The ticket that changed my life
Jeff Dauler (front) works out with his teammates and Dr. Sanjay Gupta on the Atlanta Hawks practice court.
February 13th, 2012
02:18 PM ET

The ticket that changed my life

Editor's Note: Jeff Dauler, a radio host from Atlanta, Georgia, is one of seven CNN viewers selected to be a part of the Fit Nation Triathlon Challenge program.  Each athlete receives all the tools necessary to train for and compete in the Nautica Malibu Triathlon this September, alongside Dr. Sanjay Gupta.  The seven athletes met up two weeks ago in Atlanta for the official kickoff of the program.

It was a day or two after kick-off weekend, and I finally had a few minutes to tidy up my house. The week or two prior were the types of weeks where everything falls into the "I'll get to it next week" category, so there was a fair amount of clutter to tackle.

I started at my desk and began opening mail, sorting receipts, filing paperwork, discarding trash. I came across the ticket to the Atlanta Hawks game that I attended with my new CNN Fit Nation triathlon family, and I quickly tossed it into the wastebasket beneath my desk.

I've been working in radio almost two decades. I've attended enough concerts, events, and games to fill multiple photo albums with used tickets. I don't keep them.

But a short time later, I dug this crumpled ticket out and flattened it between my hands. When I held it, it didn't feel the same as all the others.

This was different, this one was earned. It was so much more than admission to Philips Arena for a professional NBA game. It wasn't handed to me as a requirement or perk of my job, it was a reward for committing to race in a triathlon and to improve my life. It was the payment for the hour I spent with my teammates, coaches and Dr. Gupta on the Hawks practice court that afternoon clumsily running basketball drills.

It was compensation for the soreness I had in places I won't identify here, even though I was wearing padded bike shorts.

As I traced the edges of the ticket with my fingers and thought back over the past 48 hours, I was overcome with a flood of appreciation. I began to really understand the decision that I made to complete the triathlon and the impact it will have on my health.

I started thinking about the listeners of my radio show and followers of my journey at CNN.com and appreciated not only their messages of support, but also the positive influence I am having on many of them. I looked at the floor, where I had arranged all the gear given to us by CNN and was overwhelmed at all they were doing to insure our success.

I thought of my teammates, my new family.

I thought of the pure joy and excitement Nancy had for the entire Hawks experience - the practice and the game. How happy she was just to be in that moment and how she couldn't wait to share it with her son. She commented to me at one point about being in such a dark place last spring, and such a great, bright place right now. They were just words that night, but in reflection, they have been cause for me to appreciate my own bright spots, especially in comparison to the darker times.

I remembered Rick, who discovered hummus while he was in Atlanta and was so excited to see it on the menu at lunch. When was the last time I took something as simple as a taste, and really felt happiness at being able to enjoy it?

Food has been a social experience for me, mainly. But it's more than that. It smell and texture and relaxation and new adventures. What other simple things am I dismissing by just doing that I can more completely enjoy?

I looked down at my healthy limbs and thought of Denise, who could do that just a few years ago but lost one of her legs while doing something she loved. I take my body for granted, because no disease or accident will harm me, right?

All of us are just a moment away from a from a body that doesn't operate properly. Because most never have to deal with that reality, we take it for granted. I put my hands on both of my legs and said a silent prayer of thanks, and I also made a promise to continue to do all I could to improve my health to guard against and prepare for disease or illness.

I thought of my close friends and family, and how vital their support has been as I began this triathlon journey. As I reflected on the past couple years of my life and all the changes, I realized they've been through all that with me, often getting nothing in return.

But they were and are at my side, and I am so completely comforted by that. Suddenly, I hold them in a new regard. I think about each and every person individually, and why they are so important to me. I take a moment and treasure the relationship I have with every one of them, and vow to never overlook their importance.

I had expectations going into kick-off weekend. I knew I would be making friends, trying different things, physically pushing myself. 

I thought I would walk away with a list of exercises and foods and memories with new people. I was prepared for all that. But I never even considered such an overwhelming adjustment in my self.

My texture has changed. I see differently, I touch differently. I feel differently. It's as though I am living my life now through my heart or soul, and not just in my mind. I can't adequately describe it, and I wish every person can find it. Look for it ... it's hidden right in front of you.

I've taped that Hawks ticket to my bathroom mirror. It serves as a reminder every single morning that every moment - good and bad - is a gift to be thankful for.

This journey is changing me in ways that I could never even imagine. It's making me a different person, and I can't wait to see what's next.

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.