We have all been influenced in our adult lives by things we did as a child. I loved going to Sunday School because it was fun, exciting and my teacher, Ella Deane, was so encouraging. That made me want to teach Sunday School—and I did for 30+ years. My piano teacher, Jack Hasslinger, made me enjoy piano so for several years I taught piano so others could enjoy it. My Dulaney High School music teacher encouraged me to become a soloist at my church. 20 years later when I switched to a church near his home, he was so excited every time I sang and would tell everyone around him—“She was my student”. These are just a few of the very positive experiences that I had growing up that have shaped who I am today.
But there is that one experience from 5th and 6th grades at Hampton Elementary School in Lutherville, Maryland, that definitely made me hate the idea of running. Field Day—the words still strike fear in my heart. Each year several local elementary schools would come together to compete in small track and field events as well as kick ball and a few other sports.
My body was never quite the sports spectacular type. I definitely was more the arts and music model. Getting a “C” in PE was a good grade for me. In our house you needed to be on your death bed to get a day home from school so faking illness wasn’t an option. Signing up for the sport of your choice was also not an option. The teachers wanted to look good so they were going to choose the best in each sport. So what do you do with a kid who is the not best in any sport? Cross Country Running.
Yep, I was that Cross Country Runner who placed last in both 5th and 6th grade. I know the course was not that long but to me it was a marathon. At the end I was so out of breath and beat red in the face that I wanted to die of embarasement. I came in way, way behind everyone else—I’m not even sure anyone was left at the finish line to see me cross it. This experience made me hide under the table if any one even mentioned the word running.
Fast forward 50+ years. I am invited to travel with my daughter, Kathy, and a few of her high school friends to Myrtle Beach, SC, where they will participate in a DIVA ½ marathon and 5K race. It sounds like fun and a chance to spend a little mother-daughter time. I can hang around and encourage them as they run. But after checking it out, I realize this race is all about women. It actually sounds like there are more activities than the race but you must participate in at least one race. Okay, a 5K is just a little over 3 miles. I’ve been walking about 3 miles every other week. I rationalize that can do 5K and decide to sign up. Unfortunately the 5K is sold out. Not wanting to miss out on the fun, I sign up for the ½ marathon—truly I did not realize that we were talking 13.1 miles. I had 7 weeks till the race. I called my daughter.
When she came to after fainting, she asked how was I going to train. Good question—no answer from me. Collecting herself, she suggested I do a little google research on training for a ½ marathon. Now was as good a time as any to begin so I announced to my husband that we would walk 6 miles that night. He made it through 3. And my training schedule began. Walk 3 miles, then 5 miles, then 9 miles. I averaged 18-25 miles per week- walking.
During my training I realized how little I walk. I drive to the store, the doctor, the bank, the movies. But the women in villages in Ghana walk for everything, especially for the health of their children. What is it like to walk 10 miles or more with a baby on your back? I decided to try it. Not wanting to risk the life of a child, I felt a cabbage patch doll might be a better fit for me—after all I am a non-walker/runner. I might stumble and fall and hurt a real baby.
I trained for a week with my new “baby”, Teresa. She traveled to Ft. Lauderdale with me, hopped a plane for Myrtle Beach and prepared for her debut on Sunday, April 28. She was pretty calm. As for me, I was that little 5th grade girl preparing to fail. I was so afraid that I did not tell many people that I would running a race. Those I did tell thought I had lost my mind. As the day loomed closer, I made the decision that I could not fail at this. The women of Africa were depending on me and I could not let fear hold me back from finishing for them. So I wrote to the press to tell them that I was running. Once I announced to the world what I was doing, I could not back out.
3,608 people signed up for the ½ marathon and another 2,000 for the 5K race so just picking up my number was frightening. Being last in a field of 20 is not quite the same as being last in a field of 3,600. I have to say that Kathy and her friends were very encouraging to me all weekend but when I took my place near the back of the field of runners, tears were flowing. Quickly other women began to talk with me and encourage me. Jolo, Michele and Jill added me to their group. The race was on. Baby Teresa was firmly positioned on my back. The day was overcast and not too hot. I wanted to stop but the baby kept me going. In the real world of Africa, if I stopped she might die. Adreneline kicked in about mile 6 and kicked back out about mile 11. Then I met Sally, who is close to my age and going to be ordained a deacon in January. She and I walked/ran together. NEWS 13 called at mile 12 to tell me they were at the finish line waiting to hear my story. I had a renewed purpose and I was unstoppable. Once I rounded the curve and saw the finish line my legs got into gear and I found the strength to actually do a full run to the finish. I got my tiara, my pink boa and my medal. Mostly I got back my dignity and I learned what it takes for my African moms to carry a child a long distance to receive medical care.
Will I do it again? I am searching the internet for race opportunities as you read this.
PS. I finished 3,494 in a field of 3,653, one minute and 6 seconds behind my target goal.—It was the bathroom break that cause me the extra time. Check out the news video at http://www.wbtw.com/video?clipId=8820512&autostart=true Find the link on our Facebook Page