We are starting the New Year off with a bang featuring Michael W. Czajka from St. Louis, Missouri as our Impossible Story. Michael is a pediatric nurse practitioner at SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital and helps take care of children born with congenital heart disease. His story is his own, but we know so many others have experienced similar paths from doing something like hiking the Grand Canyon down to feeling 100% comfortable in your own skin.
Also enjoy at the end Dan & Claire’s Facebook LIVE introducing Michael and his story!
Q: What was your “impossible” – the thing you thought you would never be able to do?
A: With the help of My 3:59, the My 3:59 Together Challenge Facebook group, and my college friends, I was able to complete a two day R2R hike in the Grand Canyon this past summer.
Q: Why did you think you’d never be able to do it? What was standing in your way?
A: I can say that I’ve never thought I was the most athletic person. I played little league growing up and intramural sports in college but that was it. From grade school to high school I was ill from time to time with a mysterious illness. I was thin and scrawny and really didn’t like myself. Then finally the summer of my junior year in high school, I was diagnosed with Addison’s Disease. This began my life-long journey of living with a chronic illness.
After the diagnosis, I was able to gain weight, I grew tall, and became stronger but still something was holding me back – I was carrying a big secret. I was gay but didn’t feel people would accept me for who I was. I think most of my friends new about 90% of who I was but I held this secret all through high school, college, and most of my adult life. When I finally came out to friends and family in 2009, the acceptance I received blew my mind. People finally knew all of me and even better, they accepted me. I’m not sure why I ever thought they wouldn’t, but this allowed me to slowly start accepting myself.
Now, back up in time to 1992. I started college and it changed my life – I would go back in a heartbeat. My sister and brother were already at St. Louis University and I knew I could lean on them. The time at SLU allowed us to become close friends not just siblings.
I met my sister’s future husband and brother’s future wife and we have become so close through the years. Then I joined the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity where my brother, Frank, was already a member. The men I became friends with are still my closest friends today; they mean everything to me. These guys have built me up and helped me succeed. They all made me the man I have become and to this day continue to be my family.
Why am I telling you this? Well when Dan, (my fraternity brother and friend) was diagnosed with Cancer it shook us all. Dan, throughout his treatment, was a true champion. He battled Cancer with dignity and grace and was able to share his story with so many people. This is when My 3:59 was born. He inspired me and continues to inspire everyday.
A few years ago, our friend Chip died suddenly. He was newly married and a father of two little boys. We again were all shook to the core. Our group rallied together and have been trying to heal but Chip’s death has been such a huge loss. He meant so much to us in so many different ways; he was special.
Q: When and how did you end up achieving it?
A: Dan approached us after Chip’s death with the idea of doing an R2R hike in 2020 as part of My 3:59 and to honor Chip’s memory. I was IN. I started training in 2019 and began sending weekly updates to the My 3:59 Facebook group which was a huge motivator. I had Dan and Claire cheering me on, other strangers encouraging me – it made such a difference.
Running is where I started. I did a 5K and then a 10K before I went on to training for hikes with my fraternity brothers who also signed up for R2R. We were able to reconnect through these hikes and even made it through this horrible pandemic. Any chance I had, I found a way to incorporate my training for the R2R. I traveled to Texas to visit my sister, brother-in-law, nieces, and nephews and we all went hiking in Palo Duro Canyon. I just kept training and by June 2020 I was ready for the Canyon. With the help of Dan, my brother Frank, John, Eric, PJ, Jeff, KB, Tim, Brian, Nick, and Gurl, I conquered the Canyon.
Q: What piece of advice would you give to those who may be feeling like they have an “impossible” they want to conquer?
A: One day at a time and one step at a time. I know that if I can do it you can do it. Start of small and make a small goal. I’m going to run a mile. Once you are able to run a mile, make it a goal to run two miles and so on. Find a support group to help cheer you on. Most importantly, when that little voice in your head says no, immediately take action and say yes. Go do your workout. Once you get into a routine it will become so much easier. I get home from work everyday and I immediately fill up my Yeti, change clothes, and head to the gym or go for a run. It’s part of my routine now. I am going on 18 months of 6 days a week exercising and I am so proud of myself.
Thank you Dan and Claire and thank you, My 3:59 family.