Photo courtesy of fellow Air force veteran Kevin Suares
For the first time in what feels like a very long time Jesse was able to travel out to Connecticut with me to spend time with the Fidelco Guide Dog Foundation, knock out some media interviews, and enjoy the big race. My parents were kind enough to drive to our house to watch the girls while Jesse, Jack, and I all headed to the cold north.
We talked with a few different news stations and I was excited because the focus of the story wasn’t just on me this time for the most part. The focus was much more on the family and Jesse in particular. She has far too often been in my shadow and mainly because it’s obvious what I’ve been through and not so with her. She has never raised a fuss about it either but it was good for, at least in my opinion, to share her story and get some recognition. I’m not positive she would agree but I told her that next year is all about her. She gets to speak and be in the spotlight and for a change I’ll just hold kids in the background ha ha.
The cool air brought Jesse to life! It was so much fun to have her along on this trip. She definitely needed a break from the heat and day to day of life and it showed. She will always say that she hates being in front of the cameras or microphones but the woman is a natural! It’s almost frustrating!
I’ve been speaking and traveling regularly for a long time now and I still have to plan and often end up sounding ridiculous without meaning to. Jesse gets up there and sounds like a complete natural and the way she can put her emotions into her story while hitting all the most important points just drives me crazy! She makes it look so easy!
So needless to say the interviews went really well. They even got picked up and played as far as California and Georgia…or maybe it was Alabama, they might as well be the same state anyway. I will track down some of them and put them below this post for you all to check out if you haven’t already seen them.
Race day started early and cold! We left the hotel around 5:45 to get out early for a few more media interviews before the race started. We met a couple other runners with Team Fidelco then before I knew it we were standing in a massive group of people behind the starting line.
This is the point where that little voice in ones head finally goes quiet for a little while. We all know the voice. It’s the one that quietly doubts if you’re ready. It’s always asking, usually at night, if you’ve done enough to prepare. What if your new shoes give you blisters? What if you need the bathroom half way through? What if your baby decides to stay up all night and you get no rest? We have all experienced that voice even if the situation is different.
Fortunately, race morning is when that nagging voice gets bound, gagged, and locked in a closet somewhere in the mind. The hype is contagious and the excitement is almost tangible. Everyone is laughing, stretching, and eagerly awaiting the gun.
When the race officially starts the first thing to happen is absolutely nothing. There were something like 18,000 registered runners this year. Put most of them in the same street and say go and you can imagine the stampede. The race had been officially started for probably five minutes before we even took a step. We couldn’t do any more than walk for the first half mile after that.
Finally the time comes when we get to run! It’s packed, everyone is jostling for position, and my guide Tommy is doing all he can to keep me from running people over like I’ve done in the past.
With the excitement and distractions the first mile or two really fly by. Everyone is still excited and doing well.
As we pass mile three and get into four the cruise control turns on. The legs are warmed up and breathing is steady and now it’s time to just find something to think or talk about with nearby runners. We’re practically done! This is going to be a piece of cake!
Fast forward to somewhere between mile six and eight. The seam on the inside of my running shorts is rubbing my thigh and feeling less than awesome. The legs are starting to protest and that’s when you realize that somehow that stupid voice in your head has escaped from the closet and is demanding to know why on earth you agreed to do this. For a minute you were excited when you passed the half way point but now you realize that is basically means you have to turn around and run back to where you came from. That’s going to take forever! Add on top of it that nobody is laughing anymore except for the spectators who drug their couches on their lawns in their pajamas to watch us suffer. Some even had their grills out making breakfast. How kind of them!
As you approach mile ten you get a little boost realizing that you’re finally into the double digits. You’re getting close! The first three flew by so why wouldn’t the last three right? It’s sort of funny, but that isn’t what happens at all.
