Friday, July 4, 2014

Fourth of July North Andover Road Race - A Profile in Courage - We Run Together

It takes incredible courage to start a race knowing that you will probably finish last. I don't know many people who would step out and step up to the challenge running by themselves to claim a 6.1 mile course not knowing if the water stops or the finish line would be there when you arrived. But I do know one such person - Melissa Gleaton who blogs about her journey in Learning to Walk Again.

I was blessed to meet Melissa when Tom and I went to train for the Feaster Five last November. She was so supportive of my return to the roads and reassured us that we couldn't get lost during our training run. We enjoyed sharing journeys over a cup of tea after the training run. We saw each other again at the Feaster Five starting line. She told us that she would plug into her iPod and tune into her own running rhythm. She preferred to run her own race.

We stay in touch via Facebook and messages.

I saw that she was going to run her first 10K today.

I told my husband and daughter about the race and my daughter said she'd love to run it.

The weather forecast was dreary given that the first hurricane of the season, Hurricane Arthur was making his way up the East Coast. They rescheduled the Fourth of July Boston Pops concert to July 3rd because of the forecast.

Tom and I woke up at 10:45 pm with the house shaking and rattling with thunder, lightning and wind gusts but awoke to clear and calm skies this morning at 5:30 am.

We always arrive early to a race because we don't know what traffic and parking will be like. Our daughter picked up her bib and shirt and took this selfie before the race:

The race announcer was incredibly energetic, setting a festive tone for the day celebrating the sport of running and the spirit of July 4th. Tom went to the car to get our jackets as the skies were beginning to turn grey. When he returned he said, "You're not going to believe who is doing the announcing," and showed me this picture of Steve Cooper from Channel 7 News who we met when I spoke at a Merrimack Valley Striders Meeting a few years ago:

Steve said, "And you never know who you might see here. You might just see the Race Director for the Boston Marathon. Dave McGillivray is here."

Milling around before the race began, I was stopped by this elderly couple. The man was wearing a race bib and a hat that told me he must be a veteran. "Excuse me. Where's Tom Licciardello?" he asked and "who is announcing the race? Tom used to announce this race and he did such a great job." Fortunately I'd done my homework and was able to give him a brief race history and then told him that Steve Cooper was doing the announcing, 'You know the guy from channel 7 news.' He went over to see him and turned to his wife who is also named Mary - they are Joseph and Mary you know like from Bethlehem he told me and said, "Oh Mary - we know him. That's Grace's nephew." I asked him if he was a veteran. "World War II - Navy." He smiled. I thanked him for his service and our gift of freedom. I told him I worked at the VA for many years. He told me he was going to run the 5K and hoped for a placement in his age group proudly telling me he was 81 years old. I checked the results on Cool Running. Joseph Diprima - 81 - 37:44 - first in his age group indeed!

We gathered with our friends from the Merrimack Valley Striders:

Our friend Paul Hudson was sporting the MVS shirt that was designed with the Boston Strong ribbon logo after 4/15/13. It says:
We run to grieve.
We run to cope.
We run to heal.
We run for Boston.

It was time for the Kids Race. Steve Cooper said that these kids trained through the grueling New England winter with their parents to get ready for today. They had their sights set on July 4th all year long. There were over 150 kids participating in the kids race today:

I found Melissa to wish her well on her run and snapped this pic of her:

The runners were off. I found an Andover Policeman on a bike and asked him if they keep the finish line open until the last runner has crossed. I let him know that this was Melissa's first 10K and she might finish last. He asked me what her number was and what she was wearing. He went out on the course and checked with the event organizers, and looked for me when he returned. He assured me that they wouldn't leave anyone out on the course and the finish line would stay open until the last runner was in. I remember how important it was to feel support when we ran the Father Bullock Road Race and that the last runner is not abandoned on the road.

Steve Cooper announced as many names and numbers as he could making sure that everyone felt like a winner. As our daughter came down the chute, my husband called out to Steve to tell him her name. He announced her name and told her to wave to the crowd. What a moment of joy. We were so caught up in enjoying the moment that we didn't take a photo of her. She ran about a 10 minute mile and had a wonderful race telling us the sense of camaraderie and the runner's code of conduct at its best that was out on the course today.

