Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The Road Less Traveled By

They say the sequel is rarely as good as the original... Then to try to add a third is just stretching it. Perhaps that's why there's so few books or movies with trilogies. But here I was signing up for the Waco Miracle Match finish line for the 3rd time. The first was all but irresistable to a guy whose brain was damaged but I always want to test the timber of my heart. How could my last marathon with a stroller not be Texas' Toughest... How would I not carry a stroller up a long long flight of mile of stairs? The sequel returning in 2015 to do the half since it ran through the zoo had some matching miracles with some mixed reviews. It would be the first time my dad would do a race of any sort a 5k and the three generations would get across a finish line together each on their own two feet? That time would be the only time Kiana would get out of the stroller during the race, running up the stairs on her own while I awkwardly carried just the stroller... She beat me up. However, I had already made two wrong turns at that point and I would make others, the spatial orientation and exhaustion leaving me drained.

But here in 2016, I was returning with one purpose and one purpose alone, settling the score. It was tempting to do the marathon again since I've ran 4 twenty milers in the last few weeks with no marathon on the calendar but I hadn't gotten lost on that course, that course wasn't the one I wanted revenge on. So I signed up on the half... I had done a paper registration and anyone whose ever seen my hand writing will tell you that it's horrible... so the person typing it in had typed what they thought they read "Iram Leon" had transliterated it to "Team Leon." I didn't bother asking for a correction since even though this time I had no official company, you better believe my heart didn't for a second think it was ever alone, Team Leon was going to be the one taking the course.

In my pre-morning race ritual I always play a song to figure out the emphasis of that race. Some are different than others. In fact, I never know if I run so much because I'm trying to lose myself or because I'm looking for an answer...but maybe those are one and the same. But in this one, in this race, just had to go back to an old classic of Frank Sinatra... that's life:
I've been a puppet, a pauper, a pirate, a poet, a pawn and a king
I've been up and down and over and out and I know one thing
Each time I find myself flat on my face
I pick myself up and get back in the race
That's life (that's life), I tell you I can't deny it
I thought of quitting, baby, but my heart just ain't gonna buy it

So I got up, got dressed and ate with one focus... which was keep my heart and mind focused to not make a wrong turn, to not make a bad step. This was the first race I was doing by myself since December, on January 31st so I decided to go out there to see how well the system could wake up from a long winter's nap. 

When the race started, let's just say it was a lot warmer than I like. The race beginning was in the low 60's... if revenge is best served cold, the weather was not suggesting that focus was the correct one. So I spent a few moments in conversations remembering that this race, the reason I came to it originally wasn't only because it was tough but also because it helped match marrow donors and recipients. In fact 4 of the Waco firefighters who help put it on had donated themselves... they save people from burning buildings and save lives down to the bone. So that got me thinking sometimes settling the score is much bigger than the pettiness of revenge. The nerves didn't calm down but the smile came on.

The race started and I got into a comfortable pace, one I knew I could hold for 13.1 miles. There were only two people in front of me for the first couple of miles but at the first turn around I realized they were both 10k participants so early on I realized I had the lead. The music was singing in my ears, the signs and spectators and military were cheering on the course... Then at mile 3 the carefully crafted playlist on the iPod gave way because the iPod ran out of batteries... Well I started singing internally and just chose to decide that I'd come out here for focus and focus was now on new alert. It didn't take me long to realize that having earphones on your ear without music is actually a distraction because you hear your heavy breathing a lot more. I threw the iPod at a volunteer and asked her to please hold on to it.

Not long after the 10k and the half split ways we were in the zoo, running around monkeys and cheetahs and near the king of the beasts, the lions. There were a couple of turns in there were it was clear I had a solid lead, a good 300 meters over halfway done with a clump of 5 or 6 all staying with each other vying for second. It was then that it occurred to me that maybe my return might be a win in more ways than one. Another turn around a couple of miles later and I had a solid minute lead or so but then we got closer to mile 10. I knew somewhere in the middle of it was Jacob's ladder.  I don’t know why it’s called Jacob’s ladder but if it’s in reference to the story in Genesis where Jacob gets to see a ladder going up to heaven... the road to heaven is a steep one. There was a spectator who was biking along the course and was saying you've got a solid lead and was confused when I yelled back, where's Jacob's ladder?

It would be at about mile 10.5 where it came through. There were two younger than me guys and therefore young guys who started kicking in about then, about the right time to start kicking in for a half. And just as I saw them for the first time up close during the race, there was the Jacob's ladder... And in the 20-30 seconds I had a thousand and one thoughts... While this is a hilly course, from that point forward there are no required hills. You can run along the riverside in the most direct way or you can go up 100 very steep, manmade stairs that add at least a tenth of a mile, quite a bit of elevation which raises your heart rate like you wouldn't believe. How to balance all of those thoughts? 

*You can out kick these guys. You're not even on PR pace and you got fuel left in the tank
*You've had a victory or a PR every month since June of last year... are you ready to let the streak end to go up some stairs?
*Kiana ran up those stairs last year and you carried her up them two years ago... you ready to tell her you came on your own and skipped them? Ready to tell yourself that?
*They say to never let them see you sweat... that's unavoidable in this heat but they've only gotten to see your back sweat... do you wanna watch their sweat

*You would literally be walking away from the potential of a victory because no matter how good of a runner you are you cannot run all 100 steps this late in the game
*What's the best choice, going straight and easy or going to the right and going hard?

And that final thought was the one that was on my mind as I turned... you go right and go the hard way. One coach always says you can do extra and another coach of mine said if you go the extra mile, it's never as crowded. I'd come out here to settle scores and the ladder and the right turns was who I needed to beat. The ladder turns so I was going up I'd get to see the guys who had been behind me now be ahead of me on their course since no one else had a brain damaged enough to come up it.

Still, I would repass one person on the way in from the half but in the end I'd take 6th overall and win my age group. So I kept running and running and running. At the top of the race they give you a bracelet... I've never actually stopped to let them put it on, just threw in the stroller before. This time I kept it in my hand and held it with the same conviction I'd gone up the stairs with. It may well tell you something that while I generally ignore finish line pictures and someone else had gotten to break the tape I was sprinting holding that band very proudly.

I finish races sprinting too hard to be smiling. But not long afterwards,I was smiling and as I remembered that the first time we came out to the race that Kiana had gone on top of a certain animal because the race kept saying, Texas Toughest' race, no bull. She's climbed on top of the bull because we'd gone to the top of the stairs. I remembered that and did the same though a little less graciously. As I waited for the awards, got the race director to do a little dance with me in the middle of "running the race." I talked to the proper half marathon winner and congratulated him and encouraged him to keep running since he had also been there last year and had stepped up his game a lot since then. I cheered on many more race finishers and the ones who had done the ladder might have gotten a little extra affection from me. The overall marathon winner heard enough people excited about it that he went back and did it himself not long after he'd finished the course. A group of firefighters did the course in full regalia and took a little girl up the ladder together.

