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. 


  1. Well done, you two! Awesome, awesome memories!

  2. I was surprised that you're not more popular because you certainly have the gift.