(Sara and Melissa, photo by Jennifer Moseley, Jennifer Moseley Photography)
I’m in a daze. On February 28th I ran in my first 5K race. Not only did I beat my best time by 6 minutes, I medaled. Finishing third in my age group in the “Guns ‘n Hoses” 5K benefiting cops and firemen (clever huh?) down in Woodstock, GA.
I medaled. In my first race. It’s real, there’s a picture of it on my Facebook page and everything. I look at the photo and think, “Is that me?!” Medaling, running, this is unbelievable to me, a woman who has resisted any form of exercise her entire life. Who spent gym class sitting in the bleachers with the other rejects, refusing to dress out for gym because once a cheerleader had made fun of the fact she didn’t need a bra. And that was in 6th grade. That was it – no more gym for that girl. Ever. I was one of those who used to stand there when we played volleyball, arms crossed over my chest, morose and sullen. I’d just let the ball fly by me and hit the ground – my team groaning, the other team cheering wildly. We always played volleyball when it rained, and in 10th grade it rained a LOT.
I hated sports. The closest thing I came to athletics was twirling a flag in color guard. Convinced myself that it counted, but knew secretly it didn’t. My mother was a marathon runner and used to always encourage me to join her on the track or on the road during her weekend 10-milers. “It’ll lift your spirits,” she’d declare. I’d just sulk and slam my bedroom door, going back to my horror novels.
Here I was medaling of all things! And it’s absolutely true what runners say – you really DO get an extra jolt of energy from somewhere when you see those little red digits flashing. I turned a corner, plodding along like I carried lead weights in my shoes. Saw “39:30” and thought, “Holy Shit! I could finish under 40 minutes!” Even though my heart was jouncing around like it was on one of those bull riding machines, somehow I found the strength to pump my legs. I actually SPRINTED toward the finish line. Lifted my arms in victory, pumped the sky with my fist, yelling, “Yeaaaaah!” One guy clapped half-heartedly at my exuberance. What’s the matter with you people, you should be APPLAUDING like CRAZY! I’m a sports reject! A couch potato! But everyone just looked at me like, “Yeah, so? You ran a 5K. Big deal.”
Looked around some more, sure there must be a celebration. But it was only in my head. Had they taken my picture? I’ll pay a million dollars for that photo because who knows when we’ll see the likes of that again. But this was a community race, no cameras. Hell, the main thoroughfare was also the finish line, so I actually had to break through a crowd of tired runners leaving the park to finish the race. Excuse me please, pardon me, excuse me. Overall a pretty small affair. But damn I felt good. Proud of myself – which doesn’t happen often. 39:42 felt pretty good to this old fart. And I had sweet Sara to thank.
The day had started out horribly – cold, with a pouring, drenching, 40-degree rain that threatened to cancel the entire event. But I knew I’d run no matter what. I’d run in a frikkin’ BLIZZARD. Because I wasn’t just running for myself. I was running for Sara. Sara was the one who finally got my ass moving when no one else could. I knew my friends would be there too. They would run because we were *all* running for Sara - my friend Melissa’s 5-year-old daughter with CHARGE Syndrome.
CHARGE is a debilitating birth defect affecting a child’s heart, lungs, hearing, sight, and development. Sweet Sara has lived with CHARGE and eosinophilic esophagitis all her life. Melissa treks up to Cincinnati with Sara three, four, sometimes five times a year for observation and surgical operations. So many of these complicated procedures and the equipment needed to live with CHARGE aren’t covered by insurance, so Melissa decided she needed to take action. To raise awareness about CHARGE, and to help other children in the same situation as Sara, children with birth defects who face lifelong challenges needing necessary medical equipment uncovered by insurance. People who face financial challenges every day in addition to the ones they surmount because of CHARGE, cystic fibrosis, and other debilitating conditions.
To accomplish her goal, Melissa formed Sweet Sara’s Chargers, a group of family and friends determined to raise awareness to the plight of families hit hard by uncovered insurance needs. Melissa wants her Chargers to help people understand CHARGE, while at the same time honoring their own fitness goals. By running in races and gathering pledge donations, we’ll all be getting strong for Sara while at the same time letting the world know how very real her situation is. And how strong she is.