I can't tell you that I didn't second guess the decision on the drive home. But the next day I was telling Kiana about it and the fact that I had to decide between winning and taking the stairs and asked her what she thought I did. With far less hesitation than I had taken to make the decision she said, well you took the stairs of course. A few moments later I noticed what the medal ribbon said, Rise to the Occasion... I'm thankful that on a race course, for a cause, and for our hearts, others and Team Leon had the opportunity to do so. Jacob's ladder had helped me settle the score from being lost and I'd stayed on the right path and for at least one course and at least one day, gotten not revenge, but redemption.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Gerbil Brain

For a guy known for running long distances, I'll tell you a small secret, I haven't done a half marathon since last January. I did two in January 2015.  I won one and one was my slowest one but I got lost in both. Spatial orientation doesn't exist in my brain... I'd try to explain it to you but think of some things in life that you're not capable of no matter how hard you try and it's kind of like that. While I'm a fan of positive attitude, little phrases like, "with the right attitude, you can do anything" is at best idealistic but generally naive. Attitude changes and potentially improves us all but it doesn't make us omnipotent...

Still, it's that attitude that I think helps me keep going. The first half marathon I did at the Rogue Distance Festival last year, I won and it got some media coverage.  This year I did it and Kiana and both of my parents all got their PRs and everyone of them got 3rd in their age group! Kiana got it under 57 minutes, almost a 4 minute PR from her first one back in August. But that was awesome (almost expected with that kid's heart) but I was intrigued/reprimanded when the official race pictures came out. Apparently people think that when I run a race now with Kiana that I should be next to her. That is true a fair share of the time but anytime there's a turn coming where things aren't clear, I'm ahead of her. Somehow when I was doing it with her in a stroller that was more commendable, on the road, people have thought I was hurrying her up. I think it echoes the spirit that is captured in that tattoo of mine. The lion isn't looking down at the lion cub, it's looking out in the distance. Looking out for someone in my book means exactly that, looking out for them. 

Still, I long have joked that if Kiana becomes a brain surgeon this whole brain cancer thing will be totally worth it. In simple frankness, if she become a janitor or a rocket scientist, a teacher or a housewife, if she does it honestly and ethically and I hope is always watching out for others. But I was intrigued that for her science project this year, she chose to do a project she called A-MAZE-ing Gerbil. She put together a maze for a gerbil to get through. She thought that with time and effort, it would make less errors at getting lost and get faster at going through it with a reward at the end. 

Like far too many things at school, everyone who turns one in "places." I'm not a fan of these things (I'm okay with participant medals look at how many races I do!) but somehow despite many many projects, most people get 3rd, some get 2nd and 1 gets 1st. This is essentially I think calling them 2nd and 3rd tier projects and one the winner. Last  year when she did her project I was proud of her but, each parent has their own philosophy but didn't make much of a "2nd place metal." This year the project was much more elaborate. Her theory ended up being validated on the errors, the gerbils error did end up making less mistakes each time (defined as actually making the turn) but it turned out the time didn't seem to correlate, sometimes it took slower even as it made less mistakes. 

A person or two close to my heart wondered out loud to me on how she chose the topic since she's been next to me or in front of me in a stroller when I've gotten lost. Let me clear, I had exactly nothing to do with her choice of project or how she carried it out but I couldn't help but be intrigued because when I asked her why she had picked this she answered "It's because the Gerbil has a brain that's more like humans than mice or rats." I wanted to ask more but instead we just went through her practice round. I guess it must have gone very well a couple of days later because last night when they announced results, she was the first place winner (the only one) in third grade and gets to advance to the regional competition next month! People are kind enough to think that has something to do with me but I won exactly zero science competitions in my life. If anything you can tell that it's all in her handwriting. As I looked at other projects, long before the results, which had clearly been typed out and made with much fancier graph with either fantastically intelligent young 'uns (or more than likely done by their parents), I was glad that she had done it all by hand if for no other reason than that she'll be able to look at her own development in time.

I get heckled by the fact I don't focus on one specific thing. If you focused on Spartans/marathon/the mile/cross fit/trail running instead of doing it all you'd be way better. And yes, yes I would but I'd be better at that. I currently don't know anyone who could beat me at all those things and I'd rather have more experiences. Plus the questions are always "Can I keep running and am I fit to raise a kid, one's how I get through the day and the other one is why." I've got no apologies for that my focus on the why is a bigger deal. And when the kid shows up with straight A's and perfect attendance for the entire first semester and is glowing about it more than me, I think I'm focused on the most important gift the universe has handed me. She came home today after having thrown up and hadn't been home two hours when she asked if she could return... I called the school nurse and asked her teacher and she did. I don't know where she gets that kind of work ethic or focus from. (With that said, I told her school that my job was to watch out for this kid and theirs was to watch out for all the kids so if they called back because they thought she was contagious etc, I lived a block away).

But not overprotecting everyone because of one injury here and there, in my view, is how humanity got ahead. A friend of mine who sees my approach to life joked how in the ancient days he would have been a gatherer and I would have been a hunter. I thought I'd be in the minority when a proposal was brought up to get rid of the monkey bars because a child had fallen and broken their arm. I was the first to argue against it and thought I'd be in the minority but one by one each parent backed me, no backed the monkey bars up and that life comes with risk.  The teacher that deals with kids with developmental problems, the very definition of kids who aren't all there, also backed up the monkey bars.The PTA president talked about how her child had ended up in the MRI trauma center from being knocked off the bench on the playground where likely the safest place shy of the ground and then she added that we should keep the monkey bars (there have been people I talk into their first road race, others into their first Spartan but she's the first who did her first half marathon at my encouragement and is now doing her first Spartan). This is why I have faith in humanity, why as MLK said that human salvation lies in the hands of the creatively maladjusted. 

And I hope/think Kiana will be among those. We keep going and recently on a trail run, the exact trail she had taken her worse fall on ever, she said, running trail was her favorite. I reminded her that and said you say that not but the last time we were here you fell very hard and cried for a while so we'll see if that's still your attitude after another fall like that. We were about 2.75 miles where she took another serious stumble onto a rock and started crying, I hugged her and she looked up and said, "it's still my favorite." That was a couple of weeks ago but when we were doing hill repeats Wednesday she asked if we could go there again next Monday. Looks like I know at least a few other hunters that even if takes a while or the time factor is unpredictable they make less mistakes as they chase their reward. Kiana comes from the name of the Hawaiian moon goddess so I always tell her I love her to the moon and back so perhaps I'm under selling. So many of her decorations in her room, entirely of her choosing are things that take flight so maybe she'll be hunting further than I could ever dream of even if it comes with some stumples up a hill. 

