Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Right Thing To Do

The beauty of Sparta, perhaps both the ancient and the obstacle course world, is that they are always trying to make things better. Yes, some of that means making things tougher but the pushing is a way to try to improve the system both personally and perhaps society at large. In fact there's a story told of ancient Sparta of an old man who went to the Olympic games, couldn't find a seat to watch. As he went from place to place, he met with insults and jeers, as nobody made room for him. But when he came to the Spartan section, all the boys and many of the men rose and yielded their places for him. Whereupon all other Greeks there applauded the action, and commended the action beyond measure; but the old man, shaking and with tears in his eyes, said, it seems all of Greece knows the right thing to do but it is only the Spartans that do anything about it. 

I think that probably applies to all of humanity; we all know in the best parts of us that we have to do something helpful for strangers, for people who aren't as capable of us to make the world a better place, to do the right thing. But in the end, even if everyone else cheers it on, it's only those who do it that do the right thing . So it was a privilege to be standing once again among those type of people as we got ready for the charity challenge. Last year at Spartan's world championship, Alexander Nicholas put together a team and invited me to it. (Both years the charity challenge has been the day after the championships when those who participated the day before are sore in that muscle, what's it called oh that muscle called everything) The man is so generously epic that he has led me and others on their first Spartan who were strangers on that first course and does so at a gym in New York. This year, we joined forces and put together the team. Last year the rules were that teams could only have 5 people and your first three finishers were what counted towards points; this year they allowed you to have unlimited teams but it was the first four who mattered with one of them having to be a woman with Spartan acknowledging the simple reality that can you really have a victory without a good lady somehow in your life? 

The ability to participate with teammates in a race designed to challenge you alone is a way to help those in need where people literally can help each other obstacles both literally and figuratively. But Spartan had done not just that but improved on last year's challenge by more than doubling the amount winnable by charities to a total of ten grand, they had still found other ways to make it better. Rather than just the best racers winning money, Spartan had set up a way for teams to raise money through donations in connection to the event. Furthermore, they were donating money not only to the top 3 racing teams but also to the top 3 fundraising teams, acknowledging that there's more than one way to be helpful and that different ways should be rewarded.

As we put together the Epic Strong team we tried to make it to where everyone was triple threat of brains, athletic talent and good looks (Though no on else was, fortunately, I was exempt from all three rules . If you look at the picture of our team before the race, you can see why I am the one who "coincidentally" is most covered up by the most loose fitting clothes.) We had Joey and Erica from New York a couple who have muscles in their abs than I have in my entire body. David, a high schooler who I had races against in the area where I won a marathon. There were the elite women of Jackie, Sue (representing like me the Lone Star Spartans out from Texas) and Jenny who I had met in the California Beast. Let's make it clear everyone of these ladies had chicked me at some Spartan or another. There was Chris whose training was tough enough to where he had won the elite heat of the Spartan Sprint that morning and was ready to start the charity challenge less than an hour later. There was Alex, an epic strong type of guy who like most of the team had done the beast the day before. And there was Alec (not pictured here) a trail runner from Atlanta who was too fast for the camera.

As we got ready for the race, knowing most of us had to be pretty exhausted from previous race. With the knowledge that based on their biceps alone, that my teammates were going to have to carry the team, I thanked them for joining the team and said try to give it as much effort as you did yesterday since it's less than a third as long. They smiled one of those contagious smiles and we got ready. I didn't know quite how to approach it but this race meant a lot to me so I gunned with conviction and since the first mile or was pretty much running uphill, I was actually in the lead for most of the first mile. Unsure whether this was a sign of things to come or whether like the cross country days of old, I was just playing the rabbit, I kept going. I would actually get passed very little for the first three miles and when I did, it was almost entirely by my teammates. The last bit was obstacle heavy and I missed two of the obstacles, my grip still exhausted from the previous day. I was comforted knowing that my teammates were somewhere in front of me and so I would help 8 people in 4 obstacles, 3 on my team and 5 who were on other challenges.

