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, http://brainpower5k.blogspot.com/2014/07/iram-j-leon-survivor-story-on-bp5k.html).

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 (http://www.masskickers.org/). 

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 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PAffF1KLsEE).

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. 

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