Monday, October 24, 2016

Turning 100

From spectator to marathoner

"I think I can do that"
In 2006 I had no idea I could do a marathon.  The thought was as foreign to me as flying to Pluto.   

My niece was running in the Marine Corps Marathon 10 years ago this weekend.  I sat on the corner of Wilson Boulevard and Lynn Street in Rosslyn, VA.  I was waiting for the Marathon to start.  I was positioned at mile 1, hoping to catch a glimpse of her as she ran by.
Spotting my niece in the runners

I saw several athletes pass by on handcycles, or crank wheelchairs, they are sometimes called.  I said to myself, “I think I can do that!”

Crank wheelchairs
My niece and I made a pact that evening over dinner to be back the next year.  Running the People’s Marathon together.
I went home and began training.  And training.  And training.  I also began looking for a cause.  Something to benefit casualties of the post-9.11 war.  In March of 2007 I took part in my first race.  It was a local 10K.  I was hooked.

Training and training

I began looking for another local race.  I found the Run For The Warriors at Camp Lejeune.  I emailed Sally, “Here’s our cause!”  We had a great time at the race.  We met many motivating individuals from the military and civilian communities.  We learned about Hope For The Warriors and their mission to give Hope to wounded military, their families, and the families of the fallen.  They also had a Team Hope For The Warriors for the Marine Corps Marathon.

Run For The Warriors 2007

Team Hope For The Warriors

Team Hope consisted on military members, community members, and wounded military, all united on a mission to raise money for Hope For The Warriors.  I vowed to be on that team at the Marine Corps Marathon.

Later in the spring of 2007, I visited Washington, DC.  Sally and I drove the entire Marine Corps Marathon course.  I knew I would have trouble with the hills.  Particularly the last quarter mile, the entrance to the Marine Corps Memorial, the last steep hill known to Marine Corps Marathoners as, “Iwo.”  We got a chance to ride the bike path next to that stretch of course.  Or, I should say, attempt to ride.  The hill was too steep for me.  I thought I could just use lower gears.  They just don’t make gears that low.
Marshall Drive, the final qurter mile, or better known as, "Iwo"
I returned home to regroup.  I had to have to become a lot stronger.  Sadly, I let Hope For The Warriors know I would not be on their team at the Marine Marathon in 2007.  I told my niece that we would re-focus on 2008.  My training centered around laps over the Atlantic Beach Bridge and a steep, block-long climb up East Atlantic Avenue at the Beach.

Ironically, during a workout about two weeks before the ’07 Marathon, I learned a climbing technique with my handcycle that would get me up the hill called Iwo.  It was a bittersweet success.  The technique would get me up a steeper hill than ever before.  But its discovery came too late to get into the race I had my sights set on. 

The climbing technique I learned that night eventually got me to the top of Iwo.  My focus was no longer on discovering “if” I could climb the hill, but “when.”

2008 Miles of Hope

2008 was to be my 30th anniversary of living with a disability.  I have been a quadriplegic since 1978 when I broke my neck in a pool while teaching swimming lessons to kids.  That’s another long story for another time.  I was going to celebrate my 30th year with a disability by conquering Iwo--completing the Marine Corps Marathon.

I started a fundraising campaign I called 2008 Miles of Hope.  All the money we raise goes to Hope For The Warriors.  Friends, neighbors, family, and local businesses support us with generous donations.  As of this writing, we have raised over $80,000 in donations for Hope For The Warriors.

Taking Iwo
In 2008 I climbed Iwo.  The hill itself took me 20 minutes to climb, I seem to remember.  It wasn’t exactly pretty but spectators screamed at me at the top of their lungs as I inched up Marshall Drive.  Two Hope teammates that had finished their race joined me and walked beside me to the finish.  Robbie Powers, the finish line announcer, asked all the spectators to remove their caps in respect to the flag I had carried throughout the Nation’s Capital.  Marines lining the finish rendered crisp salutes.

The Marine Corps finish line
And that was just the beginning.  Sunday will be my ninth trip to the People’s Marathon starting line.  “Hope”-fully it will be my 8th MCM finish.  There was a nasty little crash in 2011.  My best MCM time is 4:30-ish.  I’m hoping for a new MCM PR.

But most importantly, it will be my 100 finish of a long stretch of full and half marathons for Hope For The Warriors.  The journey has taken Sally and me to races in 15 different states.  My total mileage rolled in races, training, and fundraising events has well exceeded the distance around the world.  I completed the Chicago Marathon earlier this year and the NY City Marathon four times in previous years.  I completed the Air Force Marathon, the Army's All-American Marathon, and the Soldier Marathon; but the Marine Corps Marathon is still my favorite.

All American Marathon, April 2016

Help us spread Hope

Runners often ask each other, “What’s next?”  It’s an acknowledgement that you can’t quit.  For me the answer is simple.  Another marathon.

Please help us with our cause.  Donate to Hope For The Warriors.  Their mission is still critical.  Use our secure donation website:  Spread hope.