More Than a Medal

Some of you will have seen this in the MS Resources of CNY Newsletter, but I want to make it part of my blog as well:

More Than a Medal

It’s the middle of October and I still have a summer tan– an honest-to-goodness tan. It’s unusual enough that I should write about it here, but the reasons I have it are my real source of personal accomplishment. As always, the story begins long ago….last winter, to be exact.
On one of those cold gray weekend evenings, I was sitting with a group of female friends and relatives happily discussing everything but the dire conditions of the world. Someone mentioned a half marathon relay taking place in Virginia Beach on Labor Day weekend, and we all voiced reasons that it would be a great road trip for us. Reason number one: It was at a beach! Number two: It fell on my mother’s 85th birthday. Three: Since she wasn’t alive to celebrate it, and because she always loved Virginia Beach, then, yes, we should definitely enter. And the last reason, obvious enough: Everything sounds like a great idea when there’s been enough wine! We paired up, went online and signed up for the Rock ‘n’ Roll Virginia Beach Half Marathon Relay.
Back then it was easy for me to go along. I wouldn’t be starting a walking regimen until I finished two months of physical therapy for my neck and back. Then I started walking with the therapist’s recommendations—ten minutes out, ten minutes back, three times a week. Then I was to increase by a couple of minutes each way every week. It seemed like a breeze. Except I didn’t want to walk some days. I was too tired. I had other things I needed to save my energy for. It was rainy. It got hot. I had out-of-town guests. There was always time enough to train–the race was months away.
Then there were times that I doubted my abilities to walk one block—days when my left foot slapped down like it was wearing a scuba fin. I tried to listen to my therapist’s voice: “Just go out and do it.” Nope, didn’t work. Often I expended more energy on finding a reason not to walk, than the actual walking would have used. Some days I convinced myself that I would cause irreparable harm from walking too much. If all of this sounds ridiculous to you, it’s probably because you are self-disciplined and motivated and not a slacking procrastinator like me.
Through this training time, our ten-member team suffered setbacks and obstacles of all kinds: a move out-of-state, a miscarriage, foot surgery, an exploratory laparotomy, a marital separation, a pregnancy and an MS exacerbation thrown in for good measure. The week before our trip, Hurricane Irene struck part of Virginia Beach, and she spawned a tornado that tore off the front of a house  three blocks from our rented beach house. Two days before leaving, we got a call saying that our rental house was uninhabitable due to pests. (This was not a shack–it was a new 9 bedroom, 5 bath house!) Only by the grace of God did we manage to get a substitute place the day before leaving. (That it happened to be oceanfront with an indoor pool was a sweet bonus!)

And so, we all made the pilgrimage to Virginia. The first night in the miracle house we shared the pre-race dinner of macaroni and meatballs (like ‘they’ say you should). The next morning at the ridiculous hour of 4:15 our eight-member team left for the race site. We were shuttled to buses to the different starting points.  There was a smell in the air—adrenaline, excitement, energy! Everyone was riding high, even me.  My half of the team was delivered to the transition zone to wait for our relay partners to come and hand off the baton (which was  a drum stick, not that anyone carried it at all.)

While we waited for more than two hours in that holding area, the adrenaline and energy dissipated.  I started to fear I wouldn’t make it even two miles. Or one.  I mean, we had to walk so far from the first bus to the second bus to that transition zone, and all this waiting was depleting my energy! Was it going to get too hot for me to walk? What if I lagged so far behind  that the van would have to pick me off the course?  Were there enough first aid stations along the way?   I laid back on the walkway and wondered what I had gotten myself into. Who did I think I was to try something like this? And why did I NOT train like I could have? Anxiety washed over me. And then it happened.

I heard some whooping and hollering, and sat up just in time to see the first racers come around the bend. Is that a bike? I didn’t know this was a bike race, too.  No,wait… the bicyclist is with someone in ….a racing wheelchair!! Whoa, I was not expecting that. Everyone was cheering as more and more of these chair-bound athletes came around the curve. I was flooded with emotion—what kind of strength they displayed!   I chided myself for having a defeatist attitude; after all I could walk.  A few minutes later, the first runners started speeding by. As an lifelong non-runner even before I got MS,  I stood amazed, imagining how fun it must be to fly on your feet!  Shortly after they passed, I went back to my little pity party.
While waiting in a long line for the porta-potty (I’m so uncomfortable with these), there arose such an extended cheer that I got out of line to see what it was. Rounding the curve was a runner with a burgundy tee-shirt that read Team Hoyt. And this runner was pushing a race wheelchair decorated with streamers and cradling a youngster. I saw young legs rising out of the chair, as if running through the air. The way they moved I suspected their owner suffered from cerebral palsy?  And I started to sob. Sob, sob, sob.  How could I complain and doubt and deny my abilities in light of this child’s obstacles? I slapped my face (Sounds weird now, but quite fitting then, especially if you enjoy talking to yourself as I do.) and I said out loud, “You are definitely doing this!” Other Team Hoyt runners and their precious cargo came by, and by the time it was my turn to walk, I had decided that I was walking the course for them.

I took the first step of my race with those kids on my mind and in my heart. To help me along the miles, I had my wonderful teammates’ encouragement and cheerleaders from local schools telling me, “You’re doing great! Keep going!” (They cheered for everyone of course, but I took it personally!) There were people handing out cups of water and Gatorade and there were sprinklers for cooling off. Bands played in almost every section we walked through and when the road fell silent, there was a dedicated man ringing a cowbell and shouting his encouragement. Every mile marker I passed made it all the more important to finish, as I kept those little racers in mind. With my teammates I managed to complete the 5.2 miles, crossing the finish line on the Virginia Beach boardwalk in the full sun with the thermometer reading a toasty 86 degrees. And that is exactly how I earned my tan.

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