What I am about to write is not at all what I planned I would be saying. Originally I thought this piece would be on success, on triumph, and walking away feeling victorious. It turns out this story initially starts out as quite the opposite. I’ll make what started off as a sad little story brief. Two and a half months ago I decided to run the Cda half-marathon with my dad. We would do it together, from the first day of training to the moment we crossed the finish line. Side by side, father and son. 13.1 miles was the distance and finishing was the goal. My dad, a veteran runner with 27 marathons under his belt, quickly became my coach, instructing me on all of the ins and outs of running. He told me how to pace myself, how to breathe, and how to avoid injury. We competed with one another, recording all of our training on a long piece of paper displayed in our living room. Although we pushed ourselves to the utmost individually, we were a team.
Everything was great until my last day of training when I injured my left foot. I took the week off, copiously applied ice to it, and hoped for the best. I prayed, I begged and I petitioned. The day before the race my denial of my injury finally receded, and I let the reality of my injury momentarily consume me. Knowing choosing defeat yields futility, I settled on walking the race with my dad. We could still do it together, and I could participate.
I woke up the morning of the race and knew I was in trouble. Barely getting out of bed sent shards of throbbing pain up my leg. Despite the pain I pulled the attractive sea-foam green marathon shirt over my head and conjured up enough energy to cheerfully greet my father. I acted out how I wanted to feel, which was excited. I could do this.
Before I could change my mind, we were lined up at the starting line. A collective joy traveled through each person’s rosy face and bounced off the neon colors of a sea of shirts and shorts all in motion. It was all chiseled legs and beaming smiles. This was my moment, the moment I had emotionally, spiritually, mentally and physically prepared almost three months for. I limped through the cheering crowds, my pride refusing to let me go. My dad made small talk, trying to carry me along with entertaining words. But they were to no avail. I walked a mile down the road and knew that I could possibly finish, but by three pm, I would be calling into work and heading into a hospital. I told my dad I couldn’t do this one. He said it was the smart thing to do.
I started to tear up, but I forced myself to stop. If I couldn’t physically do it, I wasn’t about to deter my dad from dropping out too. I told him to keep going and to have a great time. His eyes welled up with tears and he patted me on the back. Moments later I was whisked to the medical tent and seen by a doctor. I likely had a stress fracture and would have to put my running shoes away for four to six weeks. Within twenty minutes I had gone from wanting to run the half-marathon to settling on walking it, to limping to a volunteer for a ride back in. I would not cross the finish line or wear the medal. I thought originally the story would end at the finish line. But it doesn’t end there at all, it isn’t the beginning nor the end of this story. After seeing the doctor I knew I had a choice to make. I could spend the rest of the day wallowing in my apparent “failure,” falling deeper and deeper into a dead-end mindset of self-degradation and disappointment. I could let it ruin my whole day, and be of no use to anyone, not even myself.
But then my alternative struck me more powerfully than any of the preceding moments. I could choose joy. Joy for not just myself, but for others. I would champion my dad on his big day and all those around me. If I said this shift of heart and mind took place in a second, you could say I won the race. It took an hour to pick myself up and feel this conviction genuinely. So I took the first step and made my way to the humble sidelines. I never would have witnessed the moments to follow from anywhere else. I cheered runners on, repeating encouraging phrases. I could feel the runners’ joy as smiles and muttered thanks barely made it from their exhausted bodies. I gave what I could. Joy overcame my adversity.
Joy has no bounds when shared, for it is then that joy stretches out and engulfs both the individual and the group. Through this realization I saw a whole family complete a half-marathon together (and they were color-coordinated), a disabled woman with her coach and mentor cross the finish line hand in hand, and an elderly man lumber through every bit of 26.2 miles. I saw joy in the volunteer who spent five hours telling every participant that he or she was doing what only one percent of the population does. Joy spotted my dad, brilliant and healthy, happy with himself and happy to see me, a hundred yards from the finish line. I got to run out and congratulate him on his race, pride wearing itself on me like a medal. We then, as a father-and-son team, ran across the finish line together. I threw my arms around him and I realized that was exactly where I needed to be, right in the middle of someone else’s joy.