Four years ago this weekend, I spent a cold morning volunteering at the Philadelphia Marathon. I was stationed at the finish line to hand out Mylar blankets to the finishers. I was in awe at what these people accomplished. “I would NEVER be able to run any of that… that’s just amazing.” I watched triumphs and personal battles overcome. I watched tears and jubilation. I saw victory. I wanted to be a part of that. Even if I was just the person to keep them warm.
I remember countless women and men who fell into my arms for a hug as they got their blanket… They were spent. They were overjoyed. Hugs flowed as did the tears. I wondered how that felt. I know the joy of triumph over what you think you cannot do. It’s one of the most powerful feelings in the world. I was in awe and in envy. I wanted to feel it too.
Little did I know how my life would rewrite itself. The story begins here… And it always comes full circle. This I know is true.
In September of 2013, I wanted to cross something off my “127 things to do before I die” list. So I picked “run a 5k” as my next journey. Little did I know it would lead me here. I gathered a couple close friends and we ventured to Princeton, NJ to run for the 5k for the Parkinson’s Alliance, I wanted to do the first one for something that mattered to me and so I chose that. I had two goals that day… Finish it… and don’t die.
I succeeded in both.
I was done. Check. Next.
But something rumbled in me to do it again the following year to make sure it wasn’t a fluke. This kid, who couldn’t run more than a mile and never wanted to, ran/walked a 5k and was pretty amazed at how it was not the worst thing in the world. Afterward, I felt accomplished and strong. It was a feeling that has always driven me and as a lifelong athlete the competitor in me started to spark. It was like starting a very old engine that clanks a little at first and sputters out. You wonder if it will ever start again. But you hear it, and you know it’s still in there.
I signed up for the same race the following September. Unfortunately I had to attend a funeral that day and couldn’t go. I did the “oh well, I tried” thing and figured “it just wasn’t meant to be.”
But for that engine that sparked for a moment, that didn’t sit well. I knew I needed to do it again. So along came a little running team that my doctor had started out of a need to do something about all the patients she was losing to cancer. Team CMMD came along and poured some gas in the engine that had been idle for so long. November of 2014 was the inaugural 5k for the team and I showed up…In a cape and a crown and a wig, I brought out my inner wonder woman. I finished my second 5k in just about a minute or two slower than the first. (I blame the wig and the crown I had to hold in place for slowing me down).
The engine was heaving and humming, and sputtering… and I couldn’t have my first time faster than my second. That just wasn’t going to work. So I signed up for another race a week later… and another. And before I knew it I was running in between these races on my own, and in ten degree weather, and in the dark, and in the ice, and in the rain and snow and everything else that could put out my flame. But what I found was, it only grew stronger and brighter and the engine started running smoother and longer and with more power.
The sign ups were happening for the Broad Street Run… TEN miles. “I can’t do that” I said again. That’s insane. These 5ks are enough. I couldn’t run more than a mile, remember? I would poke myself. Reminders of the kid who hated to run. Reminders of the story I wrote my whole life.
I signed up and spent months petrified of what I got myself into.
I was doubting. I was thinking I was insane. Clearly.
I am not a runner. I kept convincing anyone who would listen.
I convinced myself. I never will be.
I had two goals for Broad Street. Finish it…and Don’t Die.
I wore that medal proudly that day, realizing that I accomplished something big. The engine kept moving. I wondered if that was it for me… Was there anything more I really needed to accomplish? I felt good.
I kept running races and all kinds of runs in between. I found a craving I haven’t felt in so long. I started to want to go for a run. And during the day I would lace them up and find my way to the trail. Wanting to beat my last time. Wanting to get better, feel better… be better.
And in all of that, I found myself once again wondering what else is possible.
I often talk about the notion that we don’t know how far we can go until we go there.
So I get to test out the engine once again. I get to watch my journey unfold from “I can’t to I did” just by simply saying yes.
Choice is a funny thing. It often makes us feel overwhelmed and powerless. And at the same time it’s the most unbelievable power we all have. To rewrite the story any time and any way we choose.
Tomorrow. 7am. I will line up to rewrite mine.
Tomorrow, I will run the Philadelphia Half Marathon.
Tomorrow, after 13.1 miles, I will look for that Mylar blanket at the finish line.
I have two goals…
I will finish. I won’t die. My engine is running.
Tomorrow, I will own every step of my journey that led me to here.
I run in memory of my mom. I run for those who can’t.
And tomorrow, I will feel the joy and triumph and the victory over something I never thought I could do.
I am a runner.
This I know is true.