Yesterday, I did something that, until a year and a half ago, I never thought possible. I ran a half marathon. Yup. Thirteen point one miles. Me. I worked and trained hard to accomplish the goal and, while it wasn’t as fast as I originally, I finished.
Twice yesterday I was told I was an inspiration and, although I’m flattered, I struggle with that title. While not a lot of people do it, I’m not the first person to run that distance. And I am by far not the fastest. What about what I did yesterday was an inspiration? There are so many others around me who have done far more inspirational things.
Take, for instance, my sister, Carole. She is the only person I know who has successfully managed to establish a healthier lifestyle and lose a significant amount of weight in high school. Yeah…I said high school. I don’t know about the rest of you, but high school for me was a nightmare in many ways. The scale went up and up each year for a large number of reasons. Not Carole. She didn’t like the way things were for her, so she changed them.
One of the activities she took up was running. After watching her do that for a couple of years, I decided to give it a go. After a few stops and starts with the hobby, I really began to enjoy the time I had to myself when on the road or treadmill. In May of 2014, I was there when Carole crossed the finish line of her first half marathon. As she did so, I decided that she and I would run one together one day. A few months later, I learned that our church was going to be starting the first half marathon in the city of Dover, New Hampshire, on November 1st of the same year.
I knew I’d never be ready for a half marathon in such a short period of time, so I decided to wait until the 2015 half marathon. Around the same time, Carole learned she was expecting her first child, so she decided to wait until 2015 as well.
Over the next several months, I trained for the most difficult run of my life. I was running and working out regularly doing everything I could do to get my body and mind ready for this feat. At the same time, Carole was doing everything she needed to do to prepare for the arrival of her baby, a daughter, Fiona Michelle. Together Carole and I talked about running (and her plans to train after Fi arrived), parenting, and what to expect in childbirth. Fall moved to winter, winter to spring, and summer was right around the corner.
Then I got the worst phone call of my life.
At 9:57 AM on May 18, 2015, my cell phone went off. It was sitting on top of my desk, set to vibrate. I looked at the phone and the caller ID showed it was my brother-in-law, James (Carole’s husband), calling me. Immediately, my heart sank into my stomach. We are not a phone call family. We text, we Facebook message, we occasionally email. We don’t call. Unless it’s incredibly good.
Or incredibly awful.
Sure enough, James was making what I can only assume was one of the worst phone calls of his life. All I remember was hearing him say “They can’t find her heartbeat. We need you”. I found one of the other managers I work with, threw my keys and appointment book at her and (literally) ran out the door.
I arrived at the hospital to learn that sometime in the last 24 hours, Fiona had died at just shy of 38 weeks gestation. The next 36 hours were absolute hell for Carole and James as they prepared for, went through, and survived the delivery of their angel baby. In her blog, Carole describes Fi’s birth in the most amazing and beautiful way:
“She came out at 4:59 PM on May 19. She was 6lbs 12 oz and absolutely perfect. She had my hands and my feet, but she looked like James. She had his mouth and his eyes. She was perfect.”
The day before that fateful phone call, I had run one of the 5k races I had signed up for in preparation for my half marathon. Four and a half weeks later, I was set to run a 5k on Father’s Day. There was a HUGE part of me that wanted to skip it. I hadn’t run much since Fi had died. I mentally couldn’t handle the alone time. At some point, however, I decided that instead of not running because of Fi, I would continue to run for her.
That day, I ran my fastest 5k ever. In the pouring rain. (In some Native American tribes, I am told, it is believed that precipitation is a sign that your loved one’s spirit has crossed over to the other side. I took the rain that day as a sign.)
Every race, every training run, every jogging step I have taken in the last five months has been for her, for Carole and for James.
Carole has made the best out of an incredibly bad situation. She is out there telling her story. She open about her grief, her hopes, her fears, and her dreams. She is choosing love and surrounding herself with those who keep her strong when she needs strength and allow her to cry when she needs to be sad. She is not allowing herself to be defined by what she went through, but she isn’t denying it either.
Inspiration. It can be a loaded word. Maybe my completion of a half marathon will inspire someone else to achieve a dream of their own or so start their own path to a healthier lifestyle. Maybe that’s what being an inspiration is.
For me, however, I have always been amazed by the way Carole takes on the most challenging situations and finds some way to find whatever sliver of good there is to find. She refuses to be a victim of her circumstance. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is inspiring.