Well, last weekend I had the honor of racing with a very special young lady named Jenna. I got to tow her on the bike and push her on the run, and laugh all day long with her. During this race I learned some things about life and myself.
Aubrey Eicher - Racer
Jenna and Beth at United Athletics taught me something incredible the other week. First off, let me say, that United Athletics is an incredible organization. They “pair local athletes and individuals who require physical assistance to participate in a variety of events – swimming, biking, running, and triathlon races.” It is a beautiful thing, not only to watch, but even more so, to experience!
Team Mark/Wendy DeMarzio
"Marky is very lucky," says my eight year old son about his severely disabled older brother. Mark cannot talk. He cannot walk. He still does not use the bathroom on his own. He cannot feed himself. Yet his younger brother of 8 who has outgrown him in maturity, cognitive ability, and in size, thinks he's lucky. And the truth is, he's right. Marky is lucky.
Mark won his first 5k race with United Athletics/First Day 5k. He was rolling alongside his friends while being pushed by a dedicated racer-sponsor. Mark strolled across the finish line with cheers and kudos of all the spectators looking on. Suddenly Mark is transformed from the family member who requires extra time and care, the brother who makes annoying hair curling noises in the car, the object of pointed attacks on David with questions of "why is he like that ", stares of curiosity, the brother who always takes, and now becomes the brother who is a winner.
Small changes occur at first. David starts playing his ipad while sitting next to Mark so Mark can see what he's doing, UNPROMTPED! David starts sitting on the floor with him and tickling him , then wrestling with him. I begin to hear silly giggles. David creates a nickname for him and throughout the day now I hear "Mar-ee", David begins askingMarkhow his day is, if he wants to watch a movie, if he's hungry. David chooses to push Mark's stroller when we're out, and one day they circle the church gym after Sunday school with Mark squealing in laughter.
I can't really explain it. The dynamic between them has changed. A mother's heart is full. A brothers relationship blossoms. My boy has become a winner.
Goggles full of tears
Today Leslie Hoglund and I, and our two daughters, Jasmine and Jenna, had the amazing experience of participating in the 2013 Angels Tri in Lynchburg,VA. The race welcomed United Athletics with open arms, making us feel as welcome as I have ever felt since giving birth to my special child 17 years ago.
This race began in 2003 with 100 participants. A majority of participants had "Brittany" written on their arm as they raced in honor of Brittany Groover who had died in an automobile accident in November of 2002, and has grown over the last years. It is an amazing race, welcoming all with a spirit of love and emphasizing what is important – the celebration of our loved ones.
All of the race officials, and most of the volunteers came over to personally welcome us to the race, and the citizens of Lynchburg followed suit.
The race begins with a talk about honoring life and the remembrance of our angels in heaven, followed by a time of prayer. And then our girls were introduced as the angels on earth. And the tears began, tears of joy, tears of being welcome, and tears of feeling loved.
The swim portion of the race describes the whole nature of this race. The swiftest of the athletes begin, then the folks who normally would start at the end follow. Then a 15 minute break starts, which allows individuals who may not other wise finish before the awards ceremony is over and the crowds are gone, to be able to cross the finish line with many supporters standing and cheering them on. Having many times been that last one to cross, this gesture of kindness is very dear to me.
During the 15 minute break, our teams swam. The energy as the clocked ticked to 8:29, our start time, could almost be touched. As we began our swim, the shouting, cheering, clapping and stomping could be felt in the water as I swam. I have had to empty my goggles for many reasons—cracks, kicks in the face, and broken head bands, but I have never had to stop before to empty my googles full of joyful tears.
The bike course is as hard a course as I have ever riden, much less pulling 130 lbs of laughing company. The crowds of Lynchburg cheered us on, often running along side of my daughter and I. I was amazed at the number of racers who took the time to slow down and ride along side of us, to help encourage us up the hills. The fact that this had an impact on their races times did not seem to be as important as supporting us.
As I rounded the corner and stared up at the last hill on 9th street, I shouted out to Jenna – Lets do it. About a quarter of the way up the hill, my chain broke and I had to jump off. We started running up the hill, as several volunteers surrounded us and helped push us up the beast of an incline. At the top, a ride back was offered to us, and I asked Jenna what she wanted to do. “BAM” was her answer. So off we went, running in cycle shoes, pulling my bike, trailer and my child for the next mile. I could not have done this without the encouragement of all I encountered on the way.
The run is lovely and peaceful, running along side of the river. Going out on the run, we go down 9th street. This hill tickles the back of your mind as you run along the course because you know that the amazingly steep incline must be tackled on the way back. Again, I was brought to tears by the racers who took the time to slow down, to introduce themselves, to high five my daughter and to encourage us to continue. I met an amazing 81 yo woman who was strong and beautiful!
During the course of the day, I had the honor of meeting Tim Groover, whose daughter is the inspiration for this race. His wonderful smile would appear along the course, encouraging Jenna and I to continue. As Leslie and I peered up at the vastness of 9th street’s incline, Tim was there with us. He asked for the honor of pushing one of our children up this hill. He pushed Jenna up a hill that I could barely manage to run up alone. He left us at the top with a hug and a smile.
The joy of crossing the finish line with a new and dear friend and our children brought yet another round of happy tears.
Thank you Leslie and Todd Hoglund, Shannon Rice, Jenna and Jasmine, Tim Groover, the entire staff of the Angels Tri, and the Town of Lynchburg for giving my daughter and I this day.