By Jenn Lutz
Intrepid souls will likely agree that it is indeed the journey and not the destination that yields the greatest rewards. In a RacingThePlanet event it is the sights, the sounds, the smells and frequently one’s company along the way that inspire and linger in memory long after leaving the country, enduring in ways that a fleeting mental snapshot of the finish line cannot.
It is arguably the hardships of one’s journey, however, that resonate the deepest over time and it is only on the other side of these obstacles that competitors can truly appreciate how far they’ve come. However rewarding the multitude of milestones accrued – measurable triumphs of distance, terrain, time and so on – it is the inner conquests that remain the most profound.
When Paolo Giannerini steps up to the Atacama Crossing start line on March 7 it will not be the beginning of his journey. For the 42-year-old Italian the pilgrimage to Chile truly began a year ago when he was diagnosed unexpectedly with Multiple Sclerosis while training for Atacama Crossing 2009. The avid, non-competitive runner who used his feet to see the world, traveling around the globe to run marathons, was devastated by the news.
“The world collapsed on me,” Paolo says. “I felt that I was like a bomb just about to detonate, or maybe not, but every day of my life I was experiencing bad symptoms."
Paolo cancelled his plans to compete in Atacama Crossing in 2009.
A disease with no cure and only moderately effective treatments, MS is unpredictable and can make even the most essential tasks of daily life arduous. It affects vision, hearing, memory, balance and mobility. It can impair speech and cause paralysis. Extreme rapid-onset fatigue makes physical exertion difficult, even if it is simply walking from room to room.
After coming to terms with the diagnosis and his physical limitations, however, Paolo decided to begin running again despite his weakened left leg. The decision has helped him regain his life, he says, and a little slice of independence.
“I realized inside me that there was no point in dying slowly, little by little,” he says.
Training sessions are unpredictable at best, as the disease decides each day how long he can run, if it all. Despite the tremendous physical hurdles that lay ahead, Paolo is looking forward to racing, drawing strength from a place that his physical limitations cannot touch.
“My mind is my strength and an important supplier of energy. I want to demonstrate to myself and to everybody that I am always the same person they knew. I hope to demonstrate to my children that you don’t have to give up trying to reach your dreams.
“Do you remember the song Father and Son of Cat Stevens? “For you will still be here tomorrow but your dreams may not.””
Undoubtedly Paolo’s journey will inspire not only his closest family and friends, but all those with whom he shares the path on the way to the finish line, himself included.