Friday, July 10, 2009

Cheering in the Middle

Two years ago I woke up early on the 4th of July in order to be waiting at the finish line of a 10K run my college-age daughter was running in. The celebratory atmosphere, and the excitement as people crossed the finish line made me vow to be a participant the next time. I'm not in good enough shape to run a 10K so I signed up to walk the 4.5 mile "Mayor's Fitness Walk". It's the same route as the run, but it eliminates a 2 mile hill that the runners must conquer. I talked most of my family into walking it with me.

The morning of the 4th, the starting line was absolutely electric. It was a beautiful summer's morning and the weather was about 70 degrees. Amid brightly colored streamers and blaring music, there were over 5,000 people waiting for the starting gun to go off. The runners got a 15 minute head start so they didn't have to navigate around the walkers. Once our starting shot rang out, our family foursome started off with the rest of the walkers at a steady clip. After mile marker number one I could tell our 16 yr. old son was feeling the need for speed. We gave him permission to run on ahead and told him where to meet us. Then there were three.

My husband, my 12 year old daughter and myself continued on at a leisurely pace. Afterall, I told myself, we were not in this to win, we just wanted to enjoy it. But my daughter's excitement was waning. She wanted her try at running up ahead too. We were about half way done. We gave her the go ahead and told her where to meet us. Then there were two.

At this point the runners had long passed us up, in fact, the winner of the race had already been decided. We walkers were simply trying to finish what we started. We were a diversified lot! There were able-bodied, handicapped, elderly, children, men, women, strollers, dogs. But the most inspiring thing I saw took place on the sidelines. Starting at about mile marker number 2 there were people sitting all along the road in their lawn chairs enjoying the sight. I marveled at their resilience to stay and watch the last of us finish this race. Their faces were still excited as they watched each one of us pass. Some of them cheered us on--"You're half way there!" "you're doing so good!" There were elderly people in wheelchairs waving their arms in encouragement, a hippie drum corps sending us "good vibrations", and even police men smiling and waving as we trudged by. The thing that inspired me was that these precious cheerleaders were stationed at places along the race route where they would not be able to see the outcome of the race. They would not see whether or not I ever finished, but they were there to tell me I was doing a great job and they believed I could make it.

My walk took on a steady determined gait as I gained strength and determination to not only finish this race, but to also be a loyal cheerleader for the people I encounter on life's path. Sometimes I may get the honor of being at the starting gate as people launch into new beginnings of their lives. Sometimes I may be on the finish line when people achieve goals they've set out to conquer. But other times I will have the honor of meeting someone in the middle of their journey where encouragement is probably needed the most. Although I may never know whether they make their final destination, hopefully my contribution will help nudge them in the right direction.

With this new resolve in place I could hear the crowds of people cheering as the walkers began to cross the finish line. I turned to my husband, grabbed his hand and we crossed the finish line together while our children,who had successfully finished before us, cheered us on along the sidelines. What a great day!