So I've long said that in regards to Kiana and I it's unclear sure whose raising who here. I started with a conversation about the two half marathons I started last year with, both of which I got lost. The first one I won, it helped I only made one wrong turn. The second one I made several wrong turns and ended up getting my slowest "half" ever. I've had courses that were short and long and where the leader making a wrong turn ended up leading a few of us stray. But the official rules of USATF are that it's the runner's job to know the course so, even with a damaged memory and no spatial orientation, I study them and if something goes wrong, I've never blamed anyone but me. So the Miracle Match Marathon, which bills itself as the toughest race in Texas, no bull, I'm going back to. Each time I've done it with Kiana, something also covered in a video of the course because it has a quarter mile of stairs near the finish but this year it'll be the first race I do on my own. She won her grade in the science fair and this is the steepest grade road race I've ever done so let's see if I can't do it at the fastest pace I've ever done up that grade. Like the gerbil, I hope to make less wrong turns having learned from mistakes as I go after the reward. But here's hoping I can make Kiana proud and show this human brain is a little bit better than a gerbil brain do it at a consistently faster time. 

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

When Life Flashes Before Your Eyes

It's questionable whether or not I've had a near death experience. The first time I woke up in an ambulance, the one that would lead to the cancer diagnosis, I didn't really see it coming. The nights before the two brain surgery and the subsequent collapse, seizure and waking up in an ambulance on side of the road, I was too calm by many people's description. In fact my first Facebook status between the seizure and the MRI was "I had a seizure, why is everyone making into such a big deal?" (if anyone thinks that I became an oversharer after the diagnosis, there's evidence there to the contrary though you could argue it showed something was always wrong with my brain). I did not have a moment like some people describe where they feel like they're entering heaven (here's where if you're preachy you could make the argument that I better really avoid the void anytime soon or make some serious changes if I'm not seeing heaven at near death moments). Nor did I have life flash before my eyes though I could make the case that time seemed to slow down as I remember the moments before clearly if not painfully.

However, I recently did have life "flash" before my eyes in a certain way. I am a minimalist and this year in addition to cleaning out my "stuff" around the house I noticed that my computer by far the biggest memory usage was pictures. I had over 50,000 pictures taken over a dozen years of digital photography. There was plenty of storage space left on the computer and the iCloud etc but I realized looking through many that I'd gotten lazy with digital photography. In the days of film, I would never have developed that many nor kept that many in a picture album. Sure digital photography lets you keep more but that many more gets in the way of going through memories because it becomes cumbersome to catch every second along the way of a facial expression rather than that proverbial "thousand words." This may be why I've never quite understood videos despite being in way too many of them. A slice of time is my favorite.

So Kiana's on a new kick of crafts that are done one pin and one string at a time. She has the patience for doing it and I like being there but completely watching it was... well dull. So I sat on the computer and worked one month at at time deleting pictures. I started back when I was actually 22 years old not just dancing like I was that age. There were college memories, summer memories, work, family. I was married then to a gorgeous woman who was my high school sweetheart and life was just starting even as college was finishing. There were friends who we'd bond over academic debates, lots of wedding pictures that I attended. There was that time I grew out my hair and one look at it made me remember why I never did it again.

There were memories of the time that I volunteered immediately after college teaching in the Marshall Islands. A place where I taught high school in a "3rd world" country and made friends with many of students. It's also where I took in a stray dog almost at birth that would become my "puppy." It's been almost a dozen years with her. I've never lived in Washington but Truman's truth about friendship might be more spread out. We're two foreigners that have made Austin home.

There were moments of friends and family, the vast majority of which I am proud to still have as contacts from all stages. It was amusing moments to see pictures of when my nephew and niece were still shorter than me. In fact I texted many of the pictures and shared them and looking back made me find a way to reach out and communicate again. Love is a many splendored thing. There were pictures of sporting events, trips, flora and fauna. Since forever I've preferred being on the back side of the camera... when you've got my looks that's the side you belong on.

I actually got through it on many emotions. I once again saw the pictures of a relationship that I literally thought would be there till that death came. To my credit(discredit?) I didn't erase those pictures either and Kiana knew what I was doing and asked to see those. She asked how I felt about her mom now and I responded with the truth, "That I loved her, that I intended to be with her until I died and that I was sorry for the mistakes that had broken that up." She softly hugged me and said I love you, dad. I sat and stared at the very last picture of Kiana and I a few days before I found out I had a tumor... I was at a preschool function with her... I was always trying to be a good dad, it was in simple honesty a lower priority or at least a different vision.

The years since then had a lot of very low lows and very high highs. Less than a year after brain cancer I was being interviewed for a Livestrong video 4 years ago where I said I think the smartest thing I've ever said, you have to work on the relationship you want to keep. Perhaps because it's been on too much media, perhaps because it's the oldest printed picture hanging in my house (there is a frame I update regularly and that picture is the only static one and the central one), the picture from so long ago popped out on my computer again. Once again perhaps because she was the one who gave her the original jacket and loved it then and is a fan of the picture, my mom had given her the exact same jacket this year for Christmas. I still have the jacket from then (still the same size?) and we went and took the picture again. The first time the photography session was supposed to happen after the video but the photography guy just took pictures of us while we were playing and he said we were so natural that he didn't need to take anymore picture. This second time as we were trying to replicate that moment if for nothing else wondering how time had aged us, it was about as close to taking a selfie as we get. She was 5 then and 9 now and am I grateful to have caught all those years and so many moments in between. I am thankful to have focused enough to have never lost the mentality of working on the relationships I want to keep.

So as 2016 sets in, that's the goal again. There were those who always thought that running in a
stroller was a way to keep my hobby but it was always just a way to have fun with Kiana. Now we're doing the races side by side and while I imagine they will come the truth is that right now in 2016 I am registered for exactly zero races not with her. On January 1st this year was the first time I did a New Year's run with her rather than on my own. I got us lost and Kiana did the steepest longest run she's ever done of 7.6 miles, a longer than that I had done till I was 29 when I'd signed up for our first marathon. Then two days later we did 3.5 miles. We were going to do 3.5 miles again last night but I got lost again and we did just under 6 on another very hilly course. I was very apologetic to Kiana (she might have gotten a cookie in addition to breakfast today) and said I am so sorry I got us lost twice in 3 days. She's done 16 miles in 3 runs over 4 days; I don't know whether I feel more guilt or pride about that. I told her I was so proud of her for not giving up when we were lost... She responded with a wisdom I wasn't expecting "well you shouldn't quit when you're lost, how will you ever get where you're supposed to be?" Remind me again who is raising who?

But perhaps that has taught me to go up. My dad is doing his first 10k this Sunday at age 70 (last year he did his first 5k so he keeps being one year behind Kiana). When someone heard this, which was shortly after they heard I got Kiana lost, a friend asked me what are you trying to do to your family!?! I timidly responded, "make them healthier." Kiana's doing the 10k too and I'll be running with her hoping its a PR. But with a few days perspective, and believe you me I'm proud of Kiana, I am far more proud of my dad for doing this.

It's like people being proud of me for beating my high school or college times in my mid 30's after a cancer diagnosis. That's all great and all but running is my therapy, who brags about being good at therapy? I'm far more proud of taking on things I'm not good at like the Spartans (heading to the gym tomorrow for the first time in too long). But well above those, I cooked two meals today, I ironed, I did laundry and more importantly I enjoyed them all, things that too many people from my generation at least in my country of origin thought was of women work. They might have fixed more than a few things in my heart and brain during that surgery.

