Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Home Field Advantage

There are people who think that rare are the moments that come once in a life time... perhaps they're right but perhaps they aren't impressed often or much. If there is anything that's kept my damaged mind and heart any room to heal is the reality that those ridiculous moments that come one time in each forever are a balance of the right situation and also the right choice.

There will never come a day where I'd sign up for brain cancer despite some of the "good lessons" that have come from it. But there are days where I learn to be grateful for the moments, the connections that come from it. So when a 5k was announced in the town that I won the marathon pushing a stroller in that benefitted Livestrong, how could I possibly not go? Before and after brain surgery Livestrong helped me make good choices about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness which to me there is no greater happiness than meaningful relationships. Beaumont after I had asked a few was the first and only town at the time that would let me do a marathon with a stroller. 

It's funny there are three places I'd been to four times since brain cancer, Duke for medical things, New York twice for races, twice for visits, and Beaumont 4 times, each time for a race. It occurred to me on the way there that it would be the first place I've visited 5 times since then appropriately enough once again for the race. It was a beautiful place each time and when it tied I couldn't help but think that the tie goes to the winner. But now there'd be no tie, Beaumont is the place I've been to the most, somehow a proper surprise and perfectly fitting because it's a place I've gone each time to stay ahead of cancer. 

I was at a wedding the night before till pretty late as my pre race warm up was dancing and my pre-race hydration and nutrition was appropriate for a wedding, questionable for a race. And then I got up at 4 am so my actual pre race warm up was sprinting to the bathroom and swinging my legs during the Star Spangled Banner... we were off and it was hot and humid just like it was the day I won the full there in March of 2013, and the half March of 2014, and when I didn't win but PR'ed in a 10k in November of 2014. This time I would win the 5k in just over 18. 

There are exactly 2 places that I've ever won more than one distance in: Austin and Beaumont. In sports, they talk about home field advantage. I don't know what that means in a gigantic stadium but I knew in my home town of Austin it means there's familiar faces on the course, people who you know are cheering for the event, the cause and you a combination that makes your heart happier and perhaps reflecting that your feet feel a little lighter. I'd sit at the finish line watching and cheering people come in till the last one and then run the kid's k with them. I got beat by 4 of them on that one!

I'd get to spend lunch with the directors of the marathon that let me in having a good burger, thanking them over fries and laughs, talking about that day where I thought about stopping to go to the restroom near the end. They said it was a good thing I didn't because they don't make stories about the guys that come in second. 

I was speaking at a dinner later that night about Livestrong and Beaumont, the combination of two which was now in the lead. I told them about how they helped me focus on people and how living and loving are only one letter apart, perhaps because that's how close they should be in existence. I reflected on how even running, generally an introvert's game, has been better for me
shared. There were some great items for auction from Cowboys tickets to decorative art to apple watches to ways to exercise better. I think it showed the nature of people's hearts at the events that many of the items were going above what people could buy them outside of there (maybe it reflected how good the wine  and beer tastings and food was). The event was called Hope Uncorked and untapped and there were many great parts of the evening but one was that they had a sign which read something I think of almost everyday when other 4 letter words are tempting to say, 'hope is my four letter word.' I also got to hear a doctor who was the second speaker and it was interesting to see how someone who had to help people be better share their experience of trying to get better. And the organizer, Cisco, someone who had been a cancer survivor and had been done with treatment it was years before he had started to give back but has kept giving back since then. To him who much is given much is expected but I think both of those guys have long exceeded expectations but perhaps in doing so are the ones who have given and raised expectations for others down the line. It is this way that we show attitude is everything and that even while in treatment we are beating cancer right now. I had to dress up and see people in dress clothes which is a change for my way too short shorts and no shirt uniform of most days. I wore all black to try to look thinner but wore a yellow tie to match my bracelet. The tie was the accessory but the Livestrong bracelet has always been a reminder. 