By this point my legs wouldn’t stop asking me for a break and my feet have now joined in on the protesting. Now this isn’t just a sore muscle feeling. It is much more than that. I could feel the bones in my feet saying they had been through enough. The only good thing was that my entire lower half was as as miserable as the rash my shorts created so everything was even and fair.
Miles eleven and twelve were when I started asking myself why I did this again but this time with a more philosophical view instead of the negative one. Why was I here doing this? I don’t even like running, we all know that.
So what gives?
My thoughts drifted back to the TACP schoolhouse in Hurlburt Field, Florida where I spent four summer months trying to become a member of a brotherhood. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. Not just physically either. It’s a mind game. That was where I first experienced how much power the mind has over the body and how it can make or break a person depending on where they focus it.
I did things there that I wasn’t sure I could do just from sheer determination not to fail. I knew what I wanted and I refused to be beat.
Those same thoughts and lessons would come flooding back a few years later laying in Walter Reed after learning I would be totally blind. I thought about my goals and plans for the future and had to throw them out the window. I didn’t know what to expect or how I would move on with life. I had passed a training course that most people fail for many reasons. It was the most physically and mentally exhausting thing I had ever done. Guess what? In comparison, going blind was a piece of cake.
Then there’s Brad, Josh, John, and Brian. Many times through the race they came to mind. They are the reason I’m alive today and the reason we all have the freedom to hold events like this. I decided early to live my life to the fullest, to be better than before, and to not accept defeat in honor of them.
All the sudden, I didn’t care that my legs hurt and that I was tired. The last few miles still took FOREVER but it didn’t matter that much anymore. It’s not the pain and soreness that matters, it’s the ability to overcome them when your mind is telling you to quit. The ability to lock that voice back in the closet when it seems impossible to ignore.
I also thought about Jesse and Jack waiting at the finish line. I wanted to do my best, to push myself, to improve, for them. One of these days these kids of mine are going to grow up and take a close look at their parents. I’m an example for them whether I’m a good one or not. I want to show them what is possible and what can be accomplished with a little hard work. Teaching them not to quit when things get hard is a goal I’ve set for myself. I’m gathering plenty of examples to refer back to when it comes time for a talk about dedication and not giving up.
Welcome to the inner workings of my mind during a half marathon. Those few paragraphs are almost exactly how they passed through my head that day. It was amazing to be honest. I have no idea if it’s normal or not, but it’s when I push myself to my limits that I am reminded of what is most important and what makes me tick.
I was very fortunate to be the captain for Team Fidelco. It felt great to be able to give back in a small way, to an organization that has done so much for my family and so many others. Externally I was there representing them, but internally I was rediscovering and re evaluating myself as a person. Taking stock in life, and being grateful to be alive and living in this great country.
As I read back over this post I can imagine that this may be difficult for someone to understand fully who hasn’t experienced something similar. Now I’m not saying to become a TACP, get blown up, then run half marathons to learn about yourself, but I do recommend you try to have a similar experience in your own way. I can’t tell you how to go about it but I can tell you that it will have a very profound effect on you.
Once we crossed the finish line and stumbled forward the first person we came to was Jesse who grabbed me and gave me a big kiss. I could tell she was proud and that moment was one of the best. I could feel her smiling and at that moment I was so happy to have her there supporting me. I love you Jesse!
To sum it all up, the trip was amazing. The weather was chilly but refreshing. Jesse loved the changing leaves and we even got out to a big apple orchard to take it all in.
Jack was a huge hit and it seemed like we hardly saw him at all so to speak. He has no issues with strangers taking him around and showing him things. He is our easiest kid yet!
I want to say thanks to everyone at Fidelco for what you all are doing. We especially want to thank everyone who helped us out so much on our trip as well as everyone who was cheering us on at the race. I definitely need to thank Tommy for running with me and doing an awesome job. I only hit one person (Heidi) and only because she cut me off! We miss our Fidelco family already and can’t wait to see you all next time!
Here are a few links to some of the articles and stories that were put together during our trip.