Near the end of the race, my chest heaves with strained breaths and my legs feel like they are about to buckle. My mind works overtime to keep my body moving toward the goal. “You can do it, Yocheved… Almost there.”
I can’t believe I can see the end.
Feeling exhilarated and proud – yet so, so tired – I cross the finish line. I lift up my arms in victory. I am crying, laughing. I fall to my knees.
For the past three months, I’ve trained through cold winds, sore feet and dark mornings to build my strength to finish a 13.1 mile race – my first half-marathon.
Oh my G-d, I made it.
Sounds dramatic. And it was.
What would you do to experience a slice of time when everyone around you is so optimistic and supportive of you? When people cheer you on and believe you can accomplish things you never imagine you could – without expecting anything in return? Wouldn’t that be so sweet?
This past Sunday at the Miami Marathon, running 13.1 miles for Friendship Circle of Brooklyn, I got a taste of just that. And it was more than sweet.
I didn’t have that many expectations when I signed up in November to run for the cause. I had this fantasy that my husband and I would do this together – train together, buy new sneakers together, fundraise together, and experience the thrill of this new challenge together. But that didn’t happen (my husband is far more responsible and pragmatic than me). I was going to do this alone.
Initially, it was about doing something novel. A feel-good experience (I’m a junkie for those). An opportunity to get in shape. Maybe learn a life lesson or two.
As I began to train, an awareness moved toward me: there’s a lesson here for me about commitment, endurance, and accepting that I cannot always be the fastest or the best.
A lesson that hasn’t always been easy for me to learn.
Then I traveled to Miami for the marathon and met 204 other people running for the same cause. For special needs awareness. For friendship.
I heard from a mother who lost her son to cerebral palsy exactly one year ago to the date of the marathon, and her husband five months later. On Sunday, she would run for Joshua and Ira.
I heard from a young high school student and his best-friend, a fellow high-schooler with special needs, who met through the volunteer opportunities of Friendship Circle. I saw a bond not marred by differing intellectual capabilities or labels. I witnessed the love of friends.
I heard from “JB,” a middle-aged man who hobbled to the stage at a slow pace, using two canes for support. He shared his story: at age six, after exclaiming to his father that the law that did not allow him to attend the same school as his typical sister was “stupid,” his father drove him straight to the Prime Minister’s office. Through sheer luck and determination, JB was able to enter the Prime Minister’s office and presented his case to him. Five years later, with little JB’s involvement, that law in Canada was abolished.
And now, JB would proudly walk the half marathon with the help of his rock-solid will and two canes. (I met JB at mile 9 and walked with him a bit. Warrior.)
These were only some of the stories that would fuel my barely-trained body toward the finish line.
The morning of the race arrived. 5 am and 25,000 people were gathered together in one outdoor space, electrified by a unified purpose. I will never forget this feeling.
They called our corral to the start line. The race began – and I moved faster than ever. Although the course in Miami is flat, I encountered so many mountains and valleys. And for three hours and nineteen minutes, I experienced the trajectory of my life – my struggles, my journeys, my successes – in so many ways.
See – we’re all in one big marathon. From the moment our souls begin this journey, we’re moving toward something. But this race is not about getting somewhere fastest or in first place.
Some of us get a fast start. Things are good when we’re young. The world lies in front of us and we feel invincible. But then things slow down. We are hurt. We suffer. We trip and lose our way.
Some of us start this race off slowly. We’re already pained and struggling. No one believes we’ll make it through – our traumas, challenges, disabilities – and expect us to fail. But somehow, we gain speed. We stay the course. We rise to the test and make it to the finish line- even if we need someone to hold our hand through it all.
Some of us forget about the course – and the goal.
There will always be people ahead of us, faster than us, younger than us, smarter than us, skinnier than us, better equipped than us. Better fit for a race where being first counts.
There will always be those who lag behind us, watching us, thinking how much better we are than them.
There will be moments where it’s about speed – and others, endurance.
There will be times where we look ahead toward the invisible goal, watching as others wiz by us, wondering when will this finally end? What will I find at the finish line? And will this all be worth it?
And there will be times where we look back and marvel at how far we’ve come.
There will be times where we slow ourselves down to pay attention to another. To hold their hand. Give them something to drink. Offer them an encouraging word and a high five.
Or to carry them to the finish line.
And there will be times where we are the ones to wail in pain, praying someone will hear.
But no matter what, we’re always moving.
No matter what, we need to participate.
The race doesn’t end. The finish line is always there, waiting for us.