I was feeling pretty chilly at just before 8:30 am in Marietta. The Polar Bear 5K was about to begin, and that’s how you’re supposed to dress for a run in cold weather – a little chilly at the start. I’m not the “she” who’s so cool, though. That distinction is reserved for my awesome “running buddy,” Sarah Kate. She’s my daughter and she loves to run races, even though she’s never run a day in her life. Sarah Kate is five and has cerebral palsy. She’s experienced a laundry list of procedures and therapies in her young life, but she has more joy than I’ve ever seen in a human being. She didn’t start walking until age 3, and now is able to walk quickly, but she hasn’t mastered running yet.
The Polar Bear Run was a 1/13 of a mile race for 4-5 year olds, and was her second kids’ race. Her first was a 75-yard race for children with disabilities, so it was a small group, there was no pressure and the crowd support was awesome. As I stood with her at the start this time, though, I began to fret a little. I had tried to prep her for being last (“A lot of these kids will be faster than you, but that’s Ok – remember how many people were faster than me in my race?”), but all around me I heard the other parents giving their own pep-talks (“Run as fast as you can!”) After a chaotic start, they were off, and Sarah Kate promptly crashed forward onto the floor. I helped her up quickly, and she took off again. Most of the kids came around in a loose pack, but Sarah Kate wasn’t with them. One other boy, most likely in the wrong race, got a little lost and his daddy had to go fetch him. Mr. Andi also went to fetch Sarah Kate, only to find that she was moving along at her own pace and enjoying every second of it.
It broke Mr. Andi’s heart to see that she was so far behind the other kids – so far behind, in fact, that only our family (Mr. Andi, my sister, brother-in-law, and his mother) were left to cheer for her and the “ribbon girl” had already headed downstairs to hand out ribbons for the 2-3 year old race. A few people noticed her at the end, though, and cheered, and the ribbon girl came running back up to give her the ribbon. She was so proud, though, and never had a clue anything was amiss.
I’m sure there are lots of people who wonder why I would put my disabled daughter in a race where she is guaranteed to come in last. The reason is the same as the reason why I (and many others) enter races that I’m guaranteed to lose. It’s not about beating other people – it’s about challenging yourself. When I run, the only person I compete with is myself – my hope is that Sarah Kate will do the same.
As for me, I finished the Polar Bear 5K in 29:53, which put me 33rd out of 120 in my age group with an average pace of 9:26 per mile – that’s a PC (post-childbirth) PR!