When I was first invited a few months ago to speak at the Fools Five Road Race in Lewiston Minnesota, I thought it would be a privilege and an opportunity to be part of an 8k that raised money against cancer but even so I had no idea how great of an event I’d signed up for.
I may have arrived in the middle of a snow storm, dropping 50 degrees from what Austin had been. There I saw more snow in one day than the rest of my life combined but that was the way only way you could argue there wasn’t enough warmth there. The events started with an auction or three. Balancing cancer for most of us is no small act but these guys showed a balance and dexterity, with a silent auction, a local live auction, and another live auction. While the official gain would be achieved in a few hours, the amount and quality of items that would reach into the 10’s of thousands of dollars had obviously been the result of work of a few months. While that alone is impressive, somewhere the organizers had these three separate auctions to openly let everyone know that one of those three auctions, the local live one would be raising money for helping people in the area going through medical with the various bills that cancer racks up much too fast. The lion’s share would go to cancer research but realistically some of those funds will help only future patients so the organizing committee shifted in dealing with both the here and now and the yet to come. Having been to events that had each of those components, it was the first time that had both in one weekend. The symmetry and harmony they did that with may have been less emotional that the rivalry of bids that came in for Vikings seats, homemade cookies, pounds of meat, tools and perhaps would have been my favorite if I’d gotten to try one, pastries literally made in the back kitchen that created a bidding war where pastry puffs went for over $300 a dozen. While it was clear both their hearts and the pastries that were that good… I'll not know which was better but I’m glad I got to experience the former (though I would have taken experiencing both). Still, if that wasn’t enough, there was something about that sense of community demonstrated by the laughing, the jostling and perhaps the fact that it took me quite an effort to find even a handful of people on their cell phone in a room of a few hundred people because they were interacting with each other the good old fashioned way.
When race day arrived, the weather had shifted to where it was both warm but windier. In an attempt to be witty, the draft of my speech said “Wise men say only fools rush in but it’s a blast to be here at fool’s five.” It turned out to literally be a serious draft with some incredibly strong wind. The race was an out and back where somehow it literally felt like the turn around you were coming up hill and into the wind. Before the race, I’d heard stories about how one year it was so windy that one woman talked about how she had just run still for a bit and another one about how somehow had gotten blown into the ditch. Before running it, I assumed those were exaggerations now I’m not so sure. Still… giving it what I had… I managed to come in 4th place out of nearly 3100 (that felt appropriate since the race started on April fools, the logo has a four toed foot on it to see who would notice). While there are people who will focus on the 4th place, I was amazed that in a town of 1600 people, there were nearly twice as many participants in the race. I’ve done many races but I can’t think of any that got close to the population of the town that hosted it much less nearly doubled it! There were people on that course running in wheelchairs. Perhaps because it was an out and back or because of the nature of the community that was the most strollers I’d ever seen. There were walkers/runners who chose to express their loss of family members through being part of the event. And it was impressive to watch the enthusiasm that community that community expressed when the female winner came in, a 10 year old girl doing it in 31 minutes and change. Let me rephrase that, it was a 10 year old girl winning an 8k in 31 minutes and change!
The good times of this year at the race, at the auctions just show a great history. The race had started back in 1979 where with about 200 runners they had raised about $2000 on April fools. Here, three decades later they are closer to hitting the 2 million dollar mark and there are quite a few people who have never missed a year. It’s a race with a $10 entry fee and between all of the events and festivities, in 2014 they had raised over $90 thousand dollars.
They’ve had a Minnesota Viking out there to speak before, a winner of the London marathon… and trying to follow up the stage with those would have been intimidating enough but just knowing what this community had done for so long, I wondered if I was necessary at all. I talked about that it was a race like this, the brain power 5k, the first race after brain surgery that helped me realize it wasn’t time to hang up the cleats. With that sentiment, I wore the shirt from that race. Still I shared my story, my pictures, my jokes… and when it was all done, there were a few people in the audience crying because it had been so bad and they all stood up clapping in relief when I was done. Afterwards, it was a question and an answer time but somehow no one asked for my number… But while I’ve gotten to hand out finisher’s medals, those don’t come in an 8k but they were kind enough to let me place the medals of people who had placed including my friend Kate who herself had won the girls division of the brain power 5k.
The guy with memory problems will not forget many things about this weekend. Realizing I was surrounded by angels, I tried to fit in by making one in the snow. There was a tour of an Amish home and community, a house sitting on a frozen lake. Still, perhaps my favorite memory will be during the question and answer time… when someone asked when I started running. Just as they said that a small child ran across the gym floor in front of me… and I said “right then, just like everyone else here.There are some things you may have to grow up and grow out of them but moving’s not one of them.” Their logo this year was your life, your journey, every step counts. That little girl was getting it down and the community had gotten it right for almost 4 decades. I’m glad we got to share some of those steps. Great hosts, great people, and a great event. If a town that size with 1600 people have established that committed people fighting cancer is not a fool's errand.