I saw Dave McGillivray cross the finish line and said hi to him after the race. He shook my hand, smiled broadly and asked me how everything was.

Runners crossed. Steve Cooper made his way to the awards ceremony. The crowds dispersed.

I spoke to the timing officials and let them know that there was still one more runner out there. He told me that they needed to start breaking down and packing up the mats but would keep the clock running. A woman walked over to the finish line and I asked if she had someone she was waiting for. She said, "Yes, it's me Lin," and I realized she was there to cheer on Melissa as well. We met on Facebook. She also wanted to make sure that Melissa had a finish line to cross.

At 1:39 gun time, he turned off the finisher's clock. I asked him what he was doing that there was still one more runner on her way in. It was her first 10K. He apologized. He thought that everyone had crossed. He reset the clock and told us that he would also enter her results manually to ensure that her results appeared on Cool Running.

We were all feeling a little anxious as the finish line was being broken down. Other members of the Striders came over to the finish line. One Strider, Adrienne, said she would go out on the course to run her in. But we all had total faith that Melissa would finish in under two hours; the time when the course officially closed. She trained well and she trained hard. She was determined! The rain held off. There were a few sprinkles, some sun but mostly cloud cover for the race.

Lin spotted her in the distance with Adrienne. She was power walking when Adrienne found her. She gave her that boost to let her know she was almost finished and then stepped aside as Melissa finished strong with a run to the finish.

Members of the Event Staff came over to the finish line and I told them that this is what the sport is all about. I told them that we needed to cheer Melissa on to the finish. I remembered the scene in Dave McGillivray's book, "The Last Pick," when he had received instructions to divert a runner in the Olympics so that they could set up the stadium for the closing ceremonies. Dave ignored the instructions and made sure that the runner had the same experience as the winner because ultimately the time did not matter. It was the effort put forth by the runner.

We screamed as Melissa came down the finish chute. Everyone clapped, whistled and I screamed. The timing official moved one of the trucks so Lin could get the photo of her finishing the race.

Melissa is the embodiment of perseverance and courage. She was out there running her race at her pace and went the distance today. She also took off 1:30 from her training run two weeks ago.

No one can run our race for us. We all have to dig deep, find the courage and the perseverance to run the race set before us with endurance as Melissa did today.

Yet there is great comfort in knowing that when we are out there, we are never alone. We run together.

My memoir, "Coming Home: A Memoir of Healing, Hope and Possibility" is now available on Amazon.

"Wait, I have one more goal," Mary McManus told her personal trainer in February of 2008 shortly after coming out of her toe up leg brace. "I want to run the Boston Marathon for Spaulding Rehab Hospital." Mary traded in her polio shoes for running shoes and embarked on the journey of a lifetime. Mary McManus was at the height of her career as a VA social worker when she was told by her team at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital’s International Rehab Center for Polio in December of 2006 that she needed to quit her job if she had any hope of preventing the progression of post polio syndrome, a progressive neuromuscular disease. In “Coming Home: A Memoir of Healing, Hope and Possibility” Mary takes you on her seven year healing odyssey as a survivor of paralytic polio and trauma from her diagnosis, to taking a leap of faith to leave her award winning career at the VA to heal her life and follow her passion as a poet and writer. You’ll experience her trials, tribulations and triumphs as she trains for and crosses the finish line of the 2009 Boston Marathon and discovers the opportunity for healing in the wake of new trauma: the suicide of her nephew in 2011, and the aftermath of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings. This is Mary's journey of coming home to her human form free from the influences of the ghastly ghostly invaders who had invaded her sacred earthly home. Her memoir includes journals and blog posts from her seven year healing odyssey. This is her journey of transformation and her message of healing, hope and possibility.

I donate 50% of royalty payments through on line sales to The One Fund to help Boston Marathon survivors and their families. Copies are also available at Brookline Marathon Sports. $5 of each book sold at Marathon Sports is donated to The One Fund.

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