So as I look ahead to 2016, let me be clear as has been the case for years, running nor being in shape is anywhere near my top priority. Relationships are. There are people who try to say well 'that's you.' In most things I am happy to say to each his own beliefs. I don't think running is better than basketball or football or crossfit or yoga etc. I don't get into gigantic debates about the different diets. And in a town that I've seen signs from Trump to Bernie, I honestly think there are legitimate reasons to be both a republican or a democrat with their different emphasis (though not to scare anyone, I don't think all of the candidates are legitimate contenders or representative of America). I subscribe to one but I can see how different religions have different windows into the soul that might reflect culture. But the one thing that I can't, won't accept is that people are better on their own than in good relationships. In plenty of physics and chemistry you can make the argument that somethings are better isolated even if most others  are better in conjunction. There are creatures that are like that but humans literally would not exist, could not be born without joining. Community is what we're wired for from birth. Sometimes damage makes that wiring tough but trust me my wiring is off and damaged but I still want to work through the damage and keep working on the relationships I want to keep.

I got the pictures down to under 20,000 over 10% of which were of Kiana. This led into me creating a slideshow for her 9th birthday party this weekend. I made it primarily of ones of her actively doing something. I'd share it on here in video format but it's got songs she picked out that make it better. If anything this blog or my Facebook statuses show I seem to live life in lyrics, so as I watch it and during the party, I'll be glad to watch her life flash before my eyes. As I keep taking pictures of her and other things, I'm glad whether or not the flash is necessary that even with a damaged memory I get to keep taking some. And just like my dad doing races with my mom and me and Kiana, or the cousins or friends that I've gotten to do new things, or the ones that have gotten me do new things like my first trail races last year, I hope I keep living actively. That life and love are a flash, memories worth smiling and crying back over are better than sitting on the couch. Perhaps to quote a song by a band called "The New Pornographers" (what kind of porn but lyrics could I possibly be into) called 'Go Places' I am glad to have a kid and a life and enjoy it for the run of it even if a couple of wrong turns made it harder and longer than I had imagined. 2016 is going to be good.

Yes, a heart should always go one step too far
Come the morning and the day winding like dreams
Come the morning every blue shade of green
Come with me, go places

Come hell or full circle
Our arms fill with miracles
Play hearts, kid, they work well
Like magic, play aces
Stay with me, go places
Once more for the ages

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Happily Ever After

As 2015 wraps up, I can easily say that it was the happiest year of my life. Now I am and hope to always be an optimist, a hoper of far flung hopes and a dreamer of improbable dreams. With that said, I am not someone given to superlatives, everything is not "awesome" in my book or "wow." Perhaps it may be more revealing that one of my close friends recently "I know you don't hand out compliments easily so when you give me one, I know it's sincere"(psychoanalyze the complex that leads me to heckle the people I like the most).

End of year always lends itself to reflection for me, a natural transition into measuring time and evaluating it. One of the traditions that we have in the Leon household is putting up an ornament representing the most important event of the year or more specifically one before December. It's incredibly obvious some years (Kiana's birth, college graduation,house purchase, getting a pet, the Gusher marathon etc) and incredibly hard other years where there were so many cool things, it's hard to pick one (last year I cheated and conglomerated a few). This year was the most traveled year of both mine and Kiana's life by far. That kid has seen more of the country and the world in 9 years of life than I saw till I was a real adult. I collect a shot glass from everywhere I go and I put them together and was blown away... I am a minimalist so that's usually all I bring back with on occasion something making it in that's an additional nod but a shot glass and something that fits in it is not a bad collection of travel.

With that, I thought about making it just like a plane or something but that was a little too generic because some trips were very different. I got to do races in many states (many with trophies and PR's and almost all of them to do with someone I care about), I got to help out with a couple of cancer causes (the one to DC was a lobbying one and this year DC gave the biggest fundraising to cancer since before Kiana was born, the one to Denver was a push the clinic one where our project is working on being prototyped).  But in the end I just chose one, the trip to Disneyworld with Kiana. It was 3 magical days where the running was more like running around to the next ride or magic. It was meals and ferris wheels and a little girl who would remember it and laugh and ask a thousand questions about what was real and what was magic. It was a dad smiling back at her and hoping that she never forgets what it took me to long to learn, that life itself is magic, the joy in it, a mystical thing that you hold onto with both hands, that love itself is the greatest special effect. That's certainly true when you are thankful to have a second chance. Disney captured that and represented it the best; thus, the ornament.

Still you look back and realize that this year, 2015, your daughter did her first 10k, 3 of them in fact and won one out right. You look back and realize that your dad did his first 5 right next to your mom, 3 of them in fact and both pr'ed at all three! And we're just getting started my dad at age 70 is about to do his first 10k with my mom right next to him (she's 29) and Kiana and I little ahead of them.

You look back realize that 5 years ago you had to cancel a trip to Brazil due to brain cancer surgery. Travel was always a passion of mine but it got cut out for a few years because there were medical debts to pay and no money to spare. I accepted this and fought it simultaounesouly. I knew it was gone and yet I put up a wall in my house of a giant map of the world everywhere I'd been committed to that someday, someday there would be additions! Not all who wonder are lost was the caption and I've loved the wondering this year because sometimes wondering in the wilderness is the best way to be found.

Here, almost exactly 5 years later, I got to go see my 5th World Wonder, the Statue of the Christ in Rio de Janeiro on Christmas eve. Most everyone took the bus, we climbed it. You saw snakes and spiders and bugs and beauty. I'm not a preachy guy but when you're there on Christmas eve in a Catholic country how can you not life your hands to the sky at a world wonder, oh my and not take a second and say thanks to the King? There are 8 wonders of the world and life was kind to me in life Part I, the part before brain cancer when life seemed a little more predictable and I had seen 4. It stung to have to cancel a trip to the 5th one back in 2010 but a few thousand miles south of my home, after a few thousand miles having been run on my feet, you start to wonder and dare dream that in Life Part II you'll get to catch the other 4. One down, three to go. (Just in case anyone is worried if I was too righteous in a very Catholic country, I still would have needed to go to confession for some of the sins and vices that I took part in. Though my doctors would be proud to not have a confession needed and it was tough to do but I did not play a soccer game nor go scuba diving following my medical restrictions.) Go big or go home some day but I'd like to play by go see the big things then go back home.

