Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Consultin' With The Rain

There was a path I found on my first birthday after brain surgery due to an email that went out to my running group. It was simply an invitation to Austin's first ever brain cancer research race, the Brain Power 5k. I would go on to win it and be the top fundraiser for it. Somewhere that said to me that it was not yet time to hang up the shoes.

It would be the race that was home. On the 2nd year, I would meet the guy who to this day is my neuro oncologist. It was also my mom's first 5k and in an era where it had yet occur to me to race with my daughter in a stroller, she was the one pushing her as she walked it. On that 2nd year my spatial orientation issues became clear as well, I got lost. 

On the 3rd year, I would come back to win it a second time but also continued to build a team, a team I named the Scarecrows, a playful nod to my wish of if I only had a brain. Some of the people on that team have stayed friends 'till now but on the 3rd one there was a girl I met at the pool team after party (she'd officially been part of my team but it was because of a mutual friend). She naively smiled questioned whether or not to believe my story that my skin was so smooth because of the salt water in my friend's pool and when she went to test my skin, she ended up testing the waters. I suppose it worked out because two years later we'd be going on our first date and five years later, we'd be returning from our honeymoon in time to not miss it. This was the 8th year of it and I am one the few, if not the only person who has been there for all of them. Elaine has not missed one since she moved to Austin. Our engagement was at a start line but it only felt right that the honeymoon end at a race finish line and I'm not sure what race would have worked better than this one. 

International travel is at best shaky with time change so coming back from Greece ended up having issues with our flight literally redirected to San Antonio at midnight instead of Austin at 10. You know you have good friends when they come get you and you get home at 2 am. That we aren't afraid of commitment or jet lag was reaffirmed when we got up at 6 am to go get this race done. We had great weather on our honeymoon but when we arrived back in Austin it would be pouring. 

Having named my team the scarecrows it is a ritual to listen to "If I only had a brain" when I do this race and somehow, it was the first time I'd ever noticed the lyrics nearing the opening that I'd be 'consultin with the rain.' In 8 iterations, the first 7 were reasonable 5k weather if not downright great. On season 8, it was pouring and wet and a soaked ground. The parking lot was full but very few people were out and about delaying getting out of their cars as long as reasonable. Elaine and I headed out there and I love that girl, she's not a fair weather girl in any form. 

When it was game time, our teammates got together and talked and encouraged each other. I had a goal of breaking 18 minutes after the trip but that was a secondary goal to being there, being present. It's an out and back and at the turn around it was good it was raining because it was a fair question what exactly was causing the moisture on my face was it rain, sweat or something else. Because there on the way back I would see teammates who had been part of most of these, all of these since we met, people who I had met because of this. Like the scarecrow of old, I'd realized the path and the journey were better shared. With about a half mile to go, the sadness turned into the intensity of a kick and a strong finish. But the angry look was because I recognized too many of the signs. If they had just been the "In Honor of" that would be maddening enough because for a disease that's supposed to be rare there were just too many. The In Memory caused the bigger frustration because I wish there were none but when I saw those the people I remembered were two from last year. One was the person I had pushed, a brain tumor survivor who would not make it to this year's race or her daughter's graduation. The other was someone else who had been in a stroller because they were too young and unable to walk and died before making age 3. She was my old boss's daughter. There were others of both signs but those were the two that came to mind as I closed and I closed with conviction. I hadn't won the race in 5 years but I won it in the fastest time I've ever hit on that course. 

I immediately starting cheering my teammates in. We would have people get back to racing for the first time in too long, the winners of the women's 5k, men and women's 10k, masters were all personal friends of mine, multiple age group winners, and people who were just there to show support by sometimes the only thing you can do, being there with one foot in front of the other. Elaine would get her fastest 5k by 8 seconds, taking 2nd overall woman and of course 8th over all. I love that girl and everyone else I knew and each person crossing the line helped the guy with memory problems remember that we don't run for some theoretical cause or someday where a disease doesn't exist but we run with and for each other, in this case no matter what the weather, no matter what the conditions. 

Unless it comes later today, the cure for brain cancer is too far away but I hope we got 5k closer that day. For just a little while on the drive home, I thought the same thing I had thoughts seven years before that maybe this was the time to hang up the shoes, to go out on top. But I know that's not coming because we're not there yet. While it's not true of all races, each one of the brain power 5k the start and the finish line has been the same whether it was a loop or an out and back. It was the start of my daughter's first road 10k, the start of my journey back, the start of a friendship that would become my marriage and I hope a continuous start to where this race eventually goes away because we have figured out how to get rid of brain tumors. Yes some of those finish lines had wins and trophies but it turns out it was just a way to keep going. Elaine and I created a photo album from the wedding pictures, a simple 8 by 8, no captions or cleverness, just moments. It starts with the proposal at a start line and finishes with the pictures in this blog. It's how the honeymoon finished but it's how marriage began. We'll keep the love going at home and  until the day where those tumors are irrelevant, could we start again please? 

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