Last week was a rollercoaster of emotions for me. The kids were out for the Mardi Gras holiday on Monday and Tuesday, and Mr. Andi decided to use his last couple of vacation days to hang with Nathan – Sarah Kate and I headed north to Birmingham for a return checkup to her rehab doctor; the last time she saw Dr. Mendoza was six months ago, in August.
Six months ago, she looked like this:
…and we were scrambling to figure out what to do about the beginning of school and how she was going to navigate the incredibly long walk to her classroom after a long summer and an even longer spring.
But a lot has happened since then. She went back and conquered the mile at Disney again, and she’s much stronger and steadier than she was. Her hamstrings are still tight, but that’s just her reality and always has been.
Dr. Mendoza smiled and said, “She’s the best I’ve ever seen her!” which was not just true but a joy to hear. I wasn’t exactly sure what they expected ten months after her surgery, but I was hoping she had met their expectations, and she had. We left the doctor’s office and got on the road back to Mayberry.
It was just after 4:00 on Fat Tuesday, and we were in a good mood.
We made a pit stop at the Zaxby’s drive-thru, and I happened to look at my phone before we pulled away. That was when I learned that my childhood friend had died. Later, I learned it was suicide. I spoke to old friends – some I had been in contact with before, some I had not. We were all reeling.
I debated going to the funeral. I felt I should be there, but I had already committed to running the Mercedes Half Marathon with a friend, and we were planning to stay with my dad for the weekend. I didn’t want to leave her hanging with nowhere to stay (or with strangers). Instead, I wrote a blog post in tribute. It’s gotten more views than any post I’ve written in the last six months.
My friend and I showed up for the race on Sunday morning. It was cold and drizzling. This race has been on my bucket list for years – see the postscript for why – but standing in the corral in a cheap rain poncho, I just wanted to get it over with. My heart wasn’t in it.
But a funny thing happened. Five miles into the race, at one of the water stops, a guy was manning the table. I’m not certain what it was that caught my attention – his innocent smile, his freckles, or his youthful demeanor – but he reminded me of Stephen. For the next several minutes, I thought not just about my memories of him, but about how his death affected so many of us who knew him. And a few minutes later, I began a mostly-uphill climb.
My right foot, which has given me trouble since last summer, was hurting me. I did what I could to manage the pain and kept going. The more I ran – especially when the running was uphill – the more my foot hurt. I wondered if I’d ultimately have to stop and walk the rest of the way to the finish.
But I kept going. I took brief walk breaks every so often to alleviate the pain, but when I ran, I was fast. Eventually, the pain didn’t stop when I took a walk break – it only subsided a little bit. At mile 11, I texted my friend that I was in pain and was going to walk it in.
But I didn’t. I wanted to stop, but I wanted to run even more. Is it crazy to say that the pain propelled me forward? It did. I was wet, and sweaty, and I choked back tears several times, but I kept on moving. I felt alive and energetic and strong.
I took my last walk break with less than half a mile to the finish, on the last incline. A man touched my shoulder, intending to encourage me, and said, “You’re almost there! Don’t stop now!” I smiled back at him and said, “Oh, my foot is just numb. I feel great!” and as I reached the crest of the incline, I took off and raced to the finish.
Post Script: Fifteen years ago, I ran my very first half marathon (it would be seven years before I would attempt a second). It was a small local race, the “Freeze Your Half Off” in the Birmingham suburbs. It was a fundraiser for The Bell Center for Early Intervention Programs, though at the time I didn’t know that and certainly didn’t know anything about The Bell Center itself. A couple of years later, the race organizers obtained a major sponsor, Mercedes-Benz, and the race was transformed into a world-class event. Later that same year, my first of two children who would need early intervention was born.
The Mercedes Marathon and Half Marathon was one of the best-organized events I’ve ever participated in – bar none. I love runDisney events, but their size (which seems to increase every year) and early sellouts make it harder and harder to plan for and enjoy. I’ll go back to Birmingham for the Mercedes race again.
Who wants to join me?