I ended up going out with some people to dance after and ran with others the next morning with flowers and crocodiles and birds. Then I showered and got ready to head home and I couldn't help but think that there were actually other places I'd visited more since brain surgery... where my mom lives and California where I went to college but I didn't really think of it as visiting, it was just returning home. Perhaps running and visiting in Beaumont for Livestrong was the same type of thing, where I wasn't so much a visitor as just reconnecting to a place where I felt a part of me would always be even I wasn't there. Cancer is a global problem but I think most of us fight at home to feel at home and it was my honor to be part of the Golden Triangle Strutters and Livestrong. Cancer and winning that race there reminded of just the old reality and what I hope will always be my attitude that life may take you to unexpected places but love brings you home. 

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Fly like a bee

For much of human history, scientists determined that theoretically bees should not be able to fly. The bulk of what they're made of should not be sustainable enough but yeah somehow, they work with a certain conviction, with enough spin and turn to where they go back and forth, not only flying but sharing life as they do, creating sweetness in the process.

This was the image that was going through my head as I prepared for the first and only time in my life to start from the back of the pack for the Brainpower5k. Well, I suppose I should step back a minute and remember what I was recalling. I was sitting there reflecting on many things that the race means both in and of itself and to me personally.

The race has been around 5 years and is entirely organized by volunteers. It is the only race I know of that has grown every single year starting with a few hundred and before packet pick up we had
already exceeded last year's number and ended up with a couple of hundred more. There is no way to deny the sad reality that part of the reason it has grown is because people have become aware or become patients of brain tumor. Still, over and over, there is a light we can shine in the way of the darkness.

For me personally, it was the first race that I did after brain surgery, not long after I got cleared to drive for the first time after seizures had stopped long enough. It was a race that had been announced to my running on my first birthday after the cancer diagnosis... making me realize that perhaps the best way I could react to cancer was to take it as a second shot at life, as life part II. It was the first race that I accepted and "labeled" myself as a survivor. I have always struggled with the term since some of the tumor is not removable and I still have cancer, thinking survivor should imply a clean bill of health. But on days like the brainpower 5k where I remember that it means I'm still standing, I take it as a reminder not of cancer but of the good things in my life. Counting my blessings on any given day could be an all day thing. But it certainly is each time of the brainpower 5k.

Somehow the universe was kind enough to where it would be the first race since college that I won and was the lead fundraiser but on that first one, I went with only one good friend. I count it as one of those blessings that's still one of my good friends. But the second year it would be Kiana's first kid's k and my mom's first 5k after she had just turned 60. It would also be the race where I became painfully aware of my spatial orientation issues and would be a race I'd get lost in. Still the positive things kept happening with the next year it being one of the largest teams and on the 4th one it being the largest team with people I'd met in the triathlon world, in the spartan world, in the world of ultimate, and of course in the world of running. It's funny the prize for winning biggest fundraiser that first year was a stay in wine country, where I'd gone to college. I honestly believed when the brain cancer diagnosis started that obviously my best days were behind me but if there's anything I learned that life can be like good wine, better shared, opened at the right time and completely capable of getting better with age. It was the progress at each of these races that reminded that maybe I don't know how old I'll ever get to be but I firmly believe that the best in life is yet to be.

This race was the first time that both of my parents were joining me for the Brainpower 5k though they were in good company. The announcer from the race I won in Beaumont was there and a brain tumor survivor who I had made friends with was getting out of bed to do her first athletic event, a 1 mile walk. There was an old coworker and boss, I was at her wedding and now she's been dealign with her child having a brain tumor who doesn't even have words to describe what she's going though. But then again what parent or child would? There was my doctor in whose brain I've trusted my life. There was a friend who was one of the honorary cochair this year who had to step out of college and now is working on her master's.  There was the other chair whose life it is what is she thinks is honesty but with the smiles and efforts she puts on, I know it's progress. There were people who I'd only met because they or I had been through a brain tumor... man I wish that wasn't how I met them but I'm glad that some of our life moments are shared. I've never quite grasped how to deal with the realities of people who you meet or even those you don't who the event is there not in honor of, or in hope of the right research beating what invaded our brains will get beat; those people their signs and family are their in memory of. No good way to grasp it all but perhaps Shakespeare can be applied that in these cases it's better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all.

