Two years ago today was a day I’m very grateful for. I got to make a new friend and hero. It is a great story, but requires some background.
I’ve run five full marathons while carrying the American flag. The first one was in May, 2013. I ran my first Boston Marathon 13 days before. Luckily, I finished and was in a McCormick and Schmicks celebrating a few blocks from the finish line when the bombs went off. I was sitting with my mom and dad, who at age 68 had driven 19 hours from Alabama to watch me run by for ten seconds. Also at the table were my sister and brother in law who took off work, made the expensive trip to Boston from Oregon, also to watch me run by for ten seconds. Not long before, they had watched from in front of the Marathon Sports store, the site of the second bomb blast. The one that killed 8 year old Martin Richard, and took the legs from his little sister, who were waiting for their daddy to finish the race.
On the flight home, I was very angry (still am). It was during the flight that I developed my plan for a response. I would run the marathon in my hometown of Eugene, Oregon the next weekend while carrying the flag, wearing my Boston Marathon shirt. I hoped it might be a show of resilience. I wanted to contribute to a group of runners and others determined to show that cowardly acts would not keep us from being who we are. I don’t know if it had any effect on anyone else, but it was a very special experience for me. As I ran through the streets I grew up on, people stood, cheered, and there were even several “U.S.A.” chants along the way. I still vividly remember one elderly man in a Korean War Veteran’s hat who rose out of his lawn chair to salute the flag as I ran it by. When I was done, an eight year old girl tugged on my shirt and said, “Hey Mister…….. I took a really cool picture of you while you were running by me. Would you like to see it?”
It is one of my favorites:
Fast forward to October of 2015. Nine people were shot and killed by a gunman on the campus of Umpqua Community College on October 1st. One brave veteran, Chris Mintz was shot six times while trying to stop the shooter. It was on his autistic son’s sixth birthday. He begged the shooter, “Man….don’t kill me on my son’s birthday.” The shooter didn’t stop.
After seeing that a gofundme account was set up to help Mr. Mintz in his recovery, I wanted to do something. The Portland Marathon was coming in a few days, and I thought I could run it with the flag and encourage people to donate to this heroic, wounded, veteran.
The marathon was sold out, so I went on craigslist to buy a bib. The only one I could find was a from a woman, no biggie. Who is going to look that close? And, it was not like I was going to screw up the leader board, especially running with a flag. When I got to her house to buy it, it said, “Salt N Pepper” on it. I thought this was pretty funny, so I put it on my Facebook and instagram pages. At about 10:00 P.M. the night before the marathon, I received an email from the president of the race, threatening to prosecute me for fraud if I ran wearing someone else’s bib. I was vey nervous about how a fraud conviction might effect my teaching license, so I decided to skip the race and just cheer from the sideline. It was actually really fun, and quite a bit easier than running a marathon.
That still left me looking for a marathon to run to honor Mr. Mintz, and try to generate some attention for his gofundme page. At this point, it was apparent he didn’t really need me as wonderful human beings had already stepped up to donate $800,000 in three days. I still felt I should follow through with what I said I would do. I landed on the Columbia Gorge Marathon. It is considered both one of the most beautiful, and most challenging marathons in the country. It is very hilly, but the first half of the marathon went well for me.
The Good Part:
The second half of the marathon, the wind picked up, the temperature dropped, and the rain began to fall. The last 8-10 miles were quite a struggle. I had to hang on to the flag with both hands multiple times.
When I was a little over a quarter mile from the finish line, I passed two women running together and finishing the half marathon. They turned and cheered for me, and one of them said “You should let us finish with you!”
So I ran the rest of the way between these two beautiful women. One of them was a 65 year old African American. She kept saying “Thank you, thank you! This is such a thrill to finish our first half marathon with you and the American flag!”
She explained to me that her father served in World War Two, her husband in Vietnam, and her son in Afghanistan. Then it was me who kept saying ‘Thank you” and telling her what a thrill it was for me to run with them. She however kept trying to shift the focus to her friend, who was a retired school teacher. To this day, I kick myself for not handing her the flag for the last 100 yards to let her finish with it. She deserved it far more than I.
She was the cross section of two groups that I really love. 1. Minorities that serve in the military. Rather than complain about past injustices, they jump in and do the heavy lifting for the rest of us. 2. The families of military personnel. I can’t imagine what an emotional burden it is to have parents, spouses, children, and siblings in the armed services. Neither group gets enough credit and appreciation.
Keep your eyes open, there is beauty all around us.
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