Frustrated, Proud, Uncomfortable, Satisfaction, Overwhelmed, Confident, Defeated, Exhilarated. These are just some of a million different emotions felt when running a 26.2 mile foot race. The Leap Day Marathon in Beaverton, Oregon was no different.
Oregon left me with a flood of feelings, good and bad, and it has been hard to relay them to people who ask me how my first race in the 50 Gifts of Freedom Project went. “Great!” I tell them. But that word isn’t nearly big enough to cover the entirety of what happened along that race course.
The beauty of this race started before we even set foot on the plane to get there. The Leap Day Marathon was discovered by my husband Mike after it was already full to its cap of 100 runners that would be allowed on the race course. With one email to the race director that explained my mission, I was welcomed with open arms, invited to participate and to bring along a rider athlete as well. Oregon does not yet have an Ainsley’s Angels Ambassadorship, so with the help of the Washington State Ambassador I was able to be paired with a very special little 5 year old girl named Kylee. Kylee had a series of unfortunate medical events when she was younger and is now unable to speak or walk unassisted. Even though she has these challenges, she has a spark for life that is evident in her smile and you can see that she is a fighter by the twinkle in her eye.
Race day began dreary, rainy, and cold. I am told that is par for the course in Oregon. The race course was described as having “two substantial climbs in the first and last four miles”. I quickly realized that description was a bit of an understatement from what I would call substantial climbs. When I hit a hilly area in Raleigh, I call that a substantial climb, I stood at the starting line looking across hills that appeared to be more like mountains. Kylee looked on with a huge grin on her face and complete trust that I, being her feet, would carry her through this race.
The race course was challenging at best and painfully defeating at worst. I trained to cover 26.2 miles, I trained to push a rider. Never in a race had I covered the distance without a team of Angels by my side. I had plans to meet with my husband at several times along the race course but being in a new city it was hard for him to track my location and our timing was off more than once. The field of other runners had quickly gained a lead on Kylee and I, leaving us to run alone. Up and down hills, through beautiful moss covered rain forests and wet fields of green grass Kylee and I ticked off the miles. The breeze and the gentle rocking of the race chair put Kylee to sleep for a good part of the afternoon and I was left alone with my thoughts and that can be a dangerous place when you are getting exhausted and alone. I thought about quitting more than once, or at the very least just turning around and heading back towards the finish. This was an unsupported race, no volunteers, no timing mats to cross, so no one would know if I shorted my miles. I thought about how I was weak. My arms and back ached from the effort of pushing, I grunted each time I had to lift the front wheel of the race chair to make a turn. My leg muscles hurt from climbing yet another hill and doubt began to creep in. I thought that there is no way I am going to be able to do this 49 more times and complete this mission that was before me. Then I looked at Kylee. If she had the chance to ache from running I bet she would in a second. Instead she lives each day with pain that she is unable to describe to anyone or maybe even to understand why. She tries so hard for each milestone that she reaches.
Kylee had awoken and gave me a sweet smile as she realized that she was still running like before her nap. That smile put this entire project into perspective. I am running for those who can’t because I can. I ran all the way to the 13.1 turn around, saw Kylee’s smile, and started on my way back. Soon after, I saw Mike. He had finally caught up with us and was there with a word of encouragement, some sports drink, and a moment of rest for my arms. Things were looking up and I was feeling a bit more confident in my race. I began to tell Kylee about Ainsley. Ainsley had just passed away 6 days earlier. I told her that she was watching down on us and smiling because she started this wonderful family that Kylee was now a part of called Ainsley’s Angels and because of Ainsley and her family having a vision of inclusion that we were running down this difficult but beautiful trail together. Then the sun came out.
It took every bit of the seven hour course limit for me to finish this race. I was met in the end by a cheering squad of 4, Mike, Kylee’s father and grandmother, and the race director. I have not celebrated a finish line like I did that day. I proudly, and with happy tears in my eyes presented Kylee’s new running chariot to her and to her family. Kylee and her dad had run when she was younger, but she outgrew conventional jogging strollers so had not had a chance to roll with the wind in quite a while. I welcomed them all into the Ainsley’s Angels family with hugs and with the knowledge that Kylee and her dad would have many more miles to cover together.
The Beaverton Leap Day Marathon was the most perfect race to be #1 of 50. Because I covered those miles I know that I am able to cover the rest. The other 49 will happen. They will each hold their own separate challenges and emotions and they will each hold their own set of lessons and I will embrace each one.
Kylee trusted me that day to be her feet and to take her through those miles with me but what I didn’t entirely know, what she didn’t know, was that I needed her to be my heart and to carry me through the most difficult parts of that race. I needed her to be my wings. This race, this rider and her family will forever be etched into my heart and I will remember and use all the lessons that Kylee taught me along that course as I move forward in this project to share the message of inclusion and to roll with the wind in 49 more states!