I got home literally about an hour and half before Kiana came home from spending the Christmas holiday with her mom. She turned 9 the very next day. My parenting philosophy, at least outloud, and most days at heart, is first you gotta give them roots than you gotta give them wings. I've encouraged independence in her both because of the fear/expectation that I wouldn't be around and in hope that even if I was, all she'll ever have to do is let me know once in a while what she's up to. Still my hopes and definition for is that she lives an honest helpful life. These days when she decides to read now on her own and tell me about the book if I haven't read it, it's tough even for a guy with a damaged memory, to not remember when she wanted me to read to her or her to me, something long ago by the wayside at least as a regular activity. So in a move I wasn't quite expecting when I reminded her she was supposed to be a baby forever and couldn't possibly be turning 9 the next day she asked to sleep in my bed for the first time in who knows how long not on a trip. I told her just as long as I didn't have to change her diaper. She rolled her eyes and smiled. Her 9th birthday started with dessert for breakfast when the girl decided to order cheesecake with ice-cream and strawberries, an early sophistication and dress already in place (none of which I had any say in). She was going to be 8 forever in my book but I got her to promise me to stay nine at least for an extra day next year.

I don't know whether 2016 will be the best year of my life. I've never had the best year of my life happen two years in a row like it did in 2014/2015 so a 3 peat seems unlikely. That doesn't mean I don't intend for it to be a great year but just like not every race is a PR or a win for anyone, sometimes you know that great is awesome but that it can't always be the best. It's on focusing, accepting this that I'm well aware that like those Disney movies, after brain cancer, I get to live happily ever after. It took a little slapping around or perhaps brain surgery that keen reminder of my mortality to understand that phrase. I thought it was an over simplification that you got to be happy forever but happily ever after doesn't mean forever, it just means a bit more time. It's the heart condition since my mind is damaged, when you recognize and absorb happiness ever-y day. So goodbye and thank you to 2015 and I promise I'll be living happily ever after in 2016 and beyond.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Bottom Half of the Hourglass

"They say we are what we are but we don’t have to be"

Dealing with the scanxiety of sitting between an MRI and it's results makes for longer days than usual. Fortunately I had plenty to do in wrapping up some things from the race and it's results. You try to take it easy, to remember to breathe. Someone joked when this cancer journey started that I'll do anything for attention that this was all drama. It was funny at the time but I realize now that a lot of this has just simply ended up being trauma  The people who understand realize it's a tough shift to return to normal life after cancer. When you go from over two years straight without a full month's break from medical appointments to only have having had 3 in 2015 (or 5 if you count the MRI tests as separate but to me they're one and the same), it's odd that it doesn't feel normal to have life to get back closer to normal. Perhaps it's like someone who was raised by an abusive parent or was in an abusive romantic relationship, you start to see the things that are awkward, painful, invasive, and wrong as normal. You start to perceive the perversion of things that should not happen as just the cost of staying alive.  So when they go away when someone is simply checking in about how you are down the road, the trauma, the fears, the blood boils. You want to turn it off, you try it turn it off, you try to redirect it but if there are people who get to 100% back of it well... 100% of my tumor wasn't removed so I'm not one of them. 

"I’m bad behavior but I do it in the best way"

I know I'm nowhere near the top of my game between MRI and results. Me, the guy who loves the crowd and loves people stays away from one on one meetings. I still fulfill standing obligations, I coached chess twice, made my ARC president obligations completely on time, trying to believe that the scanxiety is toned down with being a man of my word. It got built up by an odd thing, shortly after the MRI I had a missed call with a reminder of the appointment but they left a voicemail. There was another call with no voicemail and somewhere my mind imagined something they'd rather not leave said. 

I never quite know how to respond to people saying they wish me well, or that they are praying for me, or sending good vibes. I've never once prayed/wished/vibed to be one of the outliers in the survival statistics of this... I've just tried, when appropriately focused, to live appropriately, live with conviction. Honestly I've always felt guilty about being one of the survivors because if there's any karma/deity/balance to the universe there's at least one guy where places got mixed up because I've seen far better people die of this exact and other cancers and if someone is running the show, I hope they explain to someone why I got to stand longer than they did. Still, it was some comfort as I coached chess club that it was the first time Kiana got a checkmate period. Once during a school meeting with a government representative as they mentioned things that has been promised for a decade out of Austin ISD, the PTA president tried to be more polite while I was a little more direct about how I'd sat in multiple meetings since Kiana was in school with no actual changes. I reminded her and the room that this is why she was the politician but I taught kid that it's good to go after the king. I hope Kiana balances it better than either of us but between the two I'd rather Kiana measure life by results. 

Still, it's always during this time that helps me evaluate relationships. Most of us, if we're honest, know that at any given time we have less than a handful of people who we can be completely honest with. I'm not sure you should do that at all times, we invented social cues and the game for good reasons. But there should be times, people who you can break down in front of, where you're not having to choose your words as carefully or at all when life is a little extra stressful. Like Job's friends even if they disagree with you they stay quiet for a while listening and argue down the road and you know they'll still be friends after even if you're all wrong at some level. Or perhaps it's like the old saying that "home is the place that when you go there, they have to let you in." It is the place that you know will life you up even if you're staring at the ground at rock bottom. The stroller races started because my mom said she'd do her first half marathon at age 60 if I'd do it with a stroller and I started running again. So, she's who I called on the day between the MRI and the results. And we stepped up our game together as family. Last year in January, I did a half marathon and my parents cheered me to win and then I cheered Kiana as she placed for the first time in a kid's race, taking 3rd in the kid's K. This year, my mom helped me look beyond the results and all four of us are now signed for their 1st 10k on 1/10. Life isn't always clean but sometimes it's good when the family branches all grow in the same direction. I do hope that like my parents, my child learns that if you can find people who accept your humanity at your worst while challenging at its best, that's my definition of a saint. 

I’m still comparing your past to my future
It might be your wound, but they’re my sutures

Still, I was sore from all the recent races so I actually took it lightly on the workouts. It's probably no coincidence that almost every single one of my fastest time at any distance is shortly after very good or very bad news, trying to gun from the happiness fuel or gun away from the frustration.

There were still some issues though with trying to make sure Kiana stays in shape if she wants to keep doing the 10k's (which she does). So as you try to deal with the thought that an MRI may show that your path to hell is closer than you think, you try to say 'what the hill' instead and Kiana got the most hill repeats she's ever done in one day. I never did them that young and we usually do them together but this time I was more coach cheer leader... I hope she sticks with them but she liked it and said we should do that again. 

For what it's worth if anyone doesn't think running is my therapy, I did 7 races in November and 4 in the first week of December and there are none scheduled again till January. Therapy takes a break when there's less to resolve. 

I am the sand, bottom half of the hourglass. 

Then the appointment day finally arrives. It was an odd day because as school started Kiana's teacher talked to me about a writing exercise they do. Well I knew about the writing assignment but that Kiana had been writing about a child whose parent dies young; apparently there is more than one Leon who uses writing as a way to deal with worry. Her teacher proceeds to tell me about how both of her parents died at a young age and so she understands that experience and wanted to be sensitive. It certainly makes me question whether or not I should have shared as much as I did with Kiana. How inappropriate was it to take her to MRI's, to bloodwork, to appointments? Did I add my own trauma to hers? Was I mistaken in fighting for custody when someone said they should have it based on my medical issues? Are the 'seizure drills' a bad idea? 

