In June of 2010, I experienced my first Relay for Life event. I ran 216 laps or 54 miles that night and walked away with a feeling of satisfaction. A feeling that I had done something special. In June of 2011, I participated in my 2nd Relay for Life and ran 212 laps or 53 miles throughout the night and left with that same feeling. I had done something special. Of course, I had many other feelings and emotions that went well beyond my accomplishment but sometimes the lines become blurred and it becomes difficult to see the forest through the trees.
The third time's a charm. That is how I would describe this year's Relay for Life. It was held on June 15th in Ozark County, MO. This year was different for a few reasons. One, I had made the bold, Muhammad Ali-like, prediction of running 60 miles. Second, BOTH of my parents would be there to walk with me and carry the torch during the Survivor Lap. Third, both of my brothers showed up to experience their first Relay. Finally, I opened my eyes and, for the first time, truly observed the Relay.
Let me run through this as quickly as possible..... The Survivor Lap will forever be a part of my "happy memories". That place where things are stored for a quick smile during hard times. I have always been a little shy (true story) and still wonder how this happened but I am extremely happy and grateful that it did. After this my dad ran an entire lap with me. He had made it less than half way around the track last year. My little brother joined me for a mile and I could tell that he was experiencing the "magic" that comes during a first Relay. I continued to circle the track as my family participated in many of the events, sampled the great food and mingled with the crowds.
The event continued through the night. During the Luminaria Ceremony, I was asked to carry the torch after the initial lap, through the conclusion. This was an awesome experience. It was dark and the torch lit my way. The luminaria were lit and as each name was read aloud I couldn't help but feel a bond with that person. The torch was heavy in the beginning but by the end it felt like I was floating on air and seemed to weigh nothing. Call me crazy but I'm positive that I wasn't alone after all during these laps.
The running continued. Friends joined and circled the track. Some for just a few laps and some for several miles. Each person had their own reasons for participating in the Relay. I began to look around. I mean REALLY look around and see, for the first time, a clear picture of the Relay for Life and the amazing people that make it happen. It's a gathering of passionate people that contribute in many different ways to the same goal. So many that work year round to make this one night special. They involve their friends, family, co-workers and schools. Their children hold fundraisers, work hard and stay up all night walking or running laps with knowledge and understanding of WHY they are doing it.
As I made my way through the final dozen or so laps the sun was coming up. I thought of the conversation my nine year old son and I had on the ride down to the track just 12 hours earlier. He told me the reason we hold the Relay at night, explaining that in the beginning we feel really strong but when it gets dark, things will get tough and we'll feel weak and just when we can't take it anymore the sun will come up and we'll feel strong and happy knowing that we survived. I'm not sure where he picked this up but I do know this. He was right. His sentiments were repeated during the opening ceremonies as my friend Karla read Why Do We Walk Through The Night?.
So.... as the sun came up and I closed the night with 55 miles, instead of the 60 I had so boldly predicted, I couldn't help but smile.Coming up short of any goal is not something that I'm used to or something that I'm likely to ever embrace again but this time it was okay. It simply means that as far as we have come there is still work to do. There was still an overwhelming feeling of satisfaction. Not that I had done anything special but that I was privileged enough to be such a small piece of a much larger puzzle.
So many people work 100 times harder than I do for the Relay. So many people sacrifice 100 times more than I ever will to make the Relay a success. For the 3rd year, I took home a couple of plaques and I will hang them on my wall with pride but for the first year I walked away with something much bigger and more important. The Relay for Life brings out the best of the best in our community. It shows me that love, hope and hard work can be found in the hearts of all those that participate. Cancer does not stand a chance against those odds. It's just a matter of time before we live in a world without cancer.
This is how it works-
I love to run but there are times when I would rather not. This is when the voices start. Chants, name calling, guilt and reverse psychology is how they get me up and out the door. I don't really mind the voices and have actually started looking forward to their daily calls. Together we have formed a running club that supports, encourages and competes with each other. I love these peeps. They are much more experienced, talented and tougher than I am. Pushing me out the door, through the hard miles and up the monster hills when I am feeling lazy or want to give up. Some people have "real" training partners, coaches and support crews. My team is ALWAYS with me and helps me to keep my eye on the prize and not veer off the track. Sounds crazy- Yeah, probably is.........