My pre-race posse. Orange again!
It can be really tough to watch people you love work hard, without receiving much of a
reward for their effort. We all know people who have given up on goals, dreams, and
life, but we also know people who have NEVER given up, despite the reward or lack
thereof. Recently, I participated in a half-marathon with a friend, who is recovering from
a serious spinal injury. Her right leg is stiff with only a hint of a bend in the knee. Her
right foot has no feeling. Her stride is full of effort. She had zero chance of winning the
race, and barely a chance to finish the 13.1 mile course within the seven hour allotted
Already I'm feeling vulnerable. I like to think of myself as tough (and I am), but to have someone I respect so much notice the things I try to heal, it's hard. I even second-guessed posting this because I don't want you to see my weaknesses. I'm still embarrassed to be around old friends as hurt as I am. But I think the even stronger thing to do is face and accept it, so when I'm even better I can look back on this and see what I accomplished. I can't give that to myself right now, I need to keep looking forward even if looking back means seeing how far I've come, but I know I'll want it in the future.
This wasn’t her first half-marathon. Last month she competed in one. It has been her
number one recovery goal throughout the year. She had even gained national attention
in her pursuit. You may have already read about her or seen her on T.V.; however, this
race was different. She was under the radar with no expectations placed on her. There
were no sponsors, no reporters, no press, and no preparation either. She had spent the
last month recovering from the previous race, and she was working on exercises that
could eventually help her regain the bend in her knee, not training for another 13.1 mile
Except, I thought I had an 8 hour time limit so we Totally goofed around! Which put us in a race to try to finish under the time limit (7 hours). Oops!
This race was going to be tough. She started at the front of the crowd of racers. In
an instant, they all zoomed past her. She was left to walk in the quiet streets. It was
a particularly cool March morning, and her right side balked. The right leg was more
stubborn than usual that day. She’d forgotten her gloves, and her right hand battled
the bite of the morning air. I didn't forget them, I purposely left them - mistake! My body's like a reptile, slower in the cold. As I walked beside her, we crept along the streets of one
of our city’s oldest neighborhoods. I commented on the bursting azaleas and the great
craftsmanship of the homes. I went on and on until I finally realized how annoying my
comments had become to her. Pfft, like Annette could Ever be annoying! Good distraction with her comments and silliness and fart jokes, but never ever annoying. Whatever Annette, you were awesome to spend the day with! While my mind had been on flowers and cute houses
during that first mile, my friend was mechanically breaking down the movement of her
lower back, abdomen, psoas, You have Ms. Alyce Morgan of the Franklin Method to thank for that psoas work! quad, and hamstrings. She systematically had to will the
walking process to continue for one more step and another step and then another.
We spent that first hour focusing on the walking process and hoping for the temperature
to rise quickly so that her body would cooperate with her mind. This is incredibly true. Your body thinks in function, not form, and if I want to train the right muscles to have proper form again I've got to focus all the time. She had to find a
manageable rhythm. She was concerned about finishing the race, not having trained
adequately. Of course, I told her she could quit when she felt it necessary. She had
already met her recovery goal. I didn’t want to see her in pain, and I didn’t want her to
hinder any potential to get that right leg moving properly again.
She walked on. She was elated when we encountered her fellow racers again, as they
eventually paralleled or lapped her. To all you well wishers, please know that my friend
has immense appreciation and ever-expanding love for every, single one of you. The
first couple of miles had been so very hard to push through without you. It honestly takes me 3 miles to warm up Your energy
DID make a difference when we saw you again. Without your encouraging “shout-outs”,
miles three to seven would have been even more trying. She is a positive, people-
person, who always meets a compliment with a smile and a reciprocal compliment
because that is her nature. By this point Annette had let me have her sunglasses so I could stop trying to make eye contact with everyone and focus on form, and let her take over the answering back to all you awesome people (much like Dan did in the NOLA RnR). She then started pointing out all the hot guys - quite the good distraction. There's a lot of you out there! Also, it was fun cheering on all you awesome girls! You rock!