Never does this little girl let her situation get her down. On a recent visit, we played with Bratz dolls and she taught me sign language while dancing around to her "Signing Time" DVD. She made me laugh hysterically when she roughhoused and tormented her brothers and Ashley, the family beagle. She’s an absolute mischievous little angel who deserves some help. All the help we can give her. Every time I see Sara and hear her laugh I want to run, farther and faster than I ever have before. I want to run as well as Sara dances when she watches Alex and Leah signing the words for "friend" and "game" on her DVD.
Unfortunately, on race day a lot of people who committed to walking and running didn’t show – the rain kept them away. The rest of us, about 30 in all, wouldn’t let a little rain keep us from honoring ourselves and honoring Sara. We did show. We braved the rain. What’s a little water to a little girl who’s allergic to every food on Earth? Who has to be fed powder through a feeding tube, and who sucks on cookies for the taste because she can’t digest them?
Every morning, months before the race, I woke up at 6am to train. I thought about my mother doing the same thing at my age, trudging down a country road to improve her time and distance. But more than that, I thought about Sara. She endures SO much, every single day, and still acts like each day is a gift and a blessing. She laughs and smiles, and NEVER acts like any of this is a problem. So if it’s 20 degrees out and dark as pitch while I’m running, I think I can handle it. If Sara can carry all that heaven has told her she can, then I can certainly handle a little cold. Or a little rain.
All of us there on race day felt the same. We wore rain ponchos, carried umbrellas, and walked or ran the best way we could, the best way we knew how. My friend Kim had never walked that far in her entire life. Her sister Kelly walked with her, and for the last half mile, many friends dropped in and did the same for encouragement. It took her over an hour, the cop car was following them because they were last, but they didn’t let that bother them. “Slow and steady,” as they say. Those cops probably thought they were strolling along, taking their time. They didn’t realize that for Kim, this was momentous. A giant mountain. But she could do it. If Sara could endure, she would too. It was a sight to see, one I’ll never forget. She was walking for herself, and walking for Sara.
At first when the girls began walking with Kim, I didn't know what they were doing - I was too wrapped up in my own little victory. By the time I realized, when I *COULD* have joined them, it was too late. My feet actually did start to follow them, but my soul said no. This was their moment. I was their friend, but I hadn't made their journey. I stayed behind instead. Why didn't I walk with them? I guess deep down in my gut I still felt like it was my race. My first race. Even though it was Sara's day, it was my race. I was running for myself first, and then for Sara. But it wasn't a selfish act to think this way. It's self-FULL. After all, you have to fill up your own spirit before you can feed anyone else's.
I feel grateful to know Melissa, and to know her daughter Sara. I started running to improve my health, but because of them, I’m running well. I’m TRAINING?!? Unimaginable to me. But I am. My next race is in June. And I plan to put 39:42 far behind me. For me, but more importantly, for Sara.
One last thought - when I finished "my" race and was wandering around wondering where the celebration was, realizing it was all in my head, I ran into my friend Susan. She gave me a big hug and said, "Your mother must be so proud of you right now." And my heart was full. I began to cry. Happy tears though because the moment she said that, I had an image of my Momma in heaven, jumping up and down clapping wildly. Here was the daughter who never exercised, finishing her first race. Where I had been looking for the party all around me, I should've been looking to the heavens. Cause that's where Momma was cheering.
Contact me if you'd like to pledge, either for CHARGE or for Sweet Sara's Chargers. I'm taking $5 pledge donations (somehow, haven't worked out the specifics yet). But basically, you pledge $5, and you only pay if I beat my time of 39:42. As the race is in HILLY Charlottesville, odds are no one will be paying anything! :0)
Read more about Sara here:
To donate to Sara’s Chargers, click here:
To donate to the CHARGE Foundation, click here:
Thursday, March 12, 2009
(Sara and Melissa, photo by Jennifer Moseley, Jennifer Moseley Photography)