Monday, November 11, 2013

A Moment of Reflection..Veteran's Day

As the midnight hour creeps in and the house is eerily quiet, my creative side gets flowing. My life is full and blessed and everyday I think of blog posts that I want to share with you and then the day escapes me. Today I did not want that happen. Today was too important.
I started writing a FB post that soon became too wordy and I knew I needed to log into my blogger account and let the words flow. So this is how it started:

"Thankful for those who have served & currently serving our country & all of the sacrifices made to preserve our country's freedom.  My last two races, the Army Ten Miler & the Marine Corps Marathon were very emotional for me. As I saw determined, wounded soldiers on both race courses, POW & American flags being carried & miles & miles of pictures of men & women gone too soon.  Two images that have stayed with me happened in the Philly R-n-R Half marathon in Sept. and at my last race, MCM."

I never posted it. Instead I copied and pasted it here. I actually wanted to write these words earlier today but instead some awkward, mushy post, jumbled across the screen, about thanking our veterans and my family members who had served and I even found a heartfelt image to go along with my sentiments. 
Then I went running for five miles and my thoughts became clear and concise. 
I later deleted my original FB post. 
Today (and everyday) I am extremely proud of my Dad, my hero, who has served in the Air Force and is a retired Lt. Col and of my Dad's father - my grandfather, who served in the Air Force during three wars! After my grandfather retired, he felt like his luck had run out and he never flew on another airplane! I consider it an honor to be from a military family. I am thankful for their service to our country and to be grounded in such strong family values and work ethics, with many of them coming from my Dad's military background.

But tonight, I'm finally letting my mind be free and moving beyond the obvious reasons to be thankful on Veteran's Day. I've been wanting to share so much, these last two months about freedom, protecting our country, sacrifices, brave soldiers...and all those pictures that are forever etched in my mind of too many soldiers, that died too soon.

On September 15th, I ran my first Fall Half marathon, while fighting chronic Lyme disease. I went into the race, unsure of myself, wondering if it would be my first DNF - Did Not Finish. I found myself at Mile 4, feeling sorry for myself about having Lyme and the negative self talk began. I was already tired, I forgot to bring my salt pills and I was waiting in anticipation to feel the beginnings of my foot pain. Then, I noticed out of the corner of my eye, a runner had fallen down. Those of us that were close by, stopped and asked if he needed help. He told us he was "okay" and pulled himself up with help from another runner and then...did I see that right? I saw he was wearing a prosthetic leg and he immediately got right back into the race. I'm fairly certain he crossed the finish line ahead of me.  I was amazed at his determination, his example of showing the world how his disability wasn't going to prevent him from running a Half marathon and his attitude of perseverance. The image stayed with me for the rest of the race as I replayed the scene at Mile 4, over and over again. I finished my race stronger that I ever thought I would finish it. As I ran Mile 4 to Mile 13.1, I decided to make a mental shift and run for those who can't. This mentality carried me to the finish line!

The Army Ten Miler race is always emotional if you really stop and look around you while you are running on the race course. There are several wounded soldiers running made possible by a prosthetic leg with courage and conviction in their soul and other soldiers being pushed to the finish line because their war injuries will never allow them to walk or run again. There are American flags and POW flags being carried by men and women soldiers. Your mind engulfs the images and they are difficult to let go. This year there was not one particular moment at this race that has stayed with me but it is more of a combination of images blurred together, creating a scene of patriotism and you feel honored to be running alongside these hero's.

Take the Army Ten Miler Race and multiply the scene, along a course of 26.2 miles....and you will find yourself at the Marine Corps Marathon. Every year I sign up for this race and dread it because it is physically and mentally challenging. The race course description is much like the Army Ten Miler. I feel inspired every step of the 26.2 journey. I noticed immediately the wounded warriors surrounding me all along the race course and the men and women carrying the American and POW flags. Around Mile 2, I began to follow two soldiers, a man and woman, running together, trading off the POW flag they were carrying. I would get wind and pass them and then slow down and then they would pass me and this continued throughout most of the race.

The most difficult point in the race is right around the halfway mark when the crowds go away and it gets very lonely. You are running on Haines Point with the Potomac River on your right side and photo's of fallen soldiers and POW's on your left side. It is a continuous snapshot of young men who are forever gone and you can choose to look away but then you will miss the whole meaning of the marathon. This race is never about you, from the start to the finish. You are running to honor all those that have served this country and all those who are currently making sacrifices to protect our freedom. 

Around Mile 14, when all those young soldiers faces and stories were flashing before me, the man and women carrying the POW flag came up behind me and ventured to the left side. And then I noticed they got off the race course and asked someone to take their picture, with the flag, next to the photo of a young man who was a POW. What was his age? 21? I couldn't read it but I will forever remember his name...Patrick Williams, you are a very brave young man.

A tidal wave of emotion swept over me and I tried desperately to stop the fountain of tears that were suddenly streaming down my face. I decided it was a futile attempt to stop them and I just gave in. I cried for a good mile or so, thinking about what this young man had gone through, how he sacrificed his life for his country, how his Mom and Dad must grieve for him every day, how his fellow soldiers had taken the time to stand with him for a moment, during a race that is supposed to be about PR's and qualifying for Boston. But none of that mattered. What mattered was, at that very moment, to remember this soldier, Patrick Williams, who was a POW and had given up his life for his country. 

Right around Mile 15, after my emotional tidal wave had been released, the intense stomach cramps began from the two months of antibiotics I was taking to fight my own battle of Lyme Disease. I had a brief thought about what to do. It would be my first DNF. Or it could be a race about going against the odds, with determination, running for the fallen who had suffered so much more pain than I was suffering from at that moment.  And I carried on, even running up the dreaded hill, to the Finish Line, with the Ima Jima Memorial, guiding my way. The young Marine hung my 38th MCM Finisher medal around my neck, and more tears were released, as I whispered "Thank You."  I found a spot on the grass and let myself rest, soaking in the sunshine and the moment of this victory, with a tear stained face, mascara smeared and said a silent prayer, thanking God for making my body strong enough to win this battle and for the freedom to run and for the all sacrifices that our soldiers and their families have endured.

Determination. Perseverance. Courage. 

These are the things I think of when I remember our military hero's, our veteran's, who have given so much for our country. 

Thank You. 
I will Never Forget.

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