If I remember correctly, the first charity race I took part in was the Susan G. Komen Race For the Cure 5K in Denver, Colorado. It was the year Mrs. Obi-wan was diagnosed with breast cancer for the first time. I was 17, just starting my senior year in high school and we were looking for something to do as a family to show our support for our brave mother who was in the middle of her grueling chemotherapy treatment. We ran, we walked and my Mom, bald and beautiful, stood at the finish line to cheer us as we ran towards her. It was so emotional, I’m not sure that any of us had dry eyes that day. It kicked off a tradition in our family that every Fall, no matter what city any of us lived in, we would do the Komen Race For the Cure. Even more than that, though, it inspired in me a desire to use my feet to do good in the world.
In NYC, I started Race For the Cure team called “KOB” which stands for “Keeping Our Boobs”. Mrs. Obi-wan OKed the name, so I figured I could put it on t-shirts. So I did. Breast cancer was now beginning to touch more friends and their mothers, aunts, friends, cousins and grandmothers than ever before and it wasn’t difficult at all to recruit people to run/walk with us every Fall. Over the years, it became a tradition of ours.
As I crossed the finish line, I felt a little bit more hopeful that doctors would find a cure for cancer and we wouldn’t have to say goodbye to so many beautiful women (and men) in our lives. I felt closer to those friends who took the time out of their *early* Sunday morning to come to Central Park and sweat it out with me for Mrs. Obi-wan. I’m sure glad they did because 10 years after her first bout of cancer, we found out our amazing Mrs. Obi-wan would face that demon once more and have to fight for her life.
That year we had a huge team. My aunts, uncles, friends, sister, clients, co-workers and all of their amazing significant others came out. It was awe-inspiring to have that kind of support during an extraordinarily demoralizing time for me. It helped a lot.
Being on the other side of the country from my family when I felt that I was needed felt terrible. I was helpless to contribute to shouldering the burden Obi-wan and my siblings bore daily. I found that, through running, I could contribute in some small way to my dear mother’s fight. I sent pictures, I called as we crossed our finish line, I sent that banner that my little sister, Red, and I made the night before the big run (we watched Justin Timberlake’s Sexyback Tour on HBO while we painted; it was awesome). I did what I could instead of sitting back, whining about being far away and it made me feel a little less helpless. And you know what? Post-cancer, Mrs. Obi-wan continues to inspire me and so many others by completing THREE half-marathons. I could cry. This woman is a rock. My rock.
A year later, my (then-boyfriend) husband was deployed with the Marines to Iraq for a year. Again, I took solace in running. Only this time, I had three marathons under my belt and I figured, hey, my JB’s a Marine; I’ll run the Marine Corps Marathon! Perfect! I wanted to do it for one of the many awesome military charities that raise money for veterans and their families and that is how I found Team Fisher House. I chose Fisher House because they build houses near military hospitals for the families of injured veterans to live in while their wounded soldier is recovery from injuries. For free. You read that right, friends. You may not know this, but when a soldier is injured and they fly him/her home, they don’t go back to their base, town, or even their state. No, they are flown to the best military hospital in the country to treat the injury they sustained, which is great. Head injuries and amputees go to Walter Reed in Maryland, burn victims to Brooke Army Medical Center in Texas, etc. However, soldiers are paid pitifully small salaries and the families are almost always unable to be by their soldier’s side because they can’t afford to fly to and stay at a hotel for an extended period of time. Fisher House takes care of all that. For free. Seriously. I figured that I would run for them because if I ever needed their services, I’d at least have contributed in some small way to earn it. And it did make me feel better to be out there for my Marine. Five marathons later, it still does.
And then there’s the Achilles Track Club. Founded by above-the-knee amputee Dick Traum, this international group of disabled runners, walkers and hand-crankers make their way through road races around the world with the help of volunteer guides. My personal stake in this group of individuals can bring me to tears on almost any day at any time. You see, the person who taught me the most about fitness and respecting my body, taught me to work out so I could walk into any gym in the world with confidence and knowledge, taught me that I can get through anything if I just put my mind to it, he has now found himself *somewhat* disabled by Multiple Sclerosis. I say *somewhat* because despite the MS and a recent bout with cancer (!), Obi-wan STILL does the treadmill and lifts weights 3-4 times a week. I mean, seriously, do YOU work out that much??? Amazing. Inspiring. And that is exactly the attitude and mentality over at Achilles. I ran the 2004 NYC Marathon with Superman, a blind runner, and two other female guides, L & L. We trucked through all five boroughs, taking turns as cheerleader, bodyguard, coach, watergirl and personal motivator. Together, we completed the marathon in less than five hours. I was inspired to volunteer with Achilles because, despite the fact that I couldn’t (still can’t) be there physically to help Obi-wan get through the day-to-day struggles of his disease, I knew that it would make him proud to know I was helping another disabled athlete accomplish his goal and, in some small way, maybe I inspired Obi-wan to keep going and never give up the way he’s always inspired me to do the same.
Today I had the great pleasure of participating in the annual Achilles Hope and Possibility 5-miler as a guide for Achilles. I brought along a couple of my Lululemon Run Club friends for the ride and we all had a blast running/walking with our Athletes through Central Park on what was truly the most beautiful June day we have ever seen. Trisha Meili (the Central Park Jogger), Anthony Edwards (from ER) and Jon Stewart (The Jon Stewart Show) cheered athletes of all ages (5 year-old amputees!) and disabilities (from double amputees to people in wheelchairs) across the finish line. If you think you can’t run, check out some of these pictures and re-think that statement. Seriously, go out and run.
My point is this: you can’t save the world. You can’t always be there when those you love are suffering from a terrible, debilitating disease or away at war, but YOU CAN lace up your shoes and run for them. YOU CAN volunteer to walk a race with a disabled or slower athlete (www.achillesinternational.org for your local chapter–they ALWAYS need volunteers!). YOU CAN raise money for a worthy charity (94% of the money raised by Team Fisher House goes directly to building and maintaing Fisher Houses all over the country–what’s your favorite charities rating? http://www.charitynavigator.org). YOU CAN DO IT.
You want inspiration for your next race? You want to do something in honor of a loved one who’s fighting or maybe one who lost the battle (but not the war!)? You want a reason to run? Go out and find a charity, a local running group, a friend or a family member in need who wants to be active, but cannot do it on their own. I know what it feels like to be frustrated by disease and tragedy and want to take it out on the world and everyone in it. I choose hope. And possibility. And I will keep on choosing Hope and Possibility because if Mrs. Obi-wan, Obi-wan and Superman taught me anything over these past years it is that we can NEVER give up because the fight ‘ain’t over til the bell is rung. And I didn’t hear no bell.
When you run for a cause, a purpose, your run has a meaning to it beyond just the typical “I want to lose 5 pounds” reasons for exercising. It’s bigger than vanity and you suddenly realize that people are going to get the help they need, the care, the medicine, the attention they might otherwise go without, because of you. There is not better feeling in the world. The Obi-wans are always reminding me that if I want to change the world and volunteer, I should look in my own back yard. Give it a try.
Now go out and run.