seventy five hard widow

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”. Isn’t personal growth always?

Women use the phrase “work widow” to describe a state of feeling widowed to a husband’s workload. Halfway into the 75Hard program I began identifying myself as a “75Hard widow”. This program isn’t for the faint of heart — for the person earning their stripes and the people supporting.

Since September 10th, Lukas has completed 132 workouts, drank 66 gallons of water, eaten nothing but produce and protein and read 660+ nonfiction pages. He’s completed these tasks while traveling in Oklahoma, Puerto Rico, Arkansas and all over Texas. He’s done workouts in the rain and cold, sometimes at 11pm after a late night flight, other times heading to a local gym to log 45 minutes before washing off the sweat and rushing back to a meeting.

I’ve followed my own program as he’s followed his. Mine, with built in flexibility to accommodate the rigidity of his requirements. We thought about the program a lot before starting. We planned, we prepped, we structured our lives to make it happen and, yet, I was still blindsided by the burden we would bear.

With a traveling husband and dad, evening times, when Lukas is home, are always sacred. 5:00-6:45pm in our house is dinner, connection, bath and bedtime as a family of four. Once the kids are down and we high five each other on surviving another day of chaos, we spend the rest of the evening based on our needs — work? Chores? Cuddling on the couch? Playing cards on the porch? Connection? Getting ahead? — we always check-in to see what we as individuals and as a couple need and have two hours before our own bedtime to make it happen.

What I’ve learned since September 10th is how cherished those hours are. In the beginning of the program, Lukas was able to get in his second work out before coming home. He’d throw on a weight vest and walk the trail at work while on the phone with a colleague or do a strength workout in the office gym during lunch. As the momentum of the start of the program died down and the stress of life pushed in, being able to get that hour slot into his workday became harder and harder.

So the days when he worked out in our sacred evening two hour slot, increased. More days than not, I found myself watching my show on the couch by myself and cleaning up after dinner, solo (or choosing to push the task to the next day). “I miss my husband” is what I’ve said multiple times when people ask how things are going. Before we started the program, Lukas gave me permission to pull the plug, if needed. The stipulations were that I talked to our therapist about it, and she and I could make the decision that this just wasn’t working.

Around the middle of the program I was moments away from doing just that. My therapist and I talked about it and she even challenged me to consider throwing open the escape hatch and getting us out of the intensity.

But something kept me from making that final decision.

In the midst of the challenge, in the midst of the hard, I was also witnessing an interweaving of really good things in my husband. Pulling the plug on the challenge meant letting go of the hard, and also letting go of the good. And the good wasn’t worth losing for things to get easier.

Our family values are: steadfast, authentic, intentional and daring.

I watched Lukas remain steadfast on days that seemed impossible to stay the course. Authentic, as the level of pressure he was experiencing stripped away any energy to be anything but his real self. Intentional, as he spent any free moments with our family in a very present way. And daring, as he took on a challenge so many people have started and failed.

In nine days, Lukas will complete the 75 Hard challenge. Lord help me if something gets in the way from his victory because he is so close we can taste it.

In ten days, Lukas turns forty. A milestone in his life that will be marked with this epic achievement. Like me (and probably most of you), he looks back on years previous with joy and sorrow together. He carries memories of highs and lows, times in his life he’s been proud of himself and times in his life he’d rather erase from everyone’s memory, including his own.

Years and years ago, a friend told Lukas to look in a mirror and that he needed to do everything he could to be proud of the man staring back at him.

My prayer is that, come November 24th, Lukas looks in the mirror and is full of so much pride. Because when I look at him, that’s exactly what I feel.

Proud of my husband for doing something so few people have successfully accomplished, proud of him for staying the course when things got hard, proud of him for not giving up on himself, our marriage, and the investment in our children. Proud of him for relentlessly pursuing growth in himself, for fighting hard to tap into what he’s really thinking and feeling, the “core” of himself, if you will.

The physical results are very tangible, easy to spot in the photos you’ll see below, but the mental toughness, the emotional health, the intangible growth that’s occurred in his head and heart, that’s the stuff I’m most proud of. And not for the 75Hard challenge alone. As I look back on the six+ years I’ve known (and loved) Lukas Fortunato, I’ve witnessed him experience devastating loss and never lose hope. I’ve watched him suffer greatly, and still get out of bed to fight another day. I’ve seen him at his best, on stage, crushing it, and at his worst, moments he’s shared with me alone.

My hope is that he looks in the mirror and sees what I see — a man who’s weathered storms, and sailed his ship beautifully (not perfectly, but beautifully!) — these past 40 years.

If I knew what I knew now, I might not have agreed to 75Hard, but I’m glad I didn’t know. I’m glad the Lord led our family to this challenge, a chosen one, designed to toughen us all up, and push us to new limits

“When everything seems to be going against you, remember that the airplane takes off against the wind.” – Henry Ford

I see us taking off, continuing to reach higher heights of health, influence, impact. Using our gifts and to bring glory to the One who wrote the words of our story so long ago.

I am grateful for Lukas leading us to complete this challenge together. Yes, together, because he’ll be the first to tell you there’s no way he would have succeeded without my support. We will continue to support each other’s wild and crazy ideas, like when I told him I wanted to try taking our kids out of the country to celebrate his birthday.

Last week’s trip to Puerto Rico wasn’t without its challenges, but the richness of the moments were worth every bit of the hardship. And maybe that’s the point. Maybe there’s no good and rich and strength and endurance and joy without the hard. And because of those things, whether forced upon us or chosen, I’ll keep giving the Lord my gratitude for the challenges we face.

xoxo, va