Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Grace in the Running Community

After contracting paralytic polio at the age of 5, I was in a full leg brace. Definitely one of the lucky ones to not be in an iron lung and to be able to walk again, I struggled to physically keep up with my brother and my friends. Kids being kids, they'd take off and leave me in the dust while I lugged my leg brace along as best I could. This was the fuel for my Type A, overachieving, relying solely on my intellect personality until I hit the wall in my life in the summer of 2006.

Back into a leg brace, using a wheelchair at times for mobility and facing a grim future, the first poem I wrote, Running the Race, in the dark night of my soul in February 2007 used the metaphor of running. I had never run a day in my life and never owned a pair of running shoes. Something in my soul drew me to running. What a treasure I found in the running community.

My first 5 mile race, the Marathon Sports 5 Miler in July, 2008, was when I discovered what the running community is all about. While I struggled with all of my internal demons and negative self talk, the Marathon Sports Family was preparing to welcome me as I crossed the finish line - last!

We celebrated on Facebook with Thor (an appropriate name for him) after he ran his 100th marathon at this year's Boston Marathon. He went on to be the sighted guide for Randy Pierce as Randy, a totally blind runner and founder of 2020 Vision Quest, qualified for Boston.

My friend Melissa Gleaton inspires me. She is new to running and has this fierce determination about setting and achieving goals for herself.

She posted these words of wisdom on Facebook: "During my 5k on Saturday I felt like I was struggling and thought "there is no way I can do 10k in July." Then, during my 5-miler on Sunday I felt great, that I could even go one more mile. What a difference a day makes." She did the Memorial Day Weekend Challenge racing a 5K and then a 5 Mile Race the following day. With grace, she posted the photo of her last place in the 5K and the next day, posted the photo of her medal from completing the challenge:

John Young is the embodiment of grace as evidenced when he had to withdraw from the Boston Marathon this year due to illness. He went on to finish the race.

As a volunteer at Boston's Run to Remember, I was inspired to see Justin O'Connell who lives with rods in his back after surgery for scoliosis, come down Arlington Street in the "back of the pack." He had run this year's Boston Marathon and last Thursday won first place in the Challenged Athletes group at the Team Hoyt 5K. He was going to drop out of the Run to Remember at mile 8 but the fans and one very special runner who runs with Back on My Feet Boston, Jess Lanzoni, supported and encouraged him so he was able to cross the finish line.

I am inspired and in awe of my friend Gail Martin who has set out to run a marathon in every state and runs ultras. This past weeekend she posted she had a -27 minute PR on her ultra. Yet a few weeks ago, she had one of her slowest marathon times and is able to take it all in stride. She encouraged me to come out for the Fr. Bullock Charity Race on June 8th. She posted on Facebook, please just come and enjoy yourself. There will be walkers and runners of all paces.

I am running for me now and feeling the joy and the gift of being able to run. I realize that the feeling of being "too slow" have actually kept me from being a part of recent races that I easily could have been a part of like the BAA 5K and the Run to Remember. I plan to run them next year. But if there are races with a fast field, I am delighted to volunteer or be a spectator for Tom.

With my return to the running community this past year after a two year hiatus, and having the view as a volunteer, a spectator, a mid and back packer, I can feel myself shaking loose those demons that were deeply embedded in my body, mind and soul as a result of paralytic polio and trauma. I am finding grace and equanimity in myself through being blessed to witness the grace and beauty of those around me. I feel the grace that is the thread that weaves together our very fabric as a community of runners. It does a mind, body and soul good!

"What distinguishes those of us at the starting line from those of us on the couch is that we learn through running to take what the days gives us, what our body will allow us, and what our will can tolerate."
~John "The Penguin" Bingham

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