Monday, November 11, 2013

26.2 Miles Worth of Thankful

As many of you know, I ran my first full marathon last month.

What you may or may not know, is, that I have absolutely no desire to ever do one of those again.  Ever.

There are some people who are just born for these types of races.  They thrive on them.  One crazy guy I talked to had run TWO full marathons the week before, and the one I participated in was his THIRD in a single week!  Another lady was supposedly jumping in her car just after crossing the finish line in order to drive to Tennessee to run another marathon the very next day!

I think it goes without saying that I am not one of those people.

I've been running competitively (I use the term competitively pretty loosely here) since 2010.  Not once in my training for this marathon did I ever come close to experiencing the kind of pain I felt out on the road during the actual race.  Not once during any of my shorter races (races that include 10ks, 10 milers, and a half-marathon) did I ever go through any kind of physical hardship even remotely close to what I felt around mile 22 of that full marathon.  You moms out there will understand how excruciating it was if you believe me when I tell you that it's similar to labor pains, just how much your body begins to hate you and beg you to stop.  With a marathon, though, the reward at the end is not a beautiful baby to take home.

It's just, hallelujah, that's FINALLY over.  Now somebody carry me away from the finish line.

I'm not exaggerating, even though I know I have a tendency to do just that in pursuit of a better story.  I promise that it hurt every bit as much as I'm claiming it did.

BUT, if you asked me to run that same race again tomorrow, I would.

Sure, there's a sense of accomplishment involved.  Not many people can say that they've run a full marathon.

But the real reason I'd lace up my sneakers and do it all over (and you know this is a real reason, because I haven't run so much as a mile, nor even desired to do so since the day of that race almost a month ago) is for the people who benefited from that marathon.

I had picked the Dover Delaware Monster Mash Marathon and Half-Marathon for a few reasons.  One, it was local.  I didn't want to travel.  Two, it was (supposedly) a flat course.  I don't do hills, being a Delawarean.  (I need a word with the race director regarding the "flatness" of the course.  Jogging UP the bypass entrance on mile 25.8, does not, to me, qualify as zero elevation!).  Three, I saw that it benefited The Wounded Warrior Project.

My dad was a marine, and my Poppop also served.  My mom's brother gave his life for his country back in Vietnam, so I never got to meet my only uncle on my mother's side of the family.  There are patriotic ties in my family, obviously, but for much of my life, I'd never thought too much about my uncle's sacrifice.

But then, for a college project, my Mommom sent me the letters he'd written to her from Vietnam. 

He was 19 when he was killed overseas.  I remember sitting in my bedroom, crying over the words he had penned, hopeful words written to a mother and father and sister who he planned to see again.  At 19, he was fighting for his life on a daily basis, voluntarily, as he had signed up to go and fight for our country, our freedoms.

He never got to come home.

Here I was, thirty years later, already older than he had been when he'd given his life for me and the freedoms I enjoyed, things he would never get to do--At 21, I was pursuing a college education.  Having my first legal drink in a bar.  Treasuring moments in a relationship that would lead me to the joy of motherhood.  My uncle would never take any classes for the thrill of learning, never have a drink bought for him in a bar as a thank you for his service to our country.  He would never marry his teenage sweetheart, never get to become a dad.

Countless other veterans come home to vastly different lives than the ones they left behind.  Wounded overseas, they face radical adjustments as they return to civilian life.  Physically or emotionally scarred, they DO get to come home.  The problem is, they come back changed.  They can't unsee what they've seen.  They can't undo what they've done.  Many have suffered devastating, life-changing injuries.  Not many can slide effortlessly back into the lives they left before they promised to give their life, if it came down to it, for the person fighting next to them.

When I turned 31 and signed up for the full marathon, I was checking an item off my personal bucket list.  But it became so much more than that.  What started as doing something for me turned into something so much bigger when I decided to try to fundraise.  I figured it couldn't possibly hurt anything to try, so even though I hate asking people for money and I've never been good at selling anything, I started updating my Facebook status with information about my training, the race, and the Wounded Warrior Project, which exists to help wounded veterans transition back into civilian life.  I set a $500 fundraising goal, figuring that the $1,000 default goal seemed a little high for someone who had never fundraised before.

I was blown away by the number of people who wanted to help.  Co-workers and former co-workers.  Childhood friends and Facebook acquaintances I hadn't spoken with in years.  My church family.  My biological family.  A former student.  Fellow runners.  Current close friends.  Neighbors.  Family members of my friends.  My pastor.  It was incredible who was willing to come together to support this worthy cause.

To date, and on the day of my big race, we raised $720 to hand to The Wounded Warrior Project.  That's 144% of my original goal.  It continues to amaze me, as a person of faith, how much God is willing to bless a dream beyond what we believe is possible.  I know that some people who complete marathons are non-believers.  But what I don't know is how on earth they are able to get through all those miles on their own.  For me, it was a total God thing.  (Side note--any Christian who feels your prayer life isn't going anywhere... train for a marathon.  Listen to only Christian music, or run without your headphones.  I guarantee you you'll start talking to God somewhere along the way!)  I only made it through those last few miles through the strength of Jesus Christ.  He gave me the courage and ability to continue when every muscle in my body was screaming at me to stop.  I finished--barely--in 4 hours, 40 minutes, 44.6 seconds-- 96th out of 151 overall, and 9th out of 17 in my age group.  To be in the middle of my age group was truly an accomplishment, for this to have been my first (and probably only) full marathon.  I know now the reality of Philippians 4:13-- "I can do ALL things through Him who strengthens me," and I am so, so thankful for the prayers, thoughts, encouraging words and messages, and of course, donations of all my supporters, whose selfless giving and confidence in me inspired me to keep moving one foot in front of the other.

At the end of that race, I could see my little girl dancing around at the finish line, waving this bright orange neon sign that my students and co-workers had made for me.  When my eyes fell on it, adrenaline took over.  I was coming home.  Unexplainably, my legs were rejuvenated and I SPRINTED to that finish line, even though for miles before it, I was barely jogging.  It was over.  I was coming back to my man and my baby.

What I did is nothing compared to what they've done.  But the end of that race gave me a glimpse of what it might feel like to finally see your family again after a huge trial, something that feels bigger than you.  If you haven't joined me in helping the Wounded Warrior Project ensure that military homecomings are joyful, it isn't too late.  After all they've done for us, when these brave men and women come home, let's join together to show them they've not been forgotten.  There is still one week left to fundraise.  My race is already over, but for so many veterans, the hard work continues, even after they've come home.  In honor of Veterans Day, if you haven't given yet, would you please consider doing so?

Click here to donate to help change the life of someone who was willing to give it all up, so that you and I could have the freedom to live, give, and maybe even run a marathon.  Donations as small as five dollars are accepted and appreciated.

Thank you to all of you who have already given.  Words cannot adequately demonstrate how much your support has meant to me.  Just know that I am humbled and thankful for your giving hearts, and truly believe The Wounded Warrior Project is doing amazing things in the lives of so many who deserve it so much, in part because of your giving.

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