When I got to the finish line, I would learn that we'd taken most of the top male spots and the top 3 female spots (see what I mean about having the right ladies in your life?!). I'd see pictures of teammates like Alec making things like the rope climb look easy.

There were people here who'd sign up to do obstacles and take on the obstacle of raising money. The top fundraising team was a set of Canadian Mudd Queens, a team who'd raised money to combat childhood cancers; I'm not sure there's a worse kind. I'd meet a member of Team RWB a group raising funds to help Veterans to help them fight through life when they had served and fought to give us ours. I'd once again talk to people and Winter herself from Team Winter ( who has done more in her adolescence than most people do in a lifetime. She has helped fight men's prostate cancer because her father passed away from it when they were both much too young to deal with that. There were teams there to help people with medical bills directly, people fighting against domestic violence, and more than a few teams mine included fighting for various cancer causes. As I met people from some of the other charity teams reminded that we have too many problems in this world but we have more than a fighting chance because there were people like here who would do a lot more than stand up and give up their seat to give someone a rest.

In the end, our team Epic Strong won the athletic competition and Team Winter took second place, a repeat of last year. But as we stood there and received checks and podium stands for the top 3 teams in each category, I couldn't help but  think about some things while feeling grateful. There was a lot of high fiving, of taking in the message of the finishers shirt that Spartans fight for those in need. If you focus on just the needs, the fear, the tears can be overwhelming. But as I watched not just those podium finishers but other finishers some which literally  had carried their teammates through some of the obstacles and finish line, I couldn't help but think well of course if you focus on just the problem, it may seem impossible or improbable that the problems will ever be solved. But if you look beyond the problem and focus on the right part of the message, Spartans fight for those in need, if you focus on the fighters, you realize there is far more than hope. There may be some obstacles, some ups and downs, some heavy burden, some teamwork necessary and crucial and vital but that hope and change will prevail if you don't give up till the end, no matter how tough the obstacles get even if the finish not as clear as it jumping over a fire in a Spartan race.

Less than two years ago, my only connection to the ancient Greek world was the marathon story.
Now Sparta is also part of it but they were strangers than. That world has helped me get in the best shape of my life, literally having taught me how to handle some things better, teaching me the ropes. I've got a long way to go but I'm a lot better at dealing with Spartans than I ever have been. Our winnings will be going to Livestrong this year. This was an organization that only a couple more years before that I'd also never heard of. Since then, they have helped guide me to good doctors for second opinions, good counselors for me and Kiana. But beyond medicine, it was through them I got to meet some people who choose joy, some people who even if you got to love them forever, it wouldn't be quite long enough but that connection makes living stronger and dying, whenever it comes, weaker.

The people who stood up in that ancient Greek auditorium were strangers to the man they offered their seat for. Many of the people who donated to the various charities, including Livestrong, were passing it forward to strangers. As I headed home turning around to catch one last sunset on my best summer ever, I kept daring to dream that maybe, just maybe, autumn would let me keep falling in love with life. And that the good that this team had done that day may only ever help strangers, people who I'll never meet or have a seat to watch how it helped. But I was greatful to be part of an event, a team and some friends who had stood up to do the right thing on a Vermont Spartan Charity Challenge.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Playing the Beast

George Bernard Shaw wrote "we don't stop playing because we grow old, we grow old because we stop playing." As I was getting packed to return to Vermont to do the Championship Beast, that was the thought I was having about why I keep doing these Spartans. I'd qualified for Boston and won a 5k since the last Spartan race so a couple of friends had asked me why I don't just focus solely on running, why pursue an activity I feel so inadequate for since I get passed by so many more people and get whooped so much more.

It took a small damaged brain with memory issues very little time to figure it out and remember. As Kiana and I went to the track and then after playground, she sat there and played on the monkey bars and kept trying to swing harder, till she eventually fell and cried. After a couple of minutes of calming down, she did it again successfully. As we walked to school, she walked across a wall with balance then stopped and picked a flower. This, this is why I do Spartans. Because road races are fun and running is fun but as kids, or at least when I was a kid and as I watch my daughter Kiana, we want to do so much more than just put one foot in front of the other fast. And so we build playgrounds to do it more cleanly and when I get on there and play with her... it's a nostalgic feeling I can't quite describe.

