A smile on someones face doesn't mean they aren't suffering it means that they suffer in grace. Yesterday I spent hours witnessing perseverance and hard work in many shapes and sizes. I worked an aid station all day at the Silver Rush 50 mile foot race in Leadville Colorado. Everyone out there has their struggles. Whether it be a struggle to just get to the starting line or a struggle to get to the finish. It is how they handle the struggle that defines them, not the actual event. We all have to face our demons at one time or another, but people who choose to run ultra marathons seem to like to go to battle with those monsters regularly. I wish I could say that the greatest lessons I have learned about digging deep and suffering come from these races but they do not. The most heroic race I have ever witnessed was merely 2 km in length. There I saw true courage and perseverance and inner strength with character. I met my true running hero.
Let me explain. I spent the year working with special needs teenagers. One of these boys I took to his cross country zones races in the fall. He has a severe seizure disorder, but that doesn't stop him from having enthusiasm for fun. We lined up for the race and he was so excited that the grin on his face outshone the sun. The gun went off and instantly we were left in the dust. The other competitors had gone up the first hill and we were still crossing the stadium. That is when he turned to me and said 'Kiki, I am so fast'. At that moment I realized that if we all stopped comparing ourselves to others we might realize how amazing we are.
We proceeded to run the race course. During this time he had several small seizures. Now, one of these would have made any other person stop and quit. That is when I learned about taking what life and the race hand you and continuing to move forward. I had tears in my eyes as I watched him stumble forward throughout the seizure. As soon as it was over he didn't miss a step and he put the throttle down and was running his full speed again. Makes a little blister or a tiny cramp seem kind of minor in comparison doesn't it?
These mini seizures were happening quite regularly but he soldiered onwards. When we saw the finish line in sight he found another gear. He was so excited to cross the line and 'win'. We had a downhill to go and he took off down it with me right next to him. Suddenly, I saw his body jerk and I reached an arm out in time to break the fall. This was a full on major seizure. He was on the ground for minutes. There was blood on his nose and his bladder relaxed causing his pants to be soaked. I was quite worried that when he 'came to' he'd be very upset. He doesn't like to be hurt. However, when it was over his first words were 'I need to finish my race'. He stood up and we walked for a bit, the first steps he had walked so far. When we got to the bottom of the hill he started running and he told me he wanted to cross the line himself. I got ahead and was able to be on the other side of the finish line from him. I have had tears in my eyes many a time at my own finish line but I have never been prouder than when I was standing there with a wet face watching him finish. The pride he had in his face was well earned and the perseverance he demonstrated was amazing. Overall it was a fairly good day seizure wise for him. His best days are our worst nightmares. When that medal was hung around his neck I've never seen a more deserved medal!
Yesterday, I saw lots of perseverance and suffering out on the course. The leaders make it look easy but even for them there is suffering. The people who weren't making the cut offs all have a story and the fact that they were out there digging deep showed courage in every form. I saw people who thought their race was over at 30 miles regroup, do damage control and make it to the finish line. I know this year isn't the year I planned for myself for running, but I am still running and no matter how many times I stumble I will keep running. My little hero taught me that it's not how many times you fall down that matters, its how many times you get back up and keep going.