I've been living with the reality of both statistics that the 10 year survival rate of this is 12% and that the doctor said it specifically that odds are that I wouldn't make 40 and thought giving Kiana a view of that, limited of course, was the wiser way to live. Originally when the diagnosis hit, when I put off brain surgery to run a marathon, I resigned myself to the fact that my best days were behind me. I've had so many ridiculously good days to know that's not true but even so, the day still hasn't come where I believe that I have more days ahead of me than behind me, a strange thought for most people in their early 30's, that in my hour glass there was more sand at the bottom than there was at the top. Still, when I arrived at the medical appointment, there was a new sign up or perhaps one I only noticed because of the conversation that morning about how children under 13 weren't allowed in the infusion room. 

Still when the doctor came in, he did his usual preamble of how usually the MRI's may show some difference just because you're not positioned exactly the same. However apparently this is the most consistent I've ever been because both to he and I thought they were exactly the same. So visibly the tumor was stable. And then I breathed.

Sometimes the only payoff for having any faith
Is when it’s tested again and again everyday

We talked about some of the memory functions and how they were also just not getting any better. The spatial orientation hadn't gotten any better. Oddly there I can remember old routes with tons of turn even if they are 20 miles but struggle with short routes even with few turns just because with memory damaged and spatial orientation gone. I missed some of the memory tests that we did today. Sometimes I miss some of it, sometimes I don't which is exactly the damage that I try to describe to people. It's not that short or long term memory is gone; it's that if the memories stay or they don't; always confusing to wonder how much of your life is missing.

But then we talked about something which I rarely talk to people about, that odd facial recognition quirk. I told him about the Bond girl (the only girl I've ever taken on a date to a Bond movie and fortunately this is the one Bond movie where the girl was still alive at the end). Specifically I told him about how I didn't recognize one of her friends that I've met many times when I saw her at the beginning of an evening and once again at the end of the evening. I didn't remember meeting her about an hour apart! Of course, this is frustrating and I always try to get the few people I share this with that it's not that I don't remember their name, I don't remember them. This is when he corrected me and said do you remember how you know them, the context from which you know them, places you've been at together. It's funny how I've always known that's correct without realizing it; so I do remember them I just can't recall their face and well, it took till today to acknowledge it to myself, that it's one part of them even if it's a very important part. He explained to me how that was near where the surgery was. I told him I'm still trying to do it better, to study people's faces on social media in a way that would be odd if not downright creepy in person. He suggested I tell people that when I meet them, that other patients of his share that. He pointed out that most people would be patient and just share who they are and from that point forward the conversation and playing field would be more level. I'm a guy who likes working the room so I can't imagine doing that, swalloing my pride that much. Perhaps that day will come, like the way it took enough seizures before I finally put in a reminder on my phone and a pill container rather than just trusting my memory. But, well, that day is not today.

And if we meet forever now
Pull the blackout curtains down
We could be immortals just not for long.

And then he showed why I love him (is that weird to say about your doctor?). He asked about the races and then he talked about how he had been there for the Thundercloud stroller division this year and how he looked up my results since we were both doing the same race. He asked about other races and didn't reprimand me for the beer miles. We walked about my kid and his two kids and our running times. We talked about Kiana's hill repeats and the Austin Runner's Club and how I was helping out but it was only possible because of the team and we talked about his medical team. And for just a few seconds we took the curtain down between doctor and patient and we were just humans in the same room. 

Then the nature of the relationship got restored and we started talking about the next appointment. He said that obviously I could call him anytime if needed but he hoped next year we'd only have two appointments. As much as I like him the less I see him the more I like him. At the last appointment he said maybe I would be one of the people who would beat this, something he'd never said before. At this appointment, he said we would keep it at two appointments a year until the decade mark (we're only at 5 years). Then if and when we hit the decade mark we'd make it to only a once a year appointment... I've long assumed and believed that I'd not make 40. Honestly I've never thought about a long life for the last several years, I have very few dreams that are very far out and none that are even a few years down the road. I haven't imagined paying off my mortgage, or being there at Kiana's high
school or college graduation or at her wedding; just assumed I'd left her with enough connection to keep her going. I know saying if we get to a decade doesn't create any expectations but it created hope. Who knows if those are 'true' expectations but in my book there's no such thing as false hope.

Unsurprisingly, I had two meetings straight from there, one personal and one business. The personal one was actually with a friend whose a financial adviser. I had set it because it could go either way... if the MRI/appointment had gone bad, I could ask questions about how to sell the house and set up an estate for Kiana. If it went well, then I could figure out what to do with the 'extra' money that might be there next October if/when all old medical debts are settled. I didn't take it too far in but in that context well, I thought about the question of what I might do once Kiana's done with college. The second meeting was about ARC about a race a few months away but after that one I started thinking about the race we're in charge of next December... 4 days after we finished this year. 

The italics in this rambling of thoughts have been the quotes from "Immortals." Most of humanity, myself included, are unaware of our mortality for much of our lives. Then when we become aware of it, we tend to be in denial of it, sometimes even till death. The question of whether or not I'm going to die hasn't changed, I'm still going to die whether it be from or with cancer. We want to believe we are immortal in some form. I don't know whether or not that's true, whether or not this life is it or we continue in some afterlife. I don't spend much time thinking about it. But I am thankful that at least for one more medical appointment that I dare dream that the question of which half of the sand of the hourglass is a little more vague than I thought before. Or should I just say that I'm glad that for one more medical appointment where I get to be immortal even if it's not for long?

Monday, December 7, 2015

Keeping Pace

What are the right thoughts to have the night before an MRI? What are the right reflections... what are the wrong ones? I've had so many over so many years and that's mostly the one I try to have the more MRI's I have, that no matter how tomorrow goes... each MRI of yesterday means I got more tomorrows than I suspected at the last one.

If I'm completely honest... and well I'm always that, I know that no matter how the results come in on Thursday after a very long 48 hours, I'll be relieved. Which way I'll be relieved more, I'm not sure I even know and that's no joke... Still I try to make jokes, wondering when they'll finally do a frequent flyer card at that place. It's not ever the machine itself that worries me, I've fallen asleep in it multiple times. Though while I think about that it occurs to me that perhaps the reason I fall asleep in it is because I don't sleep as well before it and perhaps it's just exhaustion.

But the pattern of therapy continues, November was the most races I've ever done in one month, 7. Though no matter what amount of races besides one, it's the first time in my life I brought home hardware from all races done in one month. Not a single race matched in distance, 10 miler, spartan super, 5k, 10k, 25k, 5 miler and the Austin Beer mile was the last one. I won the last one, becoming the 3rd time Austin Beer Mile champion... Somehow that win wasn't one my mom was proud of.

Still of all things, it led to an invitation to the 2nd annual beer mile championship. I was amused when they did an interview for their web promotion. If she wasn't proud of the 1st beer mile my mom certainly couldn't have been proud of the second one where the headlines changed  from dad runs races with beautiful daughter.. to brain cancer dude gets babysitter to get wasted after daughters bed time on a school night...Let me make it clear that I am certainly not making the case for binge drinking but I would dare say that if every person who drinks beer regularly even without changing their drinking habit ran a quarter mile for each beer they drank the world would be a happier healthier place in many ways. 

