I have always wanted to run the Boston Marathon. Ever since I first crossed the threshold from awkward pain to wonder at what my body could do. Lacing up, putting on my tattered visor, adjusting the bra and heading out to a familiar route was a part of my routine during some very difficult times. The marathon was an obvious metaphor representing life’s hills and stretches of flat road when you just cruise for a little while. I admired runners who made the 26.2 mile trek, and secretly coveted their marathon gear with envy. It represented an achievement of great physical and mental stamina. Something that has eluded me my entire life, having ADD and a host of other issues. I wanted to finish something that was worthwhile, something that I could feel physically, emotionally and spiritually. I came very close when I ran the BAA Half Marathon in 2008 and I wanted more. Of course, I became my own worst enemy and allowed distraction to lead me away from this goal. Every time I saw a BAA marathon jacket, shirt or 26.2 sticker the longing for that goal would appear mixed with regret. I will do this someday, I think to myself. I have to.
I started a different type of marathon beginning March 5, 2012 when Chris and I found out the baby we were expecting had one of the most severe heart defects a person could have. In order to survive, the baby would need to go through a total of three open heart surgeries, the first one taking place in the first week of life. We went up and down many hills, learning more about the condition and what we could expect from the treatment. Many times I wanted to leave the race and just catch my breath. There have been very few rest stops on this route but we have enjoyed moments of joy that replenish our spirits.
Isabelle runs her own marathon. Her heart after the first surgery pumped twice as hard as a normal healthy newborn one. She burned calories just by breathing. We couldn’t keep up with her caloric demand and very little intake. We didn’t have any trainers helping us strategize through difficult miles. We just had to do anything to get her to drink more and burn less. Eventually we had to give in and get an NG tube. She began to grow after that and once again we would achieve some stability. At least until she yanked the tube out every few weeks.
Today Isabelle ate a ridiculous amount of food and drank every bottle we gave to her. A far cry from me, crying and holding her, begging her to please drink an ounce. Blaming myself when she would lose weight. Worrying that she wouldn’t gain enough to make it to the next level. Like any road race, you have to get through the miles in order to finish. You can’t cut through on a short cut unless you are Rosie Ruiz. We had to make it to the next level. Our finish line is her survival.
Or maybe she will make her own finish line. Up until recently, I thought running would be out of the question for her. Her heart wouldn’t be able to handle the stress of supporting circulation under that kind of stress. On March 17, 2013, a 21 year old young lady with hypo plastic left heart syndrome ran a 15K. Ran it. Trained for it and successfully ran it. I can’t express the joy I felt as I watched a video of her crossing the finish line with her father. I could share something I enjoyed with all of my children. Someday, Isabelle may join me over a finish line. After being told that these children limit themselves and don’t have the stamina like heart healthy children, that video brought me to my knees in less than 15 seconds.
I look forward to the day when I get to arrive in Hopkinton on a Monday morning in April. That would be an incredible, life changing accomplishment. Running across a finish line with my heart warrior with all my girls is another.
Seeing the bombings that disrupted something I considered so sacred was a complete shock to my being. After hours of being glued to the television and watching the same footage over and over, seeing the same people falling and running, I had to do something. On Wednesday morning I laced up and ran for the first time in a week. I thought of each person, each victim with every breath. I thought about the people I had seen running with fear. The images of a bloodied sidewalk on Boylston. It was an emotional run for me, with another to follow on Friday when my husband and I joined over a hundred runners at the Plymouth waterfront to honor those who ran and those who couldn’t finish. It was a small gesture but I felt like I had done something to honor those I admire so highly and hope to become some Monday in April.