Robertson County Connection

Susan Steen: Sometimes you stop, adjust the load and keep going

“We all have an unsuspected reserve of strength inside that emerges when life puts us to the test.” — Isabel Allende

At the end of many days, I’ve wondered if I have what it takes to keep going.

I mean, I just keep pushing ahead, but life keeps handing me gifts that aren’t always wrapped in pretty paper. Sometimes, those “gifts” feel incredibly heavy. Looking at people who have lost children too early, been abused or suffered the loss of job and home and hope, my heaviest moments have been light. But none of us should ever compare our struggles to those of others.

Susan Steen

If it has taken strength to move forward — today, yesterday, or possibly tomorrow —that’s all that matters for both you and me. Let’s not compare or compete on the heaviness of our struggles. Whether it is a higher power, a God, or the general gumption we have inside of us, the strength Allende speaks of seems to show up at just the right moments. I’m flexing a muscle, and I am betting you should be, too.

Good books are good company for me. One of my favorite recent reads is called “Outlive” by Peter Attia. I liked it so much that after listening to it, I purchased a hard copy so I could highlight things. That’s when I know it’s a good book.

In one very small section of this enormous book, Attia talks about rucking. It caught my attention. I replayed it a few times as I was on my morning walk, and I shook my head that I had donated those ankle weights. They wouldn’t qualify for actual rucking, but they would have been an easy way to add weight to my walk that I hadn’t considered.

Are you asking yourself, “Why, Susan, would you want to add weight when you’re walking?” Don’t worry, I used to wonder that, too, but do I ever get what he’s putting out there.

If you know me very well or have read much of what I write, you know that the aging process is a big deal to me. This year, I’ve lost a close relative to dementia and am currently walking through life with my mother, who is not enjoying what Alzheimer’s has offered her. Life is heavy sometimes. Attia’s tome will take me a few more reads and listens to be sure I have the important pieces in place, but this “heavy load” piece is still working itself out in my head.

You see, rucking is about carrying a heavy load. In fact, Attia talks about how important rucking is in preparing us for healthy aging because being able to carry weight will matter. Think about carrying groceries or a grandchild or a dog that can’t make the walk all the way back to the house on an especially warm afternoon.

In order to age well, we need to be able to carry weight, and not excess weight on our frame. So, rucking has been center stage in my thinking recently. Purchasing a rucksack isn’t in our budget, but I’m thinking of ways to add weight to the main part of my body while I walk. I’ll report back when I figure that out, if you’re interested.

But carrying weight? Oh, I have been doing that for a very long time. It started a lot of years ago, and I don’t think I’ve ever stopped. But I’ve exchanged one load for another, so I haven’t added weight with each experience, necessarily. What about you and the weight you’ve been carrying?

*Grades. Maybe you’re in school, or someone in your family is. Grades are such a weight to carry. What if you don’t mesh with the instructor? What if your testing abilities don’t allow you to show what you’ve learned? How many pounds do you think that must be?

*Relationships. Whether you are still testing the dating waters (or testing them yet again) or are married, relationships can be heavy. Friendships aren’t so different either. Getting it right, balancing your interests and disinterests all add to the scale when you are weighing the pressure from the people in your life, who you most definitely are glad to have in your life.

*Work. Oh, the pressure of measuring up at work, of meeting your goals, reaching the next finish line, and earning the bonus or the promotion, or at least the atta boy or girl. Whew, the pounds we carry in our professional lives are hefty.

The list of weight-bearing opportunities could get pretty lengthy — health, retirement, spiritual. Life is not a weightless place to hang out. But look at us. Sure, we probably all have times things feel a little heavier or lighter than others (like my scale, the weight fluctuates), but we are still here. And that’s where I think the instructions for wearing a rucksack are pretty important for each of us, as we wear our “rucksacks of life.” Maybe you, like I, will see some similarities to hold onto.

Proper Way to Wear a Rucksack

*Adjust the Shoulder Straps: The shoulder straps should be adjusted so that the rucksack sits close to your back. The weight should be distributed evenly across both shoulders.

*Hip Belt: If your rucksack has a hip belt, use it. The belt helps to distribute the weight from your shoulders to your hips, making it easier to carry heavy loads for extended periods.

*Sternum Strap: A sternum strap can help keep the shoulder straps in place and distribute weight more evenly across your chest.

*Load Distribution: Heavier items should be packed closer to your back and centered in the rucksack. This helps to maintain your center of gravity.

*Height: The rucksack should not extend above the height of your shoulders when standing up straight. This ensures better balance and reduces the risk of back pain.

*Check for Hot Spots: Periodically check for areas where the rucksack might be rubbing against your body uncomfortably. Adjust as needed.

*Take Breaks: Especially for long rucks, it’s important to take breaks to rest and adjust the rucksack as needed.

*Hydration: Keep a water bottle or hydration system easily accessible.

Your life has probably put you to the test several times. Sometimes, those tests might have felt like they added weight to you that you just couldn’t support. But here you are, still walking along, carrying your rucksack of experiences.

I’m going to adjust my straps, distribute the weight of all those loads, and take breaks for the extremely long ruck called “My Life” that I’ve been on. I hope you’ll do the same.

And don’t forget — Drink more water!

Susan Black Steen is a writer and photographer, a native Tennessean and a graduate of Austin Peay State University. With a firm belief that words matter, she writes and speaks to bring joy, comfort and understanding into each life. Always, she writes from her heart in hopes of speaking to the hearts of others. She can be reached at

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