I can see the finish line! It looks so small and far away but I can hear the music. My Turtle Posse has scattered and they run out ahead of me and down the sidewalks so they can see me finish. Christine hands me my sign: “Dear Asthma, I WIN!” My legs feel like lead and my stomach hurts so bad but it’s right there! I’m going to finish and they’re all still there!
My unknown angel on the course has been with me since the 8th street turn. It is still the last unsolved mystery in this journey. Who was this amazing person? Below is the only picture we have of him. Perhaps someone who reads this will know who he is through the blurry quality of the photo and can help me find him so I can tell him thank you. I will accept that he was a guardian angel helping to bring me home, but if I can find him, I’d really like to let him know how much that meant to me.
“There it is, honey. It’s right there! But I need you to move faster or you’re not going to make it in time!” He runs with me to the beginning of the finisher’s chute and then he’s gone. I’m holding up my sign but not for long. I just don’t have the strength to hold it up while I run and I know the clock is ticking. Darn it! I really wanted to get that message across but I can’t worry about that now.The crowd is HUGE and loud. It’s awesome!! I made it. I MADE IT!
I’m barely jogging but I feel like I’m sprinting down the chute. The crowd is so loud and excited. I glance up at the clock and I see that the 17th hour has been reached and the seconds are ticking by, past the deadline. But I don’t care. I really don’t care. I am about to finish this entire course and that is nothing short of a miracle in my case.
I reach the line. I cross and I’m expecting happy faces and a mob because I know that so many of my friends will be in the finisher corral, including my coach. But when I cross, I see sullen, sunken, sad expressions looking at me in astonishment. I know they’re disappointed. Not in me, but for me. They are worried that I will be upset. But I am so happy beyond words and I want to say, “No, no, no! Don’t be sad! I’m so happy right now. This Is such a miracle and it’s okay that I’m a few seconds late. It really is. Remember last year? Be happy for me! This is the most amazing achievement ever, please don’t be sad!” But I can’t speak. They’re kneeling on the ground and I know I’m supposed to have a catcher but that doesn’t happen right away. For a split second I wonder if they aren’t supposed to perform their normal duties after midnight. But then I’m mobbed. One friend after another hugging me, congratulating me, all telling me I’m an Ironman. But they say it with a slight sympathetic head tilt, looking directly into my eyes as if to convince me of the fact. I need no convincing but I understand why they are worried and I love them for that. I think I am crying but it’s out of glorious exhaustion, not disappointment. I am a little bummed that I didn’t get to use my sign the way I wanted to but it’s okay. They all embrace me. Connie, Michelle, Derek, and then there is Keats; my coach who helped me get to this place. And behind him is his dad Terry, who also helped bring me home. I know my coworker Corey is there but I’m dazed and don’t remember seeing him.
And then it occurs to me that maybe I don’t get a medal. OH NO! I am beyond words for how ecstatic and grateful I am to be standing here at the end of this unbelievable race, having finished every inch of it and it’s not about the medal. But it is about the medal given what it represents. I say to my friend Michelle, who also happens to be the most amazing volunteer coordinator of these events, “Oooooh. Do I still get a medal?” I know that had to have put her in a tough spot but the words just fell out of my mouth; I couldn’t hold them back as the realization reached my consciousness.
While everything is buzzing behind the line as everyone assesses my physical and emotional condition, we are unaware of the extraordinary thing that is happening on the other side. Something truly beyond words is about to happen. Michelle approaches me, “I need to take you back out front. Mike Reilly is asking for you. He has a medal for you.” I’m slightly confused, but can’t really think. How cool is that? She walks me back out, holding me steady. Instinctively I hold up my sign.
There are bright lights and hundreds of people cheering. There is a guy to my right and suddenly he gives me this powerful hug. I see his face for a brief second and I think it’s someone I met from the Ironman Foundation a couple of days before, there to congratulate me on my finish but I’m dazed and don’t really know what’s going on.
I am aware of every emotion that I’m feeling and they all point to happiness to an extreme that I am unable to express in words.
I’ll let this incredible 8.5 minute video which captured it all tell this part of the story, including what was happening on the other side of the line after I finished. You will see a few finishers before me, including those I’ve mentioned (and my friend Paul!).
I found out the next day that someone gave me his medal. My friends did some Nancy Drew sleuthing and found him. Todd Hesse, athlete, adventurist, family man and now my generous medal gifter. I still don’t have the right words to describe my gratitude and how I feel about that gesture. I will let him speak for himself as a guest writer on this blog in the next few days. There is a reason for every single thing that happened that day, including the fact that I was unaware that another athlete gave me his medal. Take a look at that video again and pay attention to the moments that each of us have as individuals after the short medal “ceremony.” Those moments, in my opinion, were necessary for both of us in our separate stories as they merged together in the midst of a shared experience. Had I been aware of what was really happening that sequence would have been interrupted.
Final finish time, 17:00:23. People still ask me if it bothers me that I finished after the mark. I think the video answers that question nicely but just to be clear, I’ll say it here. I was, I am and I always will be deliriously happy and grateful for everything that happened that day. It played out exactly as it was supposed to, including the finish time. The time I took on the course alone to celebrate with my friends, 40 seconds, 12 seconds, 10 seconds…..would have more than made up for that time. I wouldn’t give those 23 seconds back for the world. This journey has been about overcoming the seemingly impossible as much as it has been about love and relationships. All three of my goals were met beyond what I could have planned out for myself: I had a blast, I finished and I raised some awareness for illnesses that place limitations on lives and in my case, some encouragement to asthmatics that they can move beyond this. And because of what happened at the finish line and just after, that third goal is continuing to be realized and I could not be happier about that. I also have new friends because of a gesture; one athlete recognizing the efforts of another in spite of the fact that she finished after the allotted time under the rules. Interestingly enough, our separate stories have some commonalities that make it so clear that this was orchestrated perfectly. Race rules, a medal, and a finish like no other fused our stories together in a way that allowed each of us to fulfill something greater than just finishing the race. An instinctual reaction from one, imparting extraordinary sportsmanship, respect and kindness to another, elevated the impact of an already inspiring day to new heights.
After my victory lap with my sign (which I will talk about in a later post), I go back behind the line to more hugs from my friends. I hear people calling my name and I look above me to see my sister, nieces, BIL and my mom. My friend Tom helps me up on a chair so I can reach my mom. And then my mom and I have an exchange that I’ll cover later; you won’t want to miss that.
There is still more! But I think this is enough to absorb for one entry so I’ll let you take it in before I add some additional details and thoughts. I will also be posting Todd’s thoughts very soon; I promise it won’t disappoint. He is quite a writer and has his own blog at http://staggerforwardrejoicing.com. For today, I leave you with one final thought, which is a love note that was posted on my Facebook wall:
“DEAD LAST FINISH IS GREATER THAN DID NOT FINISH, WHICH TRUMPS DID NOT START.”
More to come, including exactly how I was able to get my asthma under control in order to do this, adventures ahead and what I plan to do with all of this.
This is not the finish line. It is the beginning of so much more. Stay tuned!