So this past Sunday, November 16, the Half Fund (in conjunction with Get U Moving Fitness) held its second annual Movember 5K. The first year, we were beyond blessed with 72 degree weather. This year…
We learned quickly that this type of thing tends to dampen the attendance at a 5K. And it became clear to us in the middle of last week that we were going to get trounced. Last year in our inaugural event, we had 130 people, and this year we hoped to grow it. However at 5:45am on Sunday, I thought to myself ‘We’ll be lucky if we get 20. I don’t know if it was really worth it.’
And if a high donation total was the only goal of this run, it was by all accounts an abject failure. Yet while money is important for the mission, I was taught something beautiful and simple on this remarkable Sunday morning.
It started seven days prior. A week before the race, my buddy Vic Porcelli from Fresh 102.5 in St. Louis had us on his Sunday morning show. After it aired, he shared the link with us, which we shared on Facebook. Later that day, a woman who is battling very aggressive cancer sent us an e-mail. She had heard the interview, and thanked us for what she called “giving her permission to laugh during her cancer.” She told us that while so many close to her were so serious in this serious situation, she found so many times when she felt she wanted to laugh but thought it inappropriate.
It is almost never inappropriate to laugh, especially through cancer. It’s laughter that gets you through some of the most horrendous times.
The day after Vic’s interview, my dear friend Margie Ellisor had us on FOX 2 News in the Morning. We shared the link to the video on our website, and we got flooded with so many comments of congratulations with the underlying theme, “Thank you, and keep doing what you are doing.”
Then on the Wednesday before the run, our pal Mark Reardon had us on KMOX 1120 to talk about the event, right in the middle of a captive rush hour drive time. The next morning, a man sent me an e-mail about “Right to Try,” a small but burgeoning movement in this country dedicated to obtaining trial medications for dying people who aren’t involved in actual drug trials.
He visited me that afternoon at my office, and told me that he’d love to run in our 5K on Sunday. Oh, and he’s battling Stage 4 cancer as we speak.
I thanked him and told him to dress warmly, because it was going to be cold. And as I sat in my car at 5:49am at our 5K location on Sunday morning, I hoped that he was warm in bed, taking care of his body. And I was thanking God that at least the forecasted snow hadn’t started yet.
This was going to be a disaster.
So I was pleasantly surprised at 7am, an hour before the start time, when our first runner showed up. And then a few more trickled in. And then fourteen volunteers arrived from De Smet Jesuit High School, my alma mater.
And at 7:30, more runners arrived. Some had pre-registered. Some were coming with friends and had yet to sign up. Even our race partners, Yokasta and her husband Tim from Get U Moving Fitness, were slightly stunned.
Then our photographer showed up. Her name is Suzy Gorman, and she is absolutely legendary in these parts. She has a pretty set personal schedule on Sunday mornings, yet here she was…bundled up, camera in hand, ready to go.
And at 7:58, the almost 40 runners who showed up were ready to go and heading to the starting line, including my wife, my dad, my sis-in-law, friends from our parish, a friend from Tae Kwon Do, and people I didn’t even know.
Oh, and the gentleman who showed up at my office on Thursday afternoon, the one battling Stage 4 cancer? He came…ready to run, and holding an American flag.
Now at this point, I started getting very nervous. This year, our 5K also had a 1 Mile component, and I swore to myself that after walking the entire 5K last year, I was going to run the 1 Mile, or die trying. I’m not a good runner, and I’ve never run a mile in my life.
My partner in the Half Fund, Joe Farmer, said he’d run with me. He kept me laughing as we came close to Suzy taking pictures at the beginning. “We’ll start walking the second we pass her.”
Well…we didn’t start walking. Joe and I chatted the entire mile. We talked about life, work, the Half Fund, future plans, our kids and our spouses, and by the time we crossed the finish line, we’d both pulled off twelve-minute miles. I was elated…I couldn’t believe I’d actually done it. And shockingly enough, my lungs weren’t bleeding. It made me think, “I’m going to run 5K next year…or die trying.”
But the fun was just beginning. Suzy, who is a pretty serious photographer, was having a blast. She was taking pics all over the course. I saw her taking snaps near the finish line. I crossed it and was about to head to get a bottle of water when she said, “Go back to the finish and jump in the air.”
What came out was a closed-eyed, wide-grinned, arms-raised, legs-up, belly-wayyy-out snap that I will never forget. My wife and her sis saw me do it and they cracked up.
What you don’t know is that while this pic was slightly staged, the euphoria was genuine. I had run a mile, and I was thrilled.
After the “milers” came in, then it was time for the serious 5K runners to cross the finish line. The gentleman who won was sprinting the entire way. If I was chased by a bear, I couldn’t match this guy’s speed. He won a VERY nice prize for winning, by the way.
And then the lady’s winner came in. She was also sprinting, and she was only thirty steps behind the man. She also won a very nice winner’s prize.
But as we were getting our picture together, she turned to me and said, “Thank you so much for this. My mom was diagnosed with stage four cancer two weeks ago.”
And there I stood…speechless. Suzy yelled at me, “Smile, dammit!” I still don’t think I could pull one off. I immediately said, “Massive prayers for your mom and your family.”
She simply replied, “Thank you so much. We need all we can get.”
And then…the liquor arrived.
Oh the weather outside was frightful. Light snow had started falling, and I thought that as soon as the last few runners crossed the finish line, we’d pack up quickly and be out of there. Like numerous times in my life, I was dead wrong.
Our dear friends Jim and Mandi showed up with their kids, as did Steve and Bridget with theirs. They were there to not only support our efforts, but to have a really fun time in the process. While I was talking to one of the runners, I saw Jim walk out of the stadium. A few minutes later, he came back with cups in his hands. Hanging above the rim of the cups was an intricate affair of hard salami, gurken, a pepper and some other goodies.
The Bloody Mary’s had started. Jim looked over at me and smiled. “You look like you could use one of these.” He handed it to me, and I took a sip…right as one of our three police officers providing security for the runners walked up to me. My wife Stephanie saw me and walked right behind me, stealthily taking the evidence in case I was breaking some law.
The snow started falling harder, the officers left, the volunteers left, and there we were…ten people…standing in the snow (there was a huge covered part of the porch; no one cared)… simply enjoying each other’s company, laughing, sipping Bloody Mary’s, talking about how it’s a really good thing to try make the world a better place.
It was one of the moments that was so surreal that you have to stop and actually comprehend what you’re seeing and feeling. It was a moment when all was right with the world.
And as the last friends drifted back to their lives, as we packed up all of the shirts of the “what might have been had it been warmer” runners, I realized that this was not about how many people ran a race.
This was about people wanting to somehow make a difference.
This was about letting people know that they are not alone in their fight with cancer, either their own, or with someone they love.
This was about the better angels of our nature.
This episode in our mission was never about money…and it never will be.
So as I look back on what transpired last Sunday, I know that every second of every minute of every hour of every day of this experience was, and is, more than worth it.
And we can’t wait to see you next year…snow or shine