More than I could be

Over the past few months, I have been asked what prompted me to sign up for this challenge; specifically, why I was dedicating countless hours of my time to training and fundraising with this specific organization. For me, the answer has many layers. To keep it short and sweet, I often answer that running a marathon had been a life goal of mine, and the stars seemed to align this year so as to make it possible. Additionally, when I moved to New York and first witnessed the NYC Marathon taking place past the front door of my apartment, I found myself inspired by the event, and further specified that my goal would to complete THIS marathon, above any others. As I am getting married exactly one year from the day of the marathon, there are always the “gotta fit into my wedding dress!” tongue-in-cheek remarks to be made. Not least, the personal fitness goals that one sets – voluntarily or involuntarily – when undertaking the challenge of marathon training creates a great incentive.

However, an event took place in my life that, upon reflection, refined and clarified my priorities. My mom’s brother – my uncle – passed away unexpectedly in December 2010 from complications of diabetes. His passing was difficult for me to process. My uncle had lived with an incredible zest for life. When we gathered with his friends to memorialize him, stories were exchanged about how, despite his physical illness, he and his brother went downhill skiing for his birthday weeks before, and on the day he passed away, he had participated in a game of ultimate Frisbee with friends. His exuberance for the challenges each day brought were tangible in the room through the memories shared of his adventures. In the days, weeks, and months following his passing, I struggled with my grief, my family’s grief, and the precious, delicate gift that is life. I had just come off an extraordinarily difficult semester in law school, and felt mentally and emotionally drained. My plan to run in the 2011 NYC marathon had been shelved because I just didn’t think I could do it. I hadn’t been training, I didn’t have the mental energy for it, and I didn’t even know if I would have the time. But as time forged ahead into 2011, I came to the understanding that the very root of a challenge such as this pays homage to the gift of life. And so I undertook that challenge.

Marathon training has changed my perspective – each workout every day must be approached deliberately in order to stay healthy, injury-free, and on track to finish. No part of this race is a given, but every sweaty, breathless, uphill mile, every side cramp, every morning when I wake up to stiff muscles and aching legs gives me a chance to remember that I have the opportunity to push myself to do something memorable. Saturday June 11th marked the first official training session for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s 2011 NYC Marathon team. Although sometimes I have a hard time believing it, I am a part of that team. As we gathered together prior to our workout, one of the coaches stood up and told our group her story. She was a Leukemia survivor, and although “not really a runner,” (her words), participated in as many Team in Training events as she could, because it was this group that had gotten her through her fight with cancer. She had stood before her teammates then as she did that morning, reaching out for the strength of this group to carry her through lonely and difficult miles that she would otherwise face alone. As we clapped and cheered, we heard music in the background, voices resonating off the concrete of Bethesda Terrace and unifying in harmony. A small group of high-school age kids had gathered together for choir practice that Saturday morning in the middle of Central Park, and as we grew quiet, their song continued:

You raise me up, so I can stand on mountains,
You raise me up, to walk on stormy seas,
I am strong, when I am on your shoulders,
You raise me up, to more than I can be.

As we listened to their voices, you could see a shift on peoples’ faces from nervousness to determination. Our group was silent; each person reflected on their own personal mission that had brought him or her there. As the choir shifted keys and their voices soared around us into a crescendo, any doubts or fears I had had up to that moment dissipated. The choir’s final notes hung in the air like glass ornaments - shimmering and delicate – as our group stood quiet and focused. It was a transformative moment. I had become part of a team: a team whose mission brought strength and inspiration to innumerable lives, a team whose members live out those lyrics sung so beautifully that morning, a team that asks all of its members to reach out and carry anyone whose burdens are heavier than our own regardless of personal obstacles faced.

I run in honor of my uncle, who lived a full and active life despite his struggle with a debilitating disease, and for my family, to help live out his legacy. I run alongside men and women who have faced battles with cancer, and people who honor a family member or friend’s perseverance in the face of tremendous odds. My original goal was to complete the NYC Marathon. But now, I hope to push myself so that I can offer a hand to those struggling and be strong enough to raise us both us to stand on mountains. I run to raise up my team, and myself, to more than any of us alone could be.

[reposted from my TNT blog 6/15/2011]

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