Happy Memorial Day- or if you’re a little old fashioned, “Decoration Day.” Normally every Memorial Day, we opt to run a 5k as a family to honor those who’ve faithfully served our country and even made the ultimate sacrifice protecting our freedoms.
Runtastic events hosts the Run of Remembrance, a local 5k or 10k race that raises money for the Mervyn Sharp Bennion Veterans Home, which provides services to our local veterans.
With my current knee issues, I knew running wasn’t an option this year so in an effort to honor my older brother, father, uncles and grandfathers who have graciously served our country, I decided to volunteer my time instead. With over 2,700 runners participating, there’s always a need for more helping hands.
This year I was assigned to aide station 1 (mile 2 for the 5k or mile 5 for the 10k). Normally when I run a race, I try to thank the volunteers who get up early to prep Gatorade and water to handout to all the runners who are essentially total strangers. Because my GI issues don’t allow me to take in anything during a race, I only ever stop an aide station for the bathroom, and I don’t even like to do that.
When the race began, I was honestly feeling a little sad (probably more like sorry for myself) to be missing out. I observed many running friends enjoying themselves doing something I genuinely love. As the race progressed, I REALLY started looking at my fellow runners.
I noticed everyone has an individual running style and gait; each of them trying to make it to the end, or the finish line in whatever way possible. I saw husbands helping wives, mothers and fathers that were pushing strollers stop and hand their child a drink even though they were doing the real work.
I saw friends, siblings and team members RWB (red, white and blue- a local Veterans support group) carrying our nations beautiful flag and AIIA (addict to athlete, a local support group for those dealing with addiction) encouraging each other along the course. I felt grateful to witness all of ths first hand.
At the end of the race we began to clean up the aide station when a follow volunteer mentioned he saw one more runner. Surprised, we were unsure if this person was the “sweeper” (the individual assigned to be the last one running the race in an effort to make sure no one is left behind) or an actual racer so we quickly gathered some water and decided to give this runner our very best effort.
We cheered as she approached, and I was surprised to see the runner was my friend Liz Ashby. I asked her how she was doing; Liz responded with, “not good, have I missed the cut off time?”
I told her I didn’t think so and mentioned she was almost done. She looked hot and tired which is normal toward the end of a 10k race. As Liz headed out on her way I started cleaning up again when I looked up and noticed Liz running all by herself among the silhouette of the American flags in the distance, and my heart was pricked.
Being a little slow to realize that Liz was actually finishing solo, I turned to the other volunteers and I said, ” I can’t let Liz run alone…” They generously agreed to continue cleaning up and I hopped into my car and raced along the course after her. Seeing Liz reminded me of the many times in my life when I have felt truly alone and longed for kindness, love, acceptance and an encouraging hand.
I parked on a side street and started back to meet Liz. When we met, I asked if I could finish the race with her. She said yes, and mentioned this was her 4th 10k ever. I told Liz I was proud of her. She has only been running a year, has lost over 100 pounds and is working hard to meet additional goals.
Running with Liz, I realized how much I had forgotten. 10 years ago I was 50 pounds heavier and every mile I ran was a mental workout. I had forgotten what it meant to truly run with heart; no time goal, pace, cadence or heart rate zone. Just simply running to better my life.
Today’s race featured many different runners. There were the cross-country high school kids that dominated the 5k and the former collegiate distance athletes in the 10k who didn’t want any Gatorade or water because they knew their race was almost over.
Of all the athletes I saw, Liz was the true champion. In her I saw the power of the human spirit; refusing to quit even though it was hard. Today Liz demonstrated courage, fortitude, resilience and perseverance. It was an honor to run with her.
Running is a lot like life. There’s different courses and distances and every event is unique. In life, no one should ever have to finish alone. As I ran with Liz, I was humbled and grateful for the powerful reminder. Today’s .80 of a mile was the best experience I’ve had running in a very long time. Thanks Liz for letting me share a portion of your amazing journey with you. Love you my friend!