But when I get out to do Spartans, the nostalgic feeling is further back than my childhood. It's remembering the childhood of perhaps being human itself... when there was no clear path, just a mountain to climb, trees to avoid, rocks to crawl over. I suppose there were always some people who stayed at camp but the ones that took us higher, further were those who'd be the defining elements of humanity was building it's own playground, it's own path or at least pursuing the one that  most people left only to the beasts. In Spartans, they build in these obstacles which cover such a range of challenges. I am still amused that they call the running out here technical running; that to me feels like calling a plane flying and a bird technical flying. Running in nature is the way we got better at running and while driving on running in a car may be faster... flying or running through the natural way up mountains, swimming across rivers, getting in the mud, that's not technical to me, that's running in the midst of beauty, nature, reality. In those Spartan races, I have beaten people who would have come in ahead of me on road races and vice versa. But it's more than just putting one foot in front of the other, you have to land them right, watch where you're going. And if the challenges were just things that you had to deal with and then keep running and the best runners would still be usually the winners, well they wouldn't be obstacles then, they'd be merely interruptions. And so that was the attitude I went in with as I laid out my gear and got ready for the Spartan championships.

The first time I did it in 2013 I had no concept of what Vermont looked like. I had looked up at the Ski Resort mountain where we'd do this all and thought that was a beautiful mountain than when I'd heard we were going to be up and down it several times, it was the most hideous thing I'd ever seen. But going into it, I knew it was a beauty and I was hoping to be successful in taking it with it's obstacles and becoming a beast.

The first few miles on the course were different this year, a different start with a slight down hill turned into an uphill. It was very few obstacles at first, letting people spread out before jumping over walls, going under walls, going across walls, crawling in mud under barbed wire. I'd seen all of this before and I'd prepared for it all mentally. There were sandbags to carry, buckets to carry, and since the year before I had also these at home and had some concept. I am not a great swimmer and it wasn't long before we were swimming in water that was colder than any water shy of an ice bath I'd ever been in with two obstacles in the middle. I got 50% of those, missing the tarzan swing because well I guess I didn't focus on the right movie having thought about Beauty and the Beast and the Jungle Book and not enough about Tarzan and Jane. I got further than I thought I would along it and the water was colder than I remembered when I landed. Still, we proceeded where the trail got more unfamiliar and we kept going forever uphill it seemed. When we got to the very top, there was a wind and fog and cold where you couldn't see very far in front of you with a cargo net where perhaps it was just my imagination, it seemed a lot colder in just climbing those 20 feet up than it did at the bottom. The balance beams I had done before had a new twist with a log in the middle followed by more balance beams. There was a memory test (do you remember things worse or better when you're cold?).

 And suddenly on what had been described as the toughest course I'd ever done, the hardest thing I've ever signed up, I honestly started to grow over confident. I was over halfway done mileage wise and while it was a challenge, I was ready to say that the training had paid off and just to turn it on till the finish line. Not long after that, there was an interruption, no an obstacle, no a crazy ridiculous part of the course that reminded me that this was on a ski course and that in order to go up people usually take lifts and come down on ski's. The hills had been tough enough but all of a sudden there were bags to carry. The simple truth is we'd had a similar obstacle the year before but it was a long sandbag that while heavy and awkward, I'd gotten this. This year I'd worked on my upper body more (or so I thought) and it would be simpler. Boy was I wrong. They had upped the ante... it was now two bags, built not with a handle but with a way you'd grab them at the top and you'd have to take them both. I started that climb what felt like 100 times dragging it, hating gravity, wondering as I do in the middle of most races and certainly Spartans, WHY AM I DOING THIS?!? I was in the elite heat and we had two carry bags, the ladies and the open heat only  had to carry one bag and they were passing us and each of them were sharing encouragement as
they did so. It was questionable whether it was sweat or tears going down my cheeks at that point. Apparently it would become more common during the day that people would just leave a bag and walk off the course and quit there, I only saw one person do that while I was on the mountain. Definitely had the wrong griping thought up there as I kept trying to find a way to push by thinking, just reminding myself that mentally I just had to "Get a grip." Then I realized well my grip muscles are exhausted... it wasn't my arms or chest, it was my hands never having done anything like that trying to pull these things up that was wearing me out. I got it done after some breaks in the middle and I think approximately three and half years.

