Walking a Marathon. A painful, enlightening experience. If you can endure a marathon, you can endure anything.

In the early 90’s three friends and I signed up to walk the Chicago Marathon. The only walkers permitted were required to fundraise for juvenile leukemia research.  I have referenced bits of this experience in my blog post of April, 04. Click here if interested.

Preparing for the marathon meant grueling months of walking mile after painful mile.  Three of us, Gray, Mo and I, would rise before the sun to begin trudging through our neighborhood.  The fourth walker, Carol, usually trained alone.  I asked her how she kept boredom at bay.   She said she recited the prayers repeated when praying the rosary.  I’m not Catholic, so I just looked up what is repeated doing rosary beads.  It seems there are enough entreaties to fill several marathon walks.

When we were training for the Marathon, I was suffering from anemia caused by undiagnosed celiac sprue.  Chronically exhausted, I wasn’t fit to walk a marathon.  Gray, one of the most forthright women I’ve ever known, stated firmly, “Alice if you aren’t able to keep up, do not to expect the rest of us to slow down and assist you.”

The night prior to the Marathon we stayed in the city.  We rose before dawn to begin walking. We marched the first few miles in the dark. Finally, the sun rose over Lake Michigan, gloriously painting the sky crimson, pink and orange.

Shortly thereafter a herd of gazelle-like runners thundered past us.  They had long, lean, muscled legs, minuscule butts, and rippling abs.  I turned to Gray and asked, “If we run, instead of walking, will we look like them?”  She laughed and replied, “Those are the elite runners.  Those athletes run in marathons all over the world.”

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Next passed a group of good runners.  They weren’t as sleek as gazelles, but they were strong, toned, comfortable with their pace.

We were overtaken by many levels of racers that day.  The good were followed by the mediocre.  Eventually, we were confronted with hopefuls vomiting into the gutters.  Taking on a marathon isn’t for sissies.

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The most inspiring runners weren’t runners at all.  They were the wheelchair division.  Men and women with withered legs, propelling themselves ever forward by the strength of their good arms.

We saw them on slight inclines.  The temptation was to help.  But helping would be to diminish them.  They needed to succeed on their own terms, with their own hearts, pushing through the misery, accomplishing it alone.

I so clearly remember one particular wheelchair “runner.”  He had two useless legs, one dwindled arm.  Yet he soldiered on.  He was the picture of courage, determined to push himself over the finish line.

I too needed to cross that finish line without assistance.  Nearing the last mile I remembered Gray’s words,  “Alice if you are unable to keep up, do not to expect the rest of us to slow down for you.” And suddenly I grew astonishing resolve.  I gathered my soul together and willed myself to cross the finish line inches before Gray.

I, like all Marathon finishers crossing the finish line, was wrapped in a sheet of mylar.  A medal was hung around my neck.

In agony, I hobbled to the curb.  There, on the same Chicago corner, draped with mylar, was the man with no legs and only one arm.   He had reached the finish line before I did.  I can picture his slumped shoulders, heaving with sobs.  He accomplished the impossible. With merely one withered arm and a heart full of belief, he crossed the Chicago Marathon finish line.

That withered man didn’t, on the surface, have the skill set to prevail. Yet he did. He did because he believed he could.  Anything can be accomplished if we have faith.

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