If anyone thinks those beer miles stopped me from doing anything, well the day after the first one I went and ran 15 miles. And between the two (completely sober mind you) I won a Balega Dance off at the Running Event with, you guessed it, bib #8. I won an iPad mini which went to Kiana for her Christmas present. I was just doing it for fun but when it came down to the finalists, I might have taken off my shirt and thrown it in the competitors face while it was all sweaty... luckily that hasn't shown up on the internet yet. 

But if the 7 races in November didn't show up a pattern, in the first 6 days of December, I didn't just do a dancing competition. (By the way while we're on it, I've won two eating competitions this summer and a dancing one and neither of those got news coverage! I'm not just one dimensional!). I also did 4 running races, the beer mile and 3 5ks. They were all ones I Pr'ed on or placed. But I've never been running to beat the watch, I've been trying to make the grim reaper work for it. I also was lucky enough to lead a social run with a bunch of elite runners from all over the US. Right next to me one of them was a friend from Spartan which had come in for the running event. It was the first time Spartan was at a running event, my worlds coming together in my home town. 

But it wasn't the iPad or the athletic or dancing victories that brought the biggest smiles. They never were. It was little moments like when Kiana decided at Costco that she wanted to push the cart and the more "bulk material" we put in she didn't hesitate. And I couldn't resist asking her if she would push me in the cart and somehow she did for a couple of hundred meters. Less than a week after the stroller had been retired and was in another home, roles had been reversed. I've been trying to talk her into it for almost a week now to do a race with me in the costco shopping basket but she must wear glasses form a disorder that comes from rolling your eyes at your dad. Either way, I'm not a guy who takes selfies usually but how do you pass up that type of opportunity to capture Kiana pushing me in a cart for the first time!

Still, the  idea of the MRI on some midnights weak and weary still is sitting like the raven tapping on my chamber door. There's no quite shaking the fact that no matter how many go well you keep doing them ever more, hoping that the tumor's stable, the scar tissue is the darkness and that they find darkness there and nothing more. I try to take in the joys in simple things and distract myself with the races. I am amused that when asked to keep a 7 minute pace I do so almost exactly on a day I forget my watch even if it's the day after a beer mile. I find comfort in the fact that no matter how the MRI goes, the scores are all but settled. Medical debts, if all goes well, will be done in fall of 2016 instead of spring of 2017. And if the MRI doesn't go well, finances aren't the issue, let's not kid ourselves, there's not going to be any more treatment, normal experimental or otherwise. It will be time to try accept my head being bloodied but unbowed. There were mistakes the first time I had a bad MRI, called finding out I had brain cancer, that I would literally bet you my life will not be repeated in regards to finances and relationships. 

But you have to find the simple distractions... the intensity of the races and the quickness between them almost makes me think life is normal that these distractions are they've always been, an unemployed workaholic whose made running and staying happy and raising his kid his full-time jobs. Sometimes they become personal and awesome like when you get the coolest shaped bib with #8. Or the fact that a company asks you to run out in "nude" shorts and a women's top to "be the hustle." And you know the only reason you were the first in your family to go to college and perhaps the only reason you're still standing is because you've always been hustling. I keep a frantic pace in order to hide in public from myself or others I never quite know. But I keep going, and searching because while I may have done the most races I've ever done in one week in a habit that is incredibly well, predictable, one foot in front of the other. Not one, not one was a race I'd ever done before so if you keep the system moving, the muscles and brain having to take in novelty, there is no way a tumor can grow right, it has no room to since the energy to feed new growth is being used elsewhere, right? RIGHT!?!

So the old habits continue in the right thing, with my coping and hoping mechanisms being commended, my acts of desperation that are anything but quiet somehow regarded as more socially acceptable, perhaps more acceptable by the body itself. But even the guy with the damaged brain goes through emotions and deals with them well often with music. I try to keep pace in all my races, in all of my race but that pace seems to sift on me in both. That's the latest song I've been listening to to deal with the emotions, a song called "Sifters"

What if we hadn't been each other at the same time
Would you tell me all the stories from when you're young and in your prime
Would I rock you to sleep
Would you tell me all the secrets you don't need to keep
Would I still miss you
Or would you then have been mine

I think this in relation to the odd circumstances that have become defining moments that I was training for the first ever Livestrong branded marathon when I found I had cancer... That I won Austin's first ever brain cancer research race and was it's lead fundraiser... that I signed up for a race that I'd win with a stroller just a few days before an MRI and went out there relived it was stable.

But then again I think about that no matter how tomorrow goes or really how Thursday goes since that's when I find out the results all the scores will soon be settled. For the first time I've decided not to take a copy home of the MRI since sitting and trying to analyze it myself accomplishes not much. I will try to think of post MRI things no matter what. I am scheduled to go to Brazil in exactly 2 weeks, a trip I once cancelled due to brain surgery and the passport finally has something new in it for the first time in over 5 years. I am the ARC president and the two events that I did that got me into long distance running, the Austin Distance Challenge and the Decker Half marathon, I'm the president of that club and while not by much both grew this year in both participants and financial resources and that also feels like settling the score. I wish it had been infinitely more but the final participants in the first half marathon I've helped organize for the kid born 8/8/80 was 880... Put together by many many people but 8 board members. That's  8/8/80 taken to team working making dream work. A weekend so busy where I barely had time for a Facebook status (that's seriously BUSY!) but where I'm taking comfort in that somehow we were a good team.

There is no way in which I don't think I've beaten cancer even if all goes wrong tomorrow. I've already won but I'm competitive enough to where I don't mind racking up the score for at least a little while longer. So MRI in the morning, results thursday... It's funny how I try to stay hopeful I've scheduled chess club immediately before the test and a track workout has no chance of being missed later in the day trying to remind myself that my head is on fire but still has strategy and that my legs are still what gets me everywhere. I keep having sifting thoughts as I go to sleep knowing I haven't exactly kept a constant pace but thankful for the days I got to do it and hoping as I do on each night for at least one more good day of keeping pace. 

Monday, November 30, 2015

When the ride came to its end

Sometimes life is too kind even in the midst of confusion. There are moments, constants like the
North Star that as long as you can see it the darkness hasn't won. For me, the moments I look back and forward to aren't quite that grandiose... they are more like a good tree which you know has growth and changes and seems to have always had it even if you met in the middle of seasons of both of your lives. For me, those trees that measure life changes are races and there is one race that has been there every year since cancer began and perhaps just as importantly before, the Thundercloud Turkey Trot.

I had done it well before I woke up in an ambulance, mostly to justify the calories I take in, a symbol of gratefulness. But it was a race I would do less than 3 weeks after I had first had a grand mal seizure, exactly two weeks after I got out of the hospital with knowledge of a brain tumor. It was a race to feel alive, still waiting for biopsy results, that even if my head was on fire, my legs were just fine and that I'd carry on. Still, back in 2010, I went on my own despite my family and Kiana all being at home, it didn't occur to me that I should invite them cause running was my thing.

