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    Posted January 27, 2014 by
    Vero Beach, Florida
    This iReport is part of an assignment:
    First Person: Your essays

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    Lessons Learned from the "Dopey Challenge"

    It was the final three miles of a 48.6 mile trek. The race, “The Dopey Challenge,” had stretched over four days. I had imagined prancing my way through the final distance. The truth, every inch of my body was throbbing. As much as I tried to envision the finish line, I just wanted to cry. Every step sent sharp pains up my legs. Even my teeth hurt. How could your bicuspids ache from running?

    I thought about quitting. Who would really care? But somewhere deep inside me I could not bear the word, “QUITER!” I feared that those who sponsored me, in an effort to end Autism Spectrum Disorders, would judge me. Just as I started to think of dramatic excuses, I was captivated by the people around me.

    I saw people leaning on each other. I recognized the pain in their faces. I even thought about historical walks I had studied in school. We were not searching for a new homeland or for freedom…..were we? For Pete’s sakes…had we really paid money to do this?

    I muttered under my breath, “For God’s sake I had the six free t-shirts…..I could quit!” Any runner will tell you, there is no shame in doing it for the “swag!” But something deep inside – made me push on. I would like to think it was the $2,700 in pledges.

    As I contemplated my graceful resignation, I saw a couple holding hands. They were just a few feet ahead of me. On the back of their shirts was a young girl, not much older than my child. The caption read, “Walking in loving memory of ……”

    Honestly, I don’t remember the child’s name. I think because I could not stop looking at her face – those green eyes and freckles made my chest feel tight. I am not sure if I was delirious but she looked a lot like my son. The pain I was experiencing was no longer my own – it was their despair.

    I began to pray and I tried to imagine their pain. I knew that my hurt was unequal to theirs. Suddenly, my joint discomfort was irrelevant. I pushed on. I called my husband and son on my cell phone. It was what I needed to make it to the 46 mile marker.

    My attentions drifted again. I realized that I had been pacing with a woman dressed in full fire rescue gear. She had the helmet, the suit, and a tank. Forgive me for wanting to yell, “For the love of God! What’s with the over-achiever outfit?” As if she heard my internal yell, she stepped in front of me. Second confession, a tiny part of me wanted to trip her! As I started to internalize a vileness laugh, I saw three faces on the tank she carried.

    In an instant, I felt despicable. Those three faces were loved ones who perished in 9-11. I felt shameful for my thoughts. Like the couple who walked in memory of their child, I could not imagine what she was willing to endure. Her steps were to memorialize their lives.

    As she and I went up and back, she started a brief conversation with me. I remembered seeing her the first day. I assumed that she was just doing the 5K in that rig. The words were brief. However, I felt like they united me to her cause.

    Now it was as if we were connected in our drudgery. We had the same goal. We were giving our all in the name of love. It was not to prove or promote anything. We were there in honor of those we were carrying in our hearts. It did not matter how fast we went. It was all about crossing that finish line.

    Her inspiration gave me a second wind. Finally, we were rounding the corner. I could see the finish line chute. The announcer’s voice and the cheering spectators filled my eyes with tears. I began to cry uncontrollably. I felt like beating up my middle aged body was for a cause greater than 6 finisher medals. It was about celebrating the lives of those who inspired me, and my co-racers. We had the courage to begin and to finish an endurance race of a lifetime.

    There is something very powerful about pushing yourself to a point of insurmountable exhaustion. It strips you of every irrelevant concern. It shakes you to your core and reminds you of one thing – you are blessed.
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