But after that while there were just a few miles to go... those miles felt longer than I dare describe. There was a point on the course where I made the wrong turn and realized and a volunteer lead me back and as I headed backwards, probably getting a little mileage in I was talking to the guys going forward who recognized me and asked what was wrong asking if I was walking off the course (there was zero chance of that). I just said I was trying to do the course in its entirety and I didn't know how else to do that after making a wrong turn than to go back. There were obstacles that I struggled with that I wouldn't have without those bags, a herculean hoist were you pick up weight over a rope and a beam and then let it down gently was  harder than any other times I've done it from grip strength shot. There a contraption that felt like it was from American Ninja and it whooped me, the obstacle I'd been able to prepare the most specifically for the monkey bars were no longer just bars that swang across, they had huge ups and downs, and they took me down. There were things I didn't struggle with at all in previous Spartans like the rope climb where my fingers were just hurting. I got it done but I had to hang on tight and it was a bumpy ride. Honestly several days later they still hurt, maybe why it took me so long to write this report. In Spartans some obstacles have to be completed, you have to make them a priority because they aren't an option, that was one of them. Others you get one shot at them and if you miss them it's a 30 burpee penalty before moving on... there's a great Spartan saying, there's no failure only burpees, I got to not experience failure 150 time along the course.

The end was a steep climb with a steep run down to jump over the fire. But when the finish line was visible it was easier and that was the fastest I'd climbed up terrain and ran down the slopes. The honest truth is that in Spartans I've never checked my time or my standing. I don't wear a watch because I don't know how to translate it. I knew it was about 15 miles, 7000 feet of elevation, 33 obstacles, tons of muscle, mind, heart and pain to get through it. I was exhausted but knew that day I was proud to be a beast, still believing that if you sign up for some messy things in life, it makes the ones you don't sign up for a little easier to deal with. This Spartan beast reminded me that it's good to work hard, to find something to believe in, even if I didn't know where I stand.

Like any Spartan or race, I wasn't necessarily smiling in the middle but I was smiling at the beginning and at the end. I've played many sports and taken many challenges in life, some willing and some by happenstance but there's nothing else I've ever done that pushed endurance, every muscle fiber as much as this, my heart beat. Many have mentioned I was crazy for doing this kind of stuff... fair enough, we know something's wrong with my brain. But I think it's probably good to push and play with as much of the system on occasion. And that playing in Vermont was a beauty and at the end of it I was grateful that both that the mountain and I were still standing and that I got to be a beast.

Friday, September 12, 2014

A Nice Day with the Writing of Wrongs

This is no clear thought our race report not a speech or a media interview... it's an emotional unwinding so be warned, I am tired... That's not surprising considering I just ran my fastest marathon followed by a 5k win one week later and now coming up, I am getting ready for Spartan Beast and Charity Race a week away. The body hurts in some very good and some very bad ways.

