Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Top Ten...and Never Again! (APIWATWOL #7)

#7 in my "A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words or Less" series. (For a description of how the APIWATWOL series works, see installment #1)

I came in 1st PLACE! (among the last 906 runners who completed the marathon)

Not exactly what you'd call a glam shot, but this is truly one of my Top 10 All-time Favorite Photos depicting one of my Top 10 All-time Favorite Moments in Life: the finish line of the 2001 NYC Marathon. Sixteen months after nearly buying the farm in childbirth.

Given the state of my joints today, I must also admit that running that race was one of my Top 10 All-Time Stupidest Things I've Done. (We don't need to get into the other nine.) It was, in hindsight, way too soon after my near-miss to be putting my body through something so taxing. But alas, what's done is done. And I wouldn't trade it for all the cartilage in the world.

So for today's APIWATWOL, I give you the Top Ten Reasons the Moment Captured by This Photo Is One of My Top Ten All-time Favorites:

(1) We made it. Not just to the end of the race, but to the end of the most horrific, unexpected, soul-crushing, blood-hogging, heart-opening, amazing journey we'd ever undertaken. Getting discharged from the ICU was an important chapter of that story, sure. But this race was the epilogue. A deeply satisfying epilogue.

(2) Jeff is with me. No, you don't understand. Jeff hates distance running. And by hates I mean loathes. So after I made him run a marathon with me back in 1997, I promised I'd never make him do another one. When I began training for this race on the one-year anniversary of my little dance with death, I assumed I'd be running solo. But one day, Jeff laced up his sneakers and kept pace with me as I made my way down our street. "You don't have to do this," I said to him. "Yes I do," he replied. And he did. What a guy. 

(3) I had enlisted friends, colleagues, people who sat next to me on the bus--anyone!--to help me raise money and blood for nonprofit blood centers with this race. Each day throughout my training, as I collected those little return envelopes from my letter campaign from the mailbox, I felt like I held in my hands little packets of encouragement. Each check felt like a friend saying, "I love and support you." Each commitment to donate blood (some for the first time ever) felt like a friend saying, "In honor of you, I will love and support a stranger in need." I wish everyone could experience this feeling, that of being completely supported in a worthy goal that is bigger than their individual lives. It's amazing. (And through mostly small donations of $10-$100, together we raised nearly $40,000 and over 500 pints of blood to help others who, like me, had their lives turned upside down with the need for blood transfusions.)

(4) I had actually planned to raise money for some sort of nursing-related effort because the nurses, and their incredible care of both me and my family members, is what I remember most from my six weeks in the hospital. So I'd phoned one of my nurses and told her my plan. Her response? "That's very sweet to think of us nurses, but if you really want to say 'thank you,' you ought to raise money for blood centers. You do realize you single-handedly created a blood shortage in San Francisco during your illness, right?" Ok, point taken. Blood it was. (But I still adore nurses. Wouldn't you?)

(5) I knew within the first three miles of the race that my body wasn't ready for this level of exertion. Jeff knew it somewhere around the fifteen-mile marker, when I had to lay down on the sidewalk--ironically, right beside a hospital. But to his credit, instead of saying "we should quit" he said "should we quit?"--allowing the final decision to rest solely at my feet. My throbbing, soles-on-fire feet. And I suspect he already knew my answer when he asked. There would be no quitting during this, my comeback race.

(6) There were fire trucks and firefighters every mile along the race course. Remember, this was a mere seven weeks after 9/11 and the stench of the attack was still in the air in lower Manhattan. The firefighters were there to clap and cheer for the runners, but, as if on cue, the runners would all clap and cheer for the firefighters. It was a Mutual Admiration Society of the best kind. A true display of humanity in action. 

(7) While Jeff and I had our reasons for participating in the race, it was obvious that thousands of other runners also had their own reasons motivating them along the race course that day. And damn--that was a sight to behold. People with the names of loved ones fighting cancer on their shirts. Others with the names of friends lost in 9/11 on theirs. One man, starting dead last, was running for charity and a large bank had agreed to donate $5 for every runner he passed throughout the race. So we're rambling along when I keep hearing, "On your left! Running for charity! On your left! Running for charity!" And, whoosh!--Mr. Charity Runner flies past. In the end, Larry Parker of Ladder 129 in Queens, raised over $118,000 for the Uniformed Firefighters Association Widows' and Children's Fund. Wow. Makes me tear up just thinking about it again.

(8) And speaking of tears, boy did I cry a LOT throughout that race. The starting gun goes off. I cry from the sheer magnitude of the moment. We exit the two-mile bridge that launches this race and thousands of people line the streets, hands outstretched for a high-five in passing. I imagine they are all my nurses and docs cheering me as I run out of the hospital. You got it--crying! I see that first fire truck, a dozen or so firefighters cheering from atop it. Bawling like a baby. A 6+ hour race gives a person plenty of time to think, which, in my case, meant plenty of time to cry. All good tears though. Tears of joy and exuberance and gratitude and humility. 

(9) We came in first place! (among the final 906 runners to complete the race) Ok, fine, so technically that doesn't qualify as "first place." Tomato, tomahto. My overall finishing place in the race was 22,758 and I AM SO FREAKING PROUD OF THAT!  22,757 people finished this race ahead of me, but I'm certain the level of pride I felt the moment I crossed that finish line was on a par with the pride felt by the overall winner of the race when he finished.  Four hours earlier. Ouch. 

(10) This photo was taken by one of the few remaining race volunteers. (See that pitch-black sky? Exactly.) As soon as we crossed the finish line, Jeff and I hugged one another like it was our last day on earth and I lost it. "We made it," I said. We. Made. It. I noticed a woman approaching us, probably to scoot us along, as was typical in marathons to prevent finish line traffic jams. Instead, she kindly, and with great reverence for the moment Jeff and I were sharing, asked if I'd like to have a photo taken with the disposable camera attached to my CamelBack. Yes. Yes I would. And this is that photo. 

No comments:

Post a Comment