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Memory Loss

By: Michael Blankenship |

“Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.” 

– Buddha

How far do you think you could run… if you never had any idea how far you’d already run? 

Diane Van Deren was diagnosed with epilepsy in her 30s, which ended her career as a professional tennis player. But after getting a piece of her brain surgically removed to end her struggle with epileptic seizures — which created new problems with short-term memory loss — she started running. And she did well… really well. 

She’s won, as Men’s Journal reports, “the infamous Yukon Arctic Ultra, a 430-mile footrace pulling a 50-pound sled through temperatures below 50 degrees for eight days, and set a record for the 1,000-mile Mountains to Sea Trail, where she traversed the state of North Carolina in just over 22 days. She’s been a professional endurance athlete with The North Face for the past 16 years.”

Impressive, right? 

Even more so considering her disability. 

Except, Alex Hutchinson, the author of Endure: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance, posits that perhaps her disability has its blessings as it relates to long-distance running — in particular, her ability to forget how long she’s been running. 

He writes,

It’s hard to escape the sense that how Van Deren experiences a prolonged endurance challenge is inescapably different from how it is for most people. Unable to read maps or keep track of where she is on a course, she doesn’t focus on the challenge ahead of her. Hampered by poor short-term memory, she doesn’t dwell on the effort already expended, either. ‘I could be out running for two weeks, but if someone told me it was day one of a race,’ she once joked, ‘I’d be like, Great, let’s get started!’ Instead, she has no choice but to focus on the immediate task of forward motion, taking one more step, and then another. Semi-oblivious to the passage of time, she is also free of the cognitive challenge — the shackles, perhaps — of pacing herself. She is all hare and no tortoise — which, Aesopian morality aside, has its advantages.

Interesting, isn’t it? 

It makes you wonder: if we could learn to live more in the present moment, how much better endurance would we have in pursuing our goals?

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