A challenge of choosing to be part of the cancer community, of being open in this blog, on social media, on traditional media is that because people have heard/read my story, I get the privilege of hearing the people who want to share theirs. I've met many many people in my entire life and certainly in the last few years and there hasn't been one, not one whose story isn't interesting. I suppose we like the happy stories of the guy who puts off brain surgeries to run a marathon and qualifies for Boston, wins another one pushing a stroller and keeps going (at least) until he finally 2.5 years gets a faster one and qualifies for Boston. Obviously I did or else the photographer wouldn't have caught at the end of the race where I am roaring like a lion (if you'll met indulge in a bit of notice of other progress or narcissism whichever you prefer to label it, that's not actually that different than a picture taken shortly after I won the marathon but I've finally built some upper body muscle training for Spartans and while we're indulging in over sharing if you  have NBC sports, the episode that my family is going to be shown on is on September 13th at 2, 1 central. So far every event I've done in my life, it hasn't been too far down the road before Kiana's tried it; I'm proud of that).

Still, there are days the spirit gets knocked around too... and while it's against my religion to have bad days and I rarely sin... well the last couple of days are ones where I have played with temptation. And it wasn't because of the soreness, it was because there are days where the balance of emotion is difficult. Because yesterday was one of those days where you couldn't help but be overwhelmingly happy that the friend who is putting together Team Choose Joy, Sean Maguire, finished cancer treatment and was declared cancer free (you have a week left to donate by the way to that Spartan race, But it was also a day where I got to hear about a couple of people's deaths... one was someone older and both I and most people tend to accept those easier... I'm not sure why. The other was of someone who had gotten cancer at 10 and his parents were somehow happy he had (just barely) reached his teens rather than the original months that "science and medicine" predicted. It's an odd world where we find comfort in someone reaching their teens because of a prognosis suggesting otherwise.

It is those days, those "bad" days that I remember to run and yesterday I did my run and just completely unable to shake the sadness. I ran a 1000 meters at the track after a 3 mile hill run at a pretty damn fast pace, inspired by listening to a song that has made many many playlists but has actually never been mentioned in this blog, Bon Jovi's Have A Nice Day. On those days, I'm tempted to sin and have a bad day, I listen to this song with the same happiness shown in that marathon picture where it's not quite clear if I'm happy or angry or even if they are mutually exclusive (

Ohhh, if there's one thing I hang onto,
That gets me through the night.
I ain't gonna do what I don't want to,
I'm gonna live my life.
Shining like a diamond, rolling with the dice,
Standing on the ledge, I show the wind how to fly.
When the world gets in my face,
I say, Have A Nice Day.

And in the pursuit of solutions, I find some comfort in taking that wind in my face, in feeling alive. So I go out and scream and run... that doesn't cure cancer nor make the world a better place inherently and I certainly disagree with the philosophy that well as long as I feel better life's better. I find this less than adequate since people who live only for themselves aren't much different than cancer in my book since cancer only lives for itself really. But I hope, dream, love the idea that maybe, just maybe that training and the donations that come from it will make some progress towards helping both those with cancer, those who love them. Trust me if my brain was working in a way where I could help it on a a clearer path that would be the one I'd be running to but I hope this one's doing something. If you've heard me sing, my singing voice isn't great but I am training for Spartan and for the New York Marathon and hoping if nothing else to keep my voice in motion ( in helping things be better.

I know both that I'm unfortunate and unworthy of the opportunities that have come and hope I'm doing something right with them. Maybe it's the fact that I'm finally driving, that life's felt more stable than it has in so long, maybe it's a long term absorption of continuing to realize that I am having the best summer of my life and hope it lasts a lot longer than 500 days. Perhaps you could dismiss the faster times I've had this summer and this year as just better training but I think that it's because right now whenever I run, instead of running into the blue, I'm following my heart. And the legs won't last forever but maybe the best spartan, best marathon, maybe the best is yet to come.

So I keep running and fundraising, and raising a kid and writing about it... in entries like this where I'm just hoping that releasing it helps me focus on the why. On that having a nice day means sharing the good, bad and tough parts to where not too long after the primal scream of victory, you start dancing and just dare to dream that someone will come dance with you.

