This blog is so long overdue, but with December came holiday preparations, and then came company. It’s a little difficult to write with a two year old and four year old running around. And so, it’s January and I’m writing what should have been written in early December.
On December 4, my friends Katie, Kelly, Jennifer, Mary Jane, and I traveled to Memphis for the St. Jude Half Marathon. We had been planning for months, and were anxious to begin what would be a pretty incredible experience. Our weekend began with a tour of St. Jude. We have all seen the children of St. Jude in the heart-wrenching commercials, but to see these kids and their families in person is indescribable. Katie is a St. Jude survivor, and is still a patient for follow-up tests. Seeing where she has spent so many hours – certainly the worst hours of her life – was both moving and inspiring. Witnessing her return to the place that has come to mean so very much to her was a privilege.
The hospital itself was an amazing place. They have thought of everything to make the children as comfortable as possible. Their artwork lines the hallways; the reception desks are at a child’s level; the colors and murals are bright and cheerful. The doctors, nurses, and all staff members are truly heroes. To go to work each day knowing that their patients are young and cancer-stricken must be so trying. To spend their days comforting families must be exhausting. They build true, loving relationships with the kids, which was evident by the joy in their faces as they saw Katie walk in. It was like a member of their family had come home, and truly she had. No wonder she loves that place.
Long before race day, we five had decided that we were sticking together no matter what. Katie cannot run far distances because of the damage done to her lungs, so we had planned to walk all hills and to stop often for photos. I have to say, this race was the best race I have ever run. We had fun the whole way, even when moments of tears crept in, and the weather was perfect. There were spectators along the whole course, and many were parents of St. Jude kids. Because those of us who raised money for St. Jude wore special shirts, and the spectators were aware of that, many people thanked us as we ran by. That was so humbling.
At one point in the race, the course winds through the St. Jude Campus. I knew this would be difficult and emotional, and it was. Just nine years before, Katie had an autologous stem cell transplant and had watched the race from her hospital window. Now, she was running the race. She had fought back and won! How could we not shed a few tears at that moment? How could she not? Determined to have fun and not get caught up in emotions, we regrouped once we passed through. And then…and then…at mile six they had doughnuts! I wasn’t interested (I would have vomited), but the others had just said they were hungry, so they were thrilled.
At each mile marker, we stopped and had someone take a picture of us. They turned out great and are a wonderful reminder that we completed that journey together, one mile at a time.
While each race I’ve run has been special for one reason or another, I can’t imagine anything topping our St. Jude experience. It was fun while being solemn at times; it was rewarding; it was humbling. Running it and spending the weekend with my four friends could not have gone better. We ate, we talked, Kelly and Katie rapped (seriously), we shopped, and we worked as a team for a greater cause.
The St. Jude race was my eighth half marathon, but more importantly, is was my best half marathon. No, I didn’t run fast. I didn’t place in the top 20%, but I finished with my friends and gained so much more than a PR. It was an experience I will never forget.
Again, thanks to all who donated to our team! Start saving your pennies as we will be collecting donations again this year!