On Sunday, October 20 dozens upon dozens of women from the tri-city area (Escalon, Oakdale and Riverbank) will flood the streets of San Francisco as participants of the 10th Annual Nike Women’s Marathon benefitting the Leukemia/Lymphoma Society.
Some will brave the Half Marathon distance of 13.1 miles beginning at Union Square and ending at Ocean Beach. As they break off toward the Finish line, others will continue on for a 26.2 total before being greeted at the Finish by firefighters in tuxedos. Finishers of both distances are rewarded with custom made sterling necklaces compliments of Tiffany. Everyone celebrates not with a medal, but the highly coveted ‘little blue box.’
I ran this course for the first time in 2012 as a Half Marathoner. The ‘race’ was a bucket list item spurred a decade ago when I was not a runner, but always a dreamer.
I still remember seeing the first ads in early spring of 2004 for the upcoming inaugural event. With the Susan G. Komen 60 mile, 3-day walk under my belt and a love for all things Nike and San Francisco I recall thinking how amazing this event would be.
During that time I did not know anyone with either disease and racing just to ‘race’ was really not a part of who I was. In all honesty, I still don’t consider myself a ‘racer’ but I am a runner and I do run races (semantics, I guess).
Fast forward three short years and this all changed. Two close and dear friends battled each of these two diseases. Mothers, daughters, sisters, friends and now… survivors. I was gifted with watching true bravery first hand. Isolation from family, ports as means of survival, smiles from scarf-adorned heads, wig shopping and chemo pills … true Heroes.
These ladies were amazing and inspiring. Through each of their journeys they never lost their smile, their laugh or their ability to comfort all of us who loved them each so very much. They comforted us more than we could possibly have comforted them.
This space has held plenty about my journey in sneakers during the last three years, but next Sunday will be much different in many ways.
Sure ... I will be among the locals and the total participant count of 30,000 braving the course. I will take on my first task at running 26.2 miles and earn the well-respected (running world) title of ‘Marathoner.’ I know the first 13 miles, I ran them last year as a Half Marathon Participant. That was the day I told myself I would be back to take on the 26.2. I had something to prove.
I still remember sending the text to a dear friend who held my hand through the Half Marathon training. As I sent the words ... I’m coming back for the 26.2. My friend Jeff (also a runner) quickly shot back, ‘26.2 is a long way. It takes mental strength and you have it.’ From there ... I just believed him.
From that moment until the day I learned I made it into this race I knew if my friends could battle and survive all that they had, then a day with 26.2 miles was nothing.
My friends fight cancer. My family fights cancer. I sincerely hate cancer.
Three very simple sentences; with much complexity and meaning. These are the three sentences which will take me across the Start and through the Finish of that race next Sunday. Theirs are the faces I will see when I feel weak, tired or just overwhelmed. Warriors – the smiles, faces and spirits of Warriors.
Granted, you must train for a marathon if you are to run and finish it responsibly. It has been a commitment that I, nor my children, will soon forget. Much time has been spent in my sneakers and with each step somehow I always manage to think of my brave and inspiring friends.
For my friends who know me first as a ‘runner’ this is a bit new, a bit outside of who I am when I hit a start line. I have a competitive head. I like a good Finish time.
It’s hard with just days left to fathom what the day will feel like. Running those streets with so many people, so many stories and so much hope and love ... it’s truly amazing stuff. There are times you forget it’s supposed to be hard.
Ten years ago, I would never have fathomed this column, this person, this moment. I would never have fathomed my girlfriend Paula isolated from her children because her health and immune system were too fragile. I would never have fathomed the fear-filled years my dear friend Sherri faced as she would go for each ‘well check.’ I would never have fathomed this very deep hate I have for this merciless disease.
What I know through it all is simple. Next Sunday that hate will be put to good use. Next Sunday I will carry those two Warriors with me through every step of that 26.2 and when I Finish … I will hand that ‘blue’ box to my six-year-old daughter. That day she will learn that what mommy did had very little to do with running and everything to do with bravery.
Teresa Hammond is a former reporter and current circulation manager for The Oakdale Leader, The Riverbank News and The Escalon Times. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 847-3021.