I could pretend that there was someone I was cheering for louder on the course but highest on the list was Kiana. This would be her first road 10k and the first race that she started entirely on her own. I'd do about 40 yards with her and show her the pace that we had held in 5k's and then see her run off... let's just say it was a very emotionally happy moment of watching her grow up. (Someone would send me a picture of her on the course of her own and she was smiling and so was I though somehow the sweat was still in my eyes when I got a couple of days later.)

The race would start and I'd start almost 5 minutes back knowing that with each person I passed Believe and Train was going to be making a donation. I've never been more hungry to pass people in any race nor realized that the challenge of the bee was suddenly mine, weaving, fluttering, trying to stay afloat in the idea that keeping going forward gave things a little more chance at life. There were high fives and cheers and a keen awareness that this wasn't a race I would be taking it easy on for one step. I was at one of the fastest paces I've ever kept for a 5k but weaving and dodging makes you do some extra. Still when it was done I had gotten the 4th fastest time over all and had passed all but 40 something people. 

I turned just as I finished to realize Kiana wasn't far behind me and I had only a moment's breath before I'd go run her/my second lap. With no watch on what she had done or what she was doing, we would go on passing 5ker's and 10ker's along the way. She would finish in just slightly over an hour at a faster pace she had kept in her previous 5k's. She and I had both had people who had donated to our run and I hope we earned it. It's the loudest I've ever gotten cheered for by the people I've been passing but I think that reflects the community of people who deal with tumors, we understand that the people who are ahead of us and behind us are part of us, not beating us or lagging behind us. 

The awards came and this year our team earned the fastest team (I couldn't believe they didn't put in a best looking team cause shy of the captain, my team would have had a great chance) with Kiana, my mom, my dad and me all placing in our age group (along with my running buddies). More importantly the event had raised over 100,000 to keep not just hope but actual people alive. 

It took wise and intelligent people a long time to figure out how such small wings carry the load of bee's body, thinking it's too much. It only takes a few looks around the brainpower 5k event to realize how we do it, somewhere the desire to carry life, to help it last a little longer, it gives you a little extra heart, a little extra flight. We're not quite home yet but we're not done flying. 

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Nice Guys Finish Last

I've been working on my playlist for the brainpower 5k, the 5th time I'm doing on it's fifth year. I've never quite known how to make sense of the fact that before this all started for me, Austin had never once had any brain cancer research races and that on it's first one the universe was kind enough to both let me win it and be it's lead fundraiser. There's been other honors since then like helping organize, having put together the biggest team and this year a contest in which I'll start at the back of the pack and Believe and Train is going to donate money for everyone I pass. I've never done anything like that in a race but I know brain cancer has made us say goodbye to many people and certain parts of our functions, our self perception, perhaps self value often get left behind. I won't be able to win this race but it's a good focus that sometimes on surgery tables or radiation session or steroid intakes but however far back we start, we can make progress.

I've been working on the playlist for the race this morning and it's actually almost entirely new songs but one that I couldn't resist was, "Nice guys finish last." I've never been one of the nice guys; perhaps there's too much primal instincts from growing up in a rough neighborhood where I never quite lost that edge. People have asked why I don't smile in race pictures (I generally do in post and pre race pictures); a good friend even said at a picture taken not far from the finish line that I looked angry. Let me be honest I don't even notice the photographer, I'm just gunning. So while I'm not one of the nice guys, I try, honestly try as best as I know how to be one of the good ones. So while I'm not quite sure how I'll manage with the weaving around from the back of the pack to manage trying to be one of the good or nice guys, I'll give it an honest attempt. I have a lot of bad qualities but pretentiousness isn't one of them but repetitiveness is as is demonstrated by how much I use that phrase.

Oddly enough someone actually donated to Kiana's fundraising this year. She was originally going to run the 5k but decided this would be her first road 10k. They start 10 minutes ahead of the 5k and I'll start at the back of the pack but this is her first race going alone. It's a double loop so my hope is to be able to do the second loop with her. Still, it took her all of a few moments to decide to do her first road 10k two weeks after doing her first trail one. I got the pictures from that and I don't know whether it's a good quality or bad one she's inherited but she definitely doesn't seem to have noticed the camera either. (Actually I think it's a good one, the kid actually has a horrible put on smile which she'll I suppose work on in due time since we call that a social skill but I like that I know I have to catch the real one for pictures).