Paul Kieu is an awesome photographer. I saw him at the Holi Festival the day before too! Andy pointed out how he really captured the essence of us here, me sticking my tongue out and Annette being LOUD! :)
I don’t want to give you the wrong impression. She is hilariously sarcastic, too. You
see, while my friend takes what she is doing very seriously, she doesn’t take herself
too seriously. Unable to look up and break her concentration to personally respond
to most of the well-wishers, she would get frustrated. Later on during the race, she’d
hear, “You are looking GOOD!” Under her breath she’d say, “Uh, now that’s not really
true!” Then we’d crack up laughing. Others would yell in passing, “You inspire me” to
which she’d mumble, “I’m sorry.” Again, laughing would ensue. Runners would call out,
“You Rock” and immediately she’d say, “No, you rock!” Yes, she is sarcastic, but most
importantly, she is resilient and intrinsically self-motivated with the ability to deal with
her current situation without self-pity. Throughout the race, she used many techniques
just “to deal”: love for life, sarcasm, silence, laughter, etc... This is simply who she is,
and what she does, regardless of the spinal injury.
I'm trying to find something sarcastic to say to this, but I'm a little overwhelmed, so just, thanks for being so perceptive.
What she's not adding is her fart jokes or catcalls or harassing the other runners or gongers and other people on the sideline! And eating doughnuts. Listening to Metallica and whatever else we thought of. And changing in her office on campus.
And also with you
And it was not easy! It only got harder. I think mile 9 was the first critical, low point. It
was as if she doubted if she could keep going. She questioned herself aloud, “Can I do
this?” Her response was to keep walking. Dammit, that's always my response. One day I'll learn to take the easy route. Not really knowing if she could finish, she
had hope that things would work out. Head down, she kept going. That mile 10 sign
was a relief. We briefly celebrated with a silly chant, “Mile 10, please send Hot Men!” I
even posted the chant on her facebook page. #BestFacebookUpdateEverHA!
Then the real fight began. Fatigue and pain all bore down on her. Now only 3.1 miles
from the finish line, she was consumed with meeting the 7 hour time limit. “Who cares?”
I asked her. “What does time mean for you in this situation? It’s a limit set for runners,
not someone walking with trekking poles! TREKKING POLES. Dang press got it wrong (except for the Advertiser) last race, called them specialized crutches?! Trekking poles let me keep weight on both sides of my body instead of leaning to one side with my cane for over 13 miles. I got to meet Jennifer Pharr Davis the night before this race (it was a busy weekend), who set the world record for hiking the Appalachian Trail, and nobody mistakes HERS for "crutches". Sheesh! Also, Alyce is to thank for these, they're really hers on long loan to me. Thanks Alyce! Take your time and don’t injure yourself.”
Just sayin. BTW I totally stole this pic of Jennifer Pharr Davis from Facebook, I'll try to make up for it by advertising Blue Ridge Hiking Company
She ignored me and kept talking about meeting her deadline. Then we found ourselves
at mile marker 11. I had become very demanding of music at that point. Mile 11 was Rooster by Alice in Chains, I remember clearly.
I wish I could say the journey to mile 12 was easier, but it was more grueling. The traffic
barriers had been removed, and the cars flowed freely. There were no more flat streets,
crowds cheering, and water stands. The race was almost officially over, but there she
was, racing to the finish. She had to trek the sidewalks outside of downtown and up
to her finish line. Unpredictable angels, *angles, but I'm not going to correct this because I like the idea of unpredictable angels ;) detours, an accumulation of crispy leaves and
chunky sticks, construction, and the harsh whiz of the traffic tested her. I didn’t see
the beauty of what she was doing. I saw anguish. Trying this hard sucks and I almost
couldn’t stand her suffering effort any longer. But... how could I say, “Just quit!” That
seemed almost offensive at this point. I couldn’t take her pain away, so I told her to
Yikes, this was hard to read. I hate that my struggle affected her so much, or that it's even that hard for me to do at all. Annette knew me when I was on top of my game placing in triathlons in my very first year, sucks that stupid Mile 11 was so hard. I know, I know, patience. But wait til next year ya'll, this won't be a thing anymore. I take that back - "It never gets easier, you just get faster."
I told her we were reaching a tipping point and that if she pushed a little
further, we’d soon reach that mile 12 marker, where a dear friend was waiting for her.
At mile 12, walking did not become physically easier, but her spirits had been lifted.