But I also write because I dare to believe Daniel Kravitz. (I am one of the people featured in the book recently published, Supersurvivors.) It's good material and covers good people (except for this one guy from Austin). But he also published something online relatively recently ( In it he discusses how sometimes writing about things helps us achieve better endings in feeling better... that is of course productive and meaningful... emotions matter. But it also has helped doctors achieved better ends as they get educated. (This is why there are links in here both for brain cancer research and for Livestrong which deals more with the practical day to day things that affect cancer patients.) But in writing about it, in spelling it out, in telling the narrative, we make things better. I dare dream that in the best kind of love, one I run to, it will be someone who we still handwrite things to each other, send postcards, find songs, maybe foreign languages at times and comfortable moments in the silence because you can write in different ways. So consider a donation to either of the above links if you can spare it as that's one of the things I hope to promote that by writing it helps on occasion to right some wrongs. And I believe it does, because even within those bad days, there are good signs. One of my teammates for the charity challenge is the wife of another brain cancer patient. When we met at Duke he beat me in a 5k... while he's still coaching, he is currently unable to run so his wife is going to do the Spartan with me. He's one of the people I got a make him work for it shirt and his wife is one of the first to get the female version of it. One of the donors to team Choose Joy is appropriately enough Scott Joy who is also a cancer survivor but whose wife passed away from cancer recently. And while he's obviously been sad, he's chosen joy thankful for the path, moments, memories and life they shared and donated in her honor.

So those things help me have a nice day. But I also write this blog to cope and to hope... so if you've read this entry this far, I hope you're having a nice day too and thank you.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Unraveling a Riddle

It would be hard to pick "the" favorite race of my life... like picking a favorite moment with someone you love, whether it was that first day you met where as you made brief eye contact, whether you wondered whether they were just blinking or happened to be winking at you... like picking a favorite moment with a friend or a family member whose been there for so many meals and colorful experiences, that they all seem to blend while somehow each staying distinct. But somewhere very high on the list of races I love would be the Brain Power 5k, not a Brain Power 5k, but all of them because this is the only race I've gotten to be part of every year since it's inception (if you want to read thoughts on previous ones,

On the 4th annual one, I went to bed having taken in the rain and knowing that the reason the race director has shaped this race so well is that like in life, she had announced we were going on whether the weather was rain or shine. Circumstance would have to bigger than weather to shift our path. As I drove for the first time to a race that I'd had to get rides to due to medical restriction, it was humbling to be driving someone else who because of a brain tumor wasn't allowed to drive, Eric Galvez a friend who had come into town for the race among other things ( 

But upon arrival, friends and family started pouring in letting me recall that I have no drought in being surrounded by good people. Going in we knew that we were the biggest team and I could try to pretend like that had anything to do with me but that couldn't be further from the truth. There were people there from Cat's Litter, a group that I had only met a couple of them but they  had recruited much of their crew joining in only months after my first entry into the triathlon world, a crew from the Lonestar Spartans, some of the obstacle course warriors I'd gotten to do some training with, joining us were people from Team Luke's a crew I do some running with, people from the Ship of Fools, the group that I'd been running with long before I knew I had cancer. But each of those had recruited some of their own, because someone had invited people from their cross country team, from their school, from their neighborhood. There was a widow of a tumor survivor on my team, directors of races that had nothing to do with cancer. And while some were physically not there to run the 5k, there had literally been donations from coast to coast to people I'd met at medical appointments, in bike rides, at ultimate frisbee. And somehow before the race had started, I couldn't think of a word to accurately describe the level of gratefulness I had to be part of this team and this race.

But speaking of team effort, someone actually asked before the race why I name my teams for the brain cancer races, the Scarecrows. Not too long after brain cancer journey started I was part of a costume team that went with the Wizard of Oz theme and someone suggested I dress as the Scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz, so they could make jokes about how I'd be better "if I only had a brain." I love humor as a coping mechanism and the second year of the BP5k I had even worn a scarecrow costume after the race. While on the 4th year of the race there were some songs that emphasized the number 4 fairly emphatically, I also wanted to nod to that original idea, so I started a playlist with an incredible slow cover of the musical classic (

I always start with a slow song to not gun out too fast but the lyrics to that song are appropriate to some of the frustration, slowness and yet passionate desire to fight this disease of brain tumors:

If I only had a brain.
I'd unravel every riddle for any individ'le,In trouble or in pain.