There still continue to be some very kind messages being sent regarding the E60 piece, Remember me. I want to point out as with any media piece that you know they're professional editors. I'm nowhere near capable of being as solid as that story paints and have never known what to do with people who prefer the idea of me. I wrote an entire blog about the piece actually, only one I've ever written that's never been posted since it felt inadequate.  Still, I'm grateful for the kind messages that come because of it. There has been as could be expected some random people who have said some odd things on social media that I can't quite wrap my mind around (and my brain has a hole in it!). Perhaps most amusing was someone who found this video when they were looking for that one. If you didn't get me a birthday present last month, that's the outfit I'm looking for.

Still life continues to be kind which people don't understand when they hear me say that I think life is kind with the rough things that have come. If there's any good quip from the last few years about how to deal with some of the mess is that if you're going through hell, why would you stay there? But hell is not where I'm at but I do know where I'm going. There are three places that are tied for where I've most visited since getting brain cancer, Duke (all medical, one included a race), New York City, and Beaumont (all races including the one that I won with Kiana in her stroller). Somehow appropriately enough in two weeks I head back there for the 5th time to this small town that would have a big impact in my life. It's a fundraiser for Livestrong who is who connected me to Duke so somehow the world is kind enough to connect all of that and continue to showing it as #winning (it's more clever if I use a hashtag right?). I've struggled with the travels associated with cancer but they say too much light makes the baby go blind. Maybe it's because I was a baby in life part 2 but almost 5 years into the brain cancer journey, I realized I should quit that whining and be glad I'm going on the ground and in the air and on road and on trails and up mountains and in Spartans... any of which and certainly the combination is much much better than being 6 feet under ground. I'll get there eventually as we all will but enjoy the time above before becoming fodder for insects below.

Still, Kiana put together a thing for back to school night that I loved (almost 100%). Her self perception at age 8 is better than many people at older ages (is that something we lose or gain as we "grow up?). She talked about the fact she's loud, funny, likes art and reading, wants to be a teacher, actor or singer but cares about her pet. She wishes she had a million, million dollars, perhaps a reflection that my finances aren't all she wishes they were and oddly enough said she wonders if she'll have children. I'm not sure that was going through my head at age 8 but I don't think that was it. She's only pulled it off one year out kindergarten through second grade (last year) but it honestly made my day that she wanted to have perfect attendance again. There may be a lot of things you can't do to make life work but one thing you have to do to have any chance is show up.

I know that I've gone back and finished with many people after doing my own race but there really has been only one person I've ever started and finished a race with and that's Kiana. I appreciate people commending that but you're supposed to put your kids ahead of yourself at some level whether you believe in the theory of evolution or the gospel truth. I'm honestly struggling more with this weekend where Kiana will be starting for the first time more with her own non kid's race even though I hope I can help her finish (with that said she decided to start taking her own donations and is already 4th on my team of fundraisers!). I tried to get her to promise me once that we'd run together as long as I can but if there's ever a day that I can't keep up with her that she should just do her own races and that's the day I become strictly a cheerleader (I'd look good in those skirts right?). She immediately said no that we'd still do some races together if she ever got faster than cause we're family; I immediately teared up that day while honestly hoping she'll finish  her own race and then come back and finish with me. I suppose only time will tell.

Even if I'm not a nice guy who will finish last right now an idea I heard of lately is that interesting people are interested in other people. I've wondered how I've managed to put together solid teams for so many things over the last few years and am blown away by the kindness. The reason I have such good friends must be because only ridiculously good people can put up with me. Yet I think perhaps the reason we've made any progress in life are because there are souls in humanity who realize that their interest in other people makes everyone and everything more interesting and that the greater depth they have with it, that maybe the idea that it's more blessed to give than to receive isn't quite that clean of a formula but one where giving and receiving is much like breathing in and breathing out. And those types of people, with those nice types of ideas are the ones I hope to finish with till my last breath.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Take A Chance

There was a time where I wondered what chances I had left in the universe... there were times where I just was sitting laying around moping the ones that wouldn't come but life was kind enough to let me wake up and to realize that living like you're dying isn't living at all. Boy am I glad I started taking some good ones. Many of those have been in the form of races but the best one YET just happened a few days ago with the Captain's Karl's 10k race.

