ryan.  He posits that there are 5 basic questions that get to the heart of life fulfillment. For the full speech, see

Wait, What?

I Wonder if/what…..

Couldn’t We At Least…..?

How Can I Help?

What Truly Matters?

  1. Wait, What? is that question you get when someone, for example your child, isn’t really listening and suddenly realizes you’re asking something of him/her that requires clarification. It causes one to stop, and make sure you understand something. Did you mean, or are you saying?… is an excellent question to truly understand what is being asked.
  2. I wonder why.. or if…  “Why” creates curiosity and “if” opens up possibilities. It causes people to imagine together, and expands the realm of solutions.  You are not positing an opinion or acting like the expert, but you are inviting collaboration. This is at the heart of brainstorming and potentially important new insights.
  3. Couldn’t we at least?… is an excellent way to get to consensus about an issue, rather than holding a polarized, fixed position. It’s a good way to get started if you feel stuck.  For example, if a discussion began with “Couldn’t we at least agree that children should be well fed when they arrive at school?”,  vs. “We need to increase funds for poor students.”
  4. How can I help? is an excellent way to find out how to truly meet someone’s needs. We may be in the habit of asking, “Can I help? but when you ask the question HOW can I help? you are giving power back to the person you want to help, as they are in the best position to figure out how best you can be of assistance. This brings to mind the typical interaction between couples when a spouse complains about a difficult day, and the partner responds in a “fixing” way, like “you should do this, or that”, when often the best response would be to just listen and empathize.
  5. What truly matters?  is the question that gets to the essence of fulfillment. If you include this in your new year’s resolutions, it may give clarity to help form meaningful goals. Given that you can’t achieve ALL that you want, and you must choose between competing interests, how can you drill down to the truly essential elements of contentment?

The bonus question is ” Did you get what you wanted from this life?” which comes from this poem, Late Fragment by Raymond Carver.

And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
I did.
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.”
―from Raymond Carver, A New Path to the Waterfall

Back to Marc Fucarile. He’s a young man of 38, so he has plenty of time to continue accomplishing his goals. He’s a motivational speaker, and volunteers for an organization to help others who have lost limbs due to injury or illness. He may have begun with the question- how can I help, or I wonder…, and maybe ended up with what truly matters- fully engaging in life no matter what the circumstances, and to be beloved by his son and others he has helped.

What answers do you have to these life questions? Because the last question was pondered by one who was at the end of his life, this one perhaps may be answered only partially; the others bear some serious reflection.

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