First, her old friend had joined our little crew. LOEY!! Loey was a college roommate, and fellow veterinarian, who came down from Texas to run her first half with me! She did awesome. Talk about sarcastic... this is when our little posse started gearing up. Second, we figured out that somehow
she had made up some time and had an hour left to finish the last mile. It's that psoas work! It was very
possible, rather, very likely, that she was going to meet the race cut-off time. We let
her take over the contemptible sidewalks, and she did her thing. Serendipitously, with
about .3 miles left, other friends joined our little crew. Nic, Andy, my kid, Andy's kid. Yeah yeah, totally cool having our kids cross the finish line with us. BUT Andy was the best. He had flown down here because I basically forced him into this race ;) He is a seasoned marathoner and he ran the whole, but being from upstate New York he struggled with the heat and humidity. We saw him earlier in the race, and his sweaty hug was cold, not a good sign. At this point though, after he had met and overcame his own struggles, he was quite determined that if he had to go through all that than I sure as hell was going to finish it. There was no chance of quitting at this point even if I had wanted to. Misery loves company ;) Now, she squeezed out her last
bits of effort. As we approached the very last traffic light, which controlled four lanes of
traffic, the light turned red, stopping us within mere yards from her finish. That’s when
the crew ran out in the middle of traffic screaming and waving our hands. Those cars
just had to stop! So, I’m sorry if we startled anyone. Ya'll, this was hilarious to see. Those guys totally stopped traffic on Congress. It would have been worth watching the whole race just to see that!
And on she walked those last yards, finishing the race before the time limit with dignity
and utter satisfaction with just a few of the race organizers watching. There were no fan
fare, no press like the other race, just herself to answer to, to impress, and to thank.
She chose to finish that race because she could. TOTALLY worth it. Last race was fun getting flocked by the press and feeling like a celebrity, but finishing up with some of my favorite people on Earth, with the Race Directors that I happened to be friends with and who did such an incredible job pulling off their first marathon, this was the best finish. She didn’t mean to be hit by a car last
year, but it happened. She didn’t mean to break her neck in that accident, but she did.
This race, however, she meant to do. She chose to do, and that is powerful stuff.
Sweetest finish ever.
Photo Credit to the fabulous Christina Gravish
I'll let her wrap it up with the next bit without comment. You've already seen how awesome she is, her following observations she deserves full attention for.
From me, thanks for everything! Thanks to everyone who came down for the NOLA RnR. And thanks to everyone both known and unknown in the Zydeco - we're so close knit here in Laffy, I knew so many of you! Love you all! Looking forward to all of our futures.
Along the race route, we met other people in similar situations as my friend- people
racing when it was hard, real hard, with no chance of winning. We met athletes with
injuries, determined first-time runners, and exhausted people. There were a few other
super humans, like my friend: a sweet woman recovering from a traumatic brain injury,
and an experienced marathoner pushing her friend (in an adult-sized jogger), who
obviously had mobility impairments far more severe than my friend’s. And what about
the people we didn’t meet? How about the people running away from things? I’m sure
the race helped exorcise many personal demons that day.
We saw U.S. veterans running with flags, and we saw people running for their beliefs
and causes. For others, it may have been far more simple…an average lady, setting
out to try something new, just for fun or the regular guy, just trying to get in shape. The
majority of racers, like my friend, were running simply because they wanted to, not to
win. Only a small percentage of the highly talented, highly trained racers actually have
a shot at winning.
Win or lose, we all have the choice to race- to participate in living- either walking or
running. As a counselor for college students with disabilities, I often witness that
an ability or disability does not determine a successful student. Success comes to
students who choose success, and to those who set a course for success. You see,
many of my students are the first in their families to attend college, and they rely on
federal grants to pay their tuition. My students are like my friend, “walking” against
runners to the same finish line. Graduation.
These students might not know that success can be theirs, too. Maybe no one has
pointed that out yet. They may have doubts, and could use some well-wishers every
now and then. They may get scared when it sucks to try so hard. Encouragement.
Recognition of their strengths. These things matter. They need a course, a well-
planned strategy, and mile markers to keep them looking forward toward their goals, but
they know that their success is ultimately up to them.
Everyone can choose to give up or keep going, even on a tough course. We can all
become tough competitors, like my friend, like my students, “racing” because we can.