While I've done many types of athletic events since, the newest one ever was a trail race last June. It was a trail 10k which I got lucky enough to win. But far better than that, it would be only a little over two months later that I'd be heading back out there with friends and one very special family member, Kiana to do another 10k on a new course. Some people say go big or go home but why not go big as you're staying away from home and while it was Kiana's first 10k, her first trail race, and her first time camping, it would be both of ours first time ever night race.

We'd gone and run trail a couple of times to practice but each time had been in broad daylight but that's a start, as an old track coach used to say practice doesn't make perfect but it does make progress. There was a time in road races where obviously it was my job to be behind her in a stroller, as she progressed on her own two feet, I was beside her or ahead of her pacing, occasionally behind her when she bolted. On the trail when it's single track, there isn't always the luxury of switching places early so we practiced with me both behind her and ahead of her. We never could quite decide which one we liked better.

We practiced setting up the tent since I hadn't set one up since well before brain surgery and my memory isn't what it used to be. We didn't practice making s'mores ;); figured we had a little more forgivable room if errors were made in that arena. Still I've never been seen Kiana more pumped about the prospect of it, maybe because there were so many new things and the practice runs had taught her that trail has a lot less monotony than road races. Plus she was going to get to wear a headlamp for the first time.

When we got up there, it wasn't long before she was swinging on a tree... I tried to little avail to try to get her to conserve her energy for the race. We watched friends take off in the 60k half an hour before our start and the 30k 15 minute before ours. Kiana didn't seem to blink at all in how relaxed she was. I was a little jealous and thought maybe I should have been on the swing more. When we took off, I told her she was going to have to figure out what felt normal on this since it wasn't like road and I didn't know the terrain... In simple honesty I thought she was gunning out way too fast when she was passing people by mile 2. I'd given her the same hope I do in every race, we can go as slow as we want but let's not walk.

She kept going and about the halfway mark we saw a gorgeous sunset and a beautiful moon. She pointed out how orange they both were. I almost redirected her to focus since I didn't want her to fall. But I figured it was right in nature to absorb it plus I realized in races of so many types I've missed the scenery from trying to gun. Once I noticed the moon I realized she was right and I was grateful and a little jealous that she's already focused on not missing things like that.

It got pretty dark going over some rocks and I stayed in front of her for the rest of the race trying to light up and light back things. She still took a few falls but she'd get up and keep moving through all of them. She kept passing people, not once getting passed and continued to ask me to tell her when there was about a mile left. I asked her why she wanted to know that. She said just to let her know so I did and at that point she sped up... At that point I was hoping she wouldn't collapse effort wise. Still with the speed she took up she literally collapsed over a rock. The lady behind her who she had just passed graciously said check yourself and she said okay and outloud just said while running "Okay checking, it hurts, checking it hurts, okay it hurts, it hurts" and kept moving. She would finish the race in about 1:22 after a few falls and scratches.

When it was over and we got our medals I noticed the inscription on the band, those who don't take a

chance won't get a chance. Almost 5 years ago I thought I was out of chances but that night I'd done a 10k at a much faster pace than I imagined and plenty faster than many people with much longer legs and bigger lungs, though if you ask me there may not be anyone alive in the universe with a bigger or better heart. We cheered people and made drawings. Once it was getting close to 10 PM well past her bedtime, I told her it was time to start getting ready for bed. Yeah that took all of a second before she pointed out we hadn't made s'mores yet and she wasn't going to bed without that. It took me just as much time to say that she was right.

We sat there and cooked s'mores, cheered on friends and strangers as they got to the finish line while eating s'mores. Finally I got her to bed. I couldn't sleep, don't know if it was from the good company, the post race elations, the gorgeous night but I ended up sitting next to the lake taking it all in. Sitting there comfortable at times in both conversation and other times in quiet, I realized that once upon a time I thought my best days, my best steps were behind me and I was dead wrong. That night I was glad that I hadn't focus too much of the fact that I'd be dead someday and that getting it right, at least for one night was being open to new possibilities in new places that even with some new falls were more than worth taking the chance.