As we headed out starting the race, there were signs there "in honor of" and others that were "in memory of." Seeing those as I headed out onto the course reminded me why I have never missed this race. The course was an out and back and I was trying to pace with the guy in the lead, a training partner who we have both beaten each other at different times in races and in workouts but we were both coming from a race the previous weekend. On this particular race, I started taking the lead after hearing a bunch of drums playing on the side of the course. In the end, I took first place and he took second and another shipmate took 3rd. Our running club would also take the top three lady spots. I don't know  how much it helped everyone else but it helped me to have actual cheerleaders not too far from the finish chute. I never played a sport with cheerleaders on the sideline but it was fun to catch their enthusiasm to take you through. 

But there have always been and will likely be for a long time races where I'm running for time or place, this one, the Brainpower 5k is always bigger to me than just my placement. So I immediately got back on the course and started cheering on teammates at the 3 mile marker. I wish I could tell you that I spotted every single one of them but I think I caught many if not most of them. There would be the ladies leader who was also the person who had raised the most money of the girls on my team, there would be the triathlete who had worked till well into the night before but after her race was running back and forth running friends in, not just cheering them on. There was the teammate who was on his 3rd race of the weekend and was hobbling in, another who had run a 30k night race and was running it in with his wife, the nurse who was running it with a friend, there was the widow of a brain cancer patient whose cancer was too aggressive. Spartans, triathletes, runners, walkers, friends who had come to just cheer and take pictures were coming in one by one or in groups. There was a large group accompanying one of this year's cochairs who last year had not been able to run but had been pushed in an adult stroller but this year was running it on her own with a group of at least a couple of dozen people running all around her. There was the teammate who would wait with me until his wife and kids came by and he'd finish with them. Other teammates who would sit there and cheer with me as we waited. And last but not least, there were the last finishers, there was a brain tumor survivor who had been accompanied by a nurse navigator, and a blood cancer survivor who was originally going to do her first race since her own journey but decided to accompany someone else who was doing it with a walker. 

In the Wizard of Oz, where I plagiarize our team name from, they are able to achieve success because they share the journey and make it a joint effort. A young girl looking for home, a lion looking for courage, a tinman looking for a heart, and a scarecrow looking for a brain. Like human nature, those four characters sometimes we notice our inadequacies far more than anyone else might have. But perhaps the secret may lie in that that were joining forces, there's a greater chance of success (like our fun, their singing and dancing while doing so I think also upped their probability and joy). In that fairy tale world, the scarecrow's character is the one who gets closest to death but the girl looking for home splashes him back to safety by putting out the fire, bringing him back to life really. 

As I realized what a great team I got to be a part of, I focused on the lyrics the song writer of "If I only had a Brain" wrote: 

And perhaps I'd deserve you and be ever worthy of you if I only had a brain. 

I don't have a brain to imagine the kind of support this race and I have received and certainly am not worthy of the team and teammates I had. As I looked at them and other participants coming in, as we took a team picture with as many as we could get next to the inflatable brain, it felt like that splash which is saving your life. In that type of moment the water feels more like a gentle kiss on the cheek near your temporal lobe, a healing agent on something which was on fire. 

I've met too many people who haven't made it, ran by too many "in memory of:" signs to think that it will work out quite as nicely as it does in the Wizard of Oz. But I still live and love in hope because while our team had over 70 participants and had raised almost $4000, the race had over 1400 participant and had raised over 100,000 for the first time in it's 4th year. If only brain cancer patients participated or got involved, I'm not sure we'd get very far down the road since it's less than 1% of the population but as we picked up people with courage, heart, brains to get us nearer to home and to unraveling that riddle of brain cancer. And for one day, for a 5k, I believe as we ran, we were getting several steps closer to a better brain, a better heart, more courage and finding home.