Stretching The Spirit In Order To Survive
A young man with cancer is enabled to see a scan of his tumour days before he meets his oncologist to discuss the prognosis. He misinterprets what he sees and spends the next while believing he is doomed to die before he has time to achieve anything of significance. (This is not a spoiler because we know these events occurred more than twenty years before he is writing about them.)
I ought to make it plain, also, that this is a true story: Czaplewski is both the author and the protagonist of this memoir.
He proceeds to imagine, and describe in detail, three exploits which, given the chance, he might be able to undertake: a trek in the mountains of Thailand; an open sea swim in San Francisco Bay circumnavigating Alcatraz Island; the Boston Marathon.
Each event is imagined and described in extraordinary detail. The tension builds as he stretches his body and spirit to its absolute limits. He does this despite a deep understanding of those limits. He knows he would never be capable of climbing Everest; never be able to out swim the best of the open water aficionados; win the marathon. But he does want to experience the thrill of taking part and demonstrating that he can push himself to the limits of his ability.
As readers it is impossible not to be there alongside him, cheering him on as he escapes an avalanche of mud and rock in an Asian jungle, fights the currents of San Francisco Bay, assisted by a man in a kayak who, at one point, turns in front of him striking a painful blow to his head. Finally we accompany him as he traverses each mile of the Boston Marathon, the landscape and buildings along which are brought to life vividly, as are the spectators lining the route.
Along the way he meets an assortment of individuals who help and encourage him, explaining the obstacles he will need to overcome.
His exhilaration at the completion of each of the tasks he sets himself is something we, as readers, can’t help sharing, because the whole thing is so well handled by a confident writer who knows precisely how to tug at our emotions by bringing the experience to life. But that is only part of it. We…