Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Bigger Picture

When I was 20 years old, I was winning or placing in every race I ran from five kilometers to half-marathon distances.  One New York Road Runner Official called me "the up and coming long distance runner in New York City."  Well, that was 35 years ago -- oh my, how that story has changed!

At age 20, I was very lean and my focus was on college and running.  I loved competing and got a pure adrenaline rush every time I passed a female runner who I just knew was in my age group.  I earned countless trophies and medals -- I was on top of the world.  I felt so empowered by these victories and, at the time, these awards meant a lot to me.  I was constantly setting PR's and loving every minute of my local fame -- I was the queen of running in Brooklyn's Marine Park.

Fast forward to age 41 -- it is the first Sunday in November, 2000.  I am running in the New York City Marathon as a member of Fred's Team.  Fred's Team is comprised of a group of runners dedicated to raising funds for research for Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.  On that Sunday morning, I was running for the Aubrey Fund for Pediatric Cancer Research.   I had no idea who Aubrey was, but figured that in time, I would find out.  Before I boarded the bus that transported the Fred's Team runners from Manhattan to the start in Staten Island, I gave my one year old baby girl a great big hug and kiss.  During the bus ride, I reflected on how lucky I was to have a healthy baby, especially since I was running to help find a cure for childhood cancers.

It was a really good race day for me -- I felt great!  At five miles, I was singing to the live music that was playing on almost every street corner.  All of a sudden, I saw a very slight woman in a Fred's Team uniform directly in front of me.  I came up by her side and told her what a great job she was doing and to keep it up.  She thanked me, but said that this was not going to be one of her better races.  I immediately offered more words of encouragement and support, telling her to hang in there.  I suggested that if she was really hurting, she should just think about the children that we were running for, and suddenly her pain would seem minimal.  She kindly smiled and said, "I know.  I am Aubrey."  At that moment, I felt a major chill go through my body -- every hair on my arms was "standing up."  Aubrey told me to please go ahead and that she would catch up with me later that night at the post-marathon Fred's Team dinner.  I wished her "good luck" and took off.  I knew that I would find out Aubrey's entire story that evening.

Aubrey and me - 2013 NYC Marathon - Before the Start

Read Aubrey's Story at:  http://mskcc.convio.net/site/PageServer?pagename=ft_stories_aubrey
It was just one of those days for me.  I was having a really good run and was counting the minutes until I would be at mile 16 -- this is where Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center is located. Fred's Team always has a huge cheering section at Sloan Kettering with bleachers, hot beverages, and many encouraging spectators.  I could not wait to see my baby girl and the rest of my family and friends who were eagerly awaiting my arrival at this checkpoint.  As I approached mile 16, I could see the Fred's Team orange and purple balloons forming a huge arch across First Avenue.  I felt myself speeding up, pumped with adrenaline.  My personal cheering section screamed out my name and told me that I was looking great.  I quickly ran over to the sidelines to give my baby girl a big kiss, and then refocused on the task at hand.

As I looked up First Avenue and started calculating the pace that I needed to keep to reach my time goal, I was beckoned by a Fred's Team volunteer to high-five the children.  I quickly looked over to the sidelines and saw approximately ten patients sitting in wheelchairs, covered in heavy blankets.  I greeted each child with a big smile, a high five, and a great big "thank you" for cheering us on!  After completing my 'ten high fives and thank yous,' I picked up my pace and felt the tears rolling down my cheeks.  I was about two blocks away from Sloan Kettering when it dawned on me that I had missed one little boy's hand when I was high-fiving all the children. Suddenly, my finishing time seemed insignificant.  I quickly did a 180 degree turn and sprinted back to that little boy, not caring about the onslaught of runners coming at me.  This time, when I saw the little boy, I realized that he was too weak or in too much of a fog to give me a "high five."  So, I placed his hand in mine, smiled, and whispered, "thank you so much."

As the tears continued to roll down my face, I retraced my steps up First Avenue.  Suddenly, all those trophies on my bookcase shelves seemed irrelevant, absolutely meaningless.  Who cared about a PR?  I was simply grateful to be able to run and that my own child was okay.  My heart was heavy but my spirit was strong.  Now, I was running for that little boy.... I was running for every child that has endured pain and suffering....

It has been said that we are not the same people that we were one minute prior. With every experience that we have, we change.  In November of 2000, on that NYC Marathon Sunday, I went through a major metamorphosis.  I got the bigger picture.  I was changed for good.