Everyone runs for a reason; steps turn into miles and the journey evolves into a tribute. This tribute could be to any number of things, from better health, to finding a cure, or the memory of loved ones past. I started running after struggling with my own (relatively minor) health roller coaster, it started as a way for me to say that “this is my body” and no illness will take that away from me. After going through times where it was a struggle just to get out of bed, I wanted to prove that I could do this, my body could do this because a body is an amazingly beautiful and powerful thing. Prior to my first half marathon, I had never ran further than 6 miles. I will never forget the triumphant feeling of crossing the 6 mile marker and thinking to myself, “every step I take now is the farthest I’ve ever ran.” Each step felt like it’s own victory.
I will also never forget the people at the race, because they allowed me to see the good in humanity. I ran behind runners dedicating their race to loved ones fighting illness or in memory of those who did not make it. I watched strangers, fellow runners and spectators, cheering on those who were struggling with each stride. I watched home owners along the route flock to the sideline to hand out tissues, or spray water from hoses, or hand out ice on a hot day to runners. Perhaps the most humbling, were the Team Hoyt racers, pushing wheelchairs as they ran to the finish line. For those who are not familiar with Team Hoyt, I encourage you to click on the link and watch the brief story of runners Dick and Rick Hoyt, completing an Ironman. Little did I know at the time, but my own running tribute would evolve to be more like those of the runners around me.
Someone I loved had breast cancer. I was at loss for what I could do…I felt so helpless, so useless in this fight she would have to battle. It wasn’t until I went to replace my worn out sneakers that I remembered the runners from my first race who ran in honor of another’s struggle. I glanced up at the hot pink sneakers above me, the ones with a “for the cure” breast cancer tag on them and bought them. It was something small but it helped me feel like I was fighting by her side every step of the way. Each time I stepped into my pink shoes, I felt like I was stepping into the fight. Each step I ran felt like a step toward her victory and freedom from the bonds of cancer. I told myself that I would run for her in these shoes, that my feet would run for her until she was able to again. When my legs hurt, I looked down at my pink shoes and thought “these steps are for her…keep going”. I ran race after race, often signing up for the next one within 30 minutes of the one I had just finished. I became something of a race junkie, hungry for the fight and victory.
My run times were getting better and my legs hurt less, but the cancer was still progressing. It eventually metastasized to her spine and her liver. I signed up for a race near her, but she was now too weak to come so I went to visit her the day prior. Her body was small and frail, but she still glowed with love. I will always remember her walking back to the couch, wanting to be twirled and dancing with her husband…a beautiful soul. She passed away soon after that race and my next race was the weekend after she passed. 65.5 miles of races I had run to support her battle, but the most difficult miles were the first 13.1 I ran after she was gone. My legs hurt ; I’d look down at my pink shoes and think “this was for her” as my eyes teared up. I said I would run for her until she was back on her feet, but now what? She was gone…now what? She would not be getting back on her feet, but my feet were still running. Each step hurt, not in my feet, but in my heart. My foot strikes pavement, but she is gone. It wasn’t until mile 10 that I started to look around me again. I saw a man running with a sign on his back…”In Honor of My Mom“…another one…”In Honor of Aunt Sue“…and another…”In memory of My Sister“. In memory of…I thought of her and the last memory I had of her. The memory of her husband delicately twirling her as she danced her way back to the couch. I realized what a beautiful gift she had given me with that memory. I looked back down at my shoes and realized that these runs will always be for her. I cried as I crossed the finish line, the weight of her loss hitting me again. There would be others in the future to add to the list of who I run for, but she will always be there. These runs are where I find them.