I ran my first triathlon in September 2011.
After weeks of caring for my mother-in-law as she fought pancreatic cancer, I had become exhausted in every way. I was honored to care for her in her last days, but exhausted mentally, physically, and emotionally. I could feel depression settling in and knew I had to fight it. I knew physical activity is a great way to fight depression, so I called a mom who I knew worked as trainer. Sarah invited me to join her class at the YMCA. I did. And five weeks later I had gone from overweight couch potato to overweight triathlete.
Swim, bike, run.
In my first race, I was slow. Very slow. The winner of the event was finished, had loaded her bike into her car, and was chatting with friends before I even got off my bike. I still had 3.2 miles to go. Leanne is a friend, so I walked up to congratulate her. When she saw that I still had the run to do, she offered to walk it with me. I love her for that. I knew I would be dead last and didn’t want to walk alone. She encouraged me to jog a little as we went. A very little. I was last out of 77 people at the 2011 Y Tri. Sarah was there to cheer for me as I crossed the finish line.
A month later I did my second event, the Toyota Tri in Dallas. An open-water event. 1200 people including professionals. Having trained for 9 weeks, I was a bit faster and in a bit better shape. I knew I would be at the end of the pack, but was more comfortable with the swim, bike, run thing. I did well in the swim portion, but was in the last “wave” to enter the water so I started out behind 1100 others. My bike time was okay, and I then I headed out for the run. At the end of the pack.
I don’t run. I wog. Walk, jog, walk, jog, walk, etc. I especially don’t run after swimming a half mile in a lake and riding 17 miles. On hills. With wind.
The first portion of the run was up a very steep, long hill. I was worn out when I started the run, and more worn out when I got to the top. So I walked. Slowly. I was walking slowly when a very fit young lady ran past me. Then she stopped to walk. I caught up with her and we chatted. She walked with me then suggested we jog “the next 10 cones”. (Traffic cones placed every ten yards mark the trail.) We walked ten, jogged ten over the next two miles. We wogged together.
Then we walked. I enjoyed chatting with her and having someone to walk with. With a quarter mile to go, my new friend said, “do you mind if I run the last part? Are you okay finishing by yourself?” Then she told me she is a personal trainer and had been glad to find me struggling; she enjoyed helping others finish their race.
Turns out I beat eight people in that event. Eight out of twelve hundred. But I was not last! And I finished smiling.
I could not have finished either of those events without the help of women who had more experience, more training, and more strength than I had. They slowed down and ran, or wogged, beside me to spur me on to the goal; they helped me finish the race.
As I finished the Toyota Tri, I thought about my walk with Christ. I have thirty-plus years of serving God under my belt. I have learned a lot and have grown strong in faith. I could simply keep going forward and finish my race. But I believe God wants me to slow down when needed and walk beside another runner, to help them and encourage them. I believe that we must stop, even back up, to help others along this narrow road.
What does that look like? I’m learning still. But I think it means that I am to teach bible studies when asked, to keep my mouth shut at other times, to let others lead while I encourage them by listening, to be available when a mom is struggling with her teenage son, and to give godly counsel to my friend considering divorce.
On my journey of healing after Andrew’s death, I must walk beside others just beginning their journey. Painful as it may be to hear their stories, I must be willing to listen to bereaved parents, to pray for them, to love them. And in helping them in their healing journey, I continue to grow in my own faith and healing. Together we help each other finish the race.
After The Accident, Sarah called to see if I wanted to to continue our run training. I had planned to do the Y Tri for the third time. The event was four weeks after The Accident. Sarah came to my house. Twice each week. Sometimes I could not do it. I could not get up and get my running clothes on. Other times, I cried the whole three miles. But Sarah was there, like clockwork. And Sarah was there at the finish line of the 2013 Y Tri cheering me on.
Ron and I both did the Y Tri that year. I don’t know how many I beat or what place I came in. I don’t know if I was last. I do know that many of those participating knew us and knew our son, and many shed tears that day. Many of the volunteers and spectators knew us as well. They hugged us and cheered us on. We felt loved. And we knew that with the help of those around us, we will continue to run this race and we will reach the goal set before us.