One year later, Thanksgiving 2011, a brain surgery, way too many appointments and medical pills later, I'd woken up. It would be Kiana's first kid's K and I'd run it right next to her at 4 years of age because what good parent could possibly let a child run a whole kilometer and be a good parent without being right by their side!?! Then I'd run the first race I would ever with a stroller because even I hadn't been open to it, the race was family friendly, the only race I've ever done that had a stroller division and a maternity one and all kinds of division that helped a guy with a damaged memory remember that running was something you could, perhaps should share. I'd take second in the stroller division that year.

The next year 2012 I'd come back and the concept kept growing. Kiana would do the race next to her best friend, May. And by next to, you could already see the competition in both their eyes. Two worried parents realizing that their kids were fine and having fun doing that natural run. It would be the first time I'd win the stroller division in the closest the competition has ever been with me and a professional triathlete sprinting side by side for the last quarter mile... I won by less than 10 seconds though I had been behind with 1 mile left to go. I liked getting a trophy, Kiana liked that too but she also appreciated we'd won gift certificates to the presenting sponsor, Thundercloud Turkey trot.

It just kept getting better with more friends each year, repeating the title in 2013, first time I'd ever defended a title in a  running event. In 2014, they added a team division and the Austin Runner's Club put together the team that won it so we went home with 2 trophies. It was also a come from behind win (though I'll point out the guy who led and eventually took second was pushing a double stroller). Still it was nice to have gotten together together the trifecta, a back to back to back turkey trophy stroller track. I thought it would be the end honestly. Kiana had already done 2 5k's, she was getting too big by my standards even if she was still enjoying the ride. 

Still, when 2015 came around, she insisted that she wanted to do one last stroller race. I insisted that she hadn't been in it since January... Don't know if the Turkey Trot cookies or subways were her motivator but she kept asking to do it. I told her no matter how it went, this was the last one, this one was just for the run of it. We practiced one 4 miler around the neighborhood and I wondered how I had ever done it before and realized I was not in stroller shape. We put together a well crafted playlist from Mulan (Make a man out of you) and Big Hero 6 (Immortals). I threw some shot blocks cause I miss more water stops on stroller races cause I'm nervous that I won't be able to turn sharp enough to avoid hitting the volunteers while trying to keep one hand on the stroller and another reaching out while angling in and then out. Kiana put her stuffed lion and lion cub figurine in there (they're sown together). We found one of the friendly Turkey dressed people and I joked with her that I was just using her for her body... She said that at the Turkey Trot is the only time she lets anyone say that to her. I couldn't help but think that there was at least one turkey back at my house that would have probably been less receptive.

Race day arrived and Kiana got to do her first race all on her own with me just near the start/finish to cheer her on. She was sitting there making friends with another "independent" girl and they started side by side. In a cloud of kids, I couldn't see her till she was near the finish and she was flying back so I barely caught a picture as she blazed by. I hugged her at the finish and she was smiling waiting for her finisher's bracelet and then waiting for her new friend.

We went from there to get a group picture with the Austin Runner's club before the race. I was helping get people together but remembered the magic of life that the best part of life is when your friends become your family and your family become your friends. There for the first time ever at the Turkey Trot was the person who had been there since before my birth and provided the way of it, the man who helped raise me, and the person who I had been lucky enough to be there since her birth. There were people who I had known since before cancer, some since, and some who I was literally meeting moments before the picture. Isn't that the way family reunions happen anyway?
We headed to the race start and tried to get the music going... then I realized I'd forgotten to charge the iPod and the speaker since the practice run... So we were going to have no music which is well not exactly my style.  Kiana looked up and said what she would repeat a few times during the next five miles... "Don't worry about it dad, you can do it."

The Turkey Trot is 25 years old and somehow this was the first time ever that it rained on us right before it started... But I thought a little drop of rain could hardly hurt us now. Plus it was Thanksgiving, why not take it as showers of blessing. Then we were off with a course that has a lot of elevation... just kept thinking what the... hill? I'd forgotten how hard it was to push half your body weight up one of those or contain it while going down steep ones. I tend to focus a lot during races, the music is mostly a distraction from the pain. With that gone, I only heard how hard I was breathing but also an occasional voice. A competitor with a smile on his face looking sideways and saying, "hey can you slow down, you're making me look bad!?" A friend and face  from Livestrong cheering. But above all, a quiet little voice saying "I think we're going to win, I don't see any other strollers," "Dad did you see that sign", "you can do it daddy". That was the inspiration and the motivation was that with each mile marker it was a countdown, at mile 1, only 4 miles left ever behind a stroller. At mile 2, only 3. When I hit mile 4, I turned it on, the watch was irrelevant, even the competition was irrelevant. Only one mile left and I would bet that was one of if not the fastest mile I ever ran with a stroller. Someone I had passed would come up and say how he all of a sudden heard the crowd cheering really loud for him but then realized as I passed him that they were cheering for me. He shook my hands in congratulations as he said I would have cheered too if I'd had more breath.

A friend was there at the finish line and caught a picture of Kiana and I wet. There is someone who said we look happy, another one mentioned mostly that I look relieved, another said that I look exhausted. Those are probably all entirely correct. 

We waited and cheered my parents doing the mile walk and my teammates finishing. Kiana hung out more under the cover with grandparents but I just kept soaking in the rain which I don't know just felt right knowing that my my teammates, running, Kiana, well none of us were fair weather friends. The announcement came that we'd placed in various age groups and that my team was once the fastest team. And that for the 5th time placing and 4th consecutive time winning and by the biggest margin of victory we'd ever taken, on the last stroller race, Kiana and I were the stroller division champions.

I got home that day with the trophy in hand and before putting it on the trophy shelf along with the others, Kiana and I put together every medal and trophy we'd ever won from a 2 mile race, to a couple of 5k's, 10k's, half marathons, 30k's and marathons. When I got told I had cancer as I do often, I made an off the cuff edgy joke... When I get complimented, not knowing how to handle it either, I make a self depreciation joke which people confuse with humility (when I get called that, I usually say I'm super humble, probably a picture of humble next to me in the dictionary). I'm known for often being stoic but I have to confess that at that moment, somewhere in the balance of happiness and sadness, I was overwhelmed. There were some races that only happened once, others that I have done with a stroller every year of their existence but it certainly felt right that the one that I'd never missed, the one that had 5 stroller trophies was the one I was retiring on the Thanksgiving ThunderCloud Turkey Trot. In as manly way as possible, I wept a little. Perhaps because she didn't know what to do, perhaps grandma encouraged her, perhaps because it's just what you're supposed to do, Kiana came and hugged me and then well I folded the stroller and put it away one last time in the garage. It was in someone else's home less than 48 hours but believe you me, I'm not done running and neither is Kiana. While it's the end of an era, with a lot of great rides, I am very very thankful.