I have been extremely fortunate to run in the Boston Marathon three times. But I’ve never qualified for the marathon and you’ll never see my name under any of the finishing times or official start lists for the race. In 2013, I nearly completed the entire 26.2 miles of the course. But just shy of the finish line on Boyston Street, four blocks to be more specific, my race was cut short due to explosions that rocked the historic race by cowardly home grown terrorists.
Then, in 2014, I was determined to cross the finish line, but about a mile into the run, I stumbled on a small divot in the road that I didn’t notice. Years of ankle injuries playing soccer and lacrosse have left me with pretty poor support and I have to be careful to notice things in the roadway that could potentially trip me up….literally! I continued to run forward thinking maybe I had just rolled my ankle and could run it off after a few strides. But after another 2 miles of a glorious “hobble”, I pulled up into a medial tent to realize I had broken a small bone in my foot.
Finally, in 2015, I returned once again, and was finally able to cross the finish line. The weather was cold and rainy that year, but my heart was warm to finally run across the famous finish line.
So how is it that I’ve been able to run in this race for three years in a row without having to submit a qualifying time? Actually, it’s all Richard’s fault…..Richard Blalock, that is. Ironically, I was thinking about him this week as he prepares for retirement from a long career managing a technology team in South Carolina. But he also celebrated a birthday….a milestone that has more meaning that many realize. At a very young age, Richard injured his right foot when a school bus ran over it. The injury never healed correctly and years later, as an adult, he elected to have his leg amputated below the knee in order to be able to live a more healthy active life doing things he enjoyed, especially running. Many amputees I’ve meet over the years often refer to the date of their surgery as their “alive day” since it represents a moment where their life changed or, perhaps, a day they got their “life back”. Regardless of what the situation is for my friend, Richard, there’s no coincidence that his “alive day” is April 14th….the same day as my own birthday. Perhaps our paths were meant to cross?
The reason I’ve been able to participate in three Boston Marathon events is because individuals who have a physical disability and do qualify for the race by meeting a certain time standard, can enter a lottery for placement into the Mobility Impaired division. And those individuals can select a Guide runner to accompany them during the race, offering technical assistance with prosthetics or other adaptive devices so the mobility runner can have the best chance of finishing the race. Such was the case for me and late in 2012, Richard called me one day as asked me if I’d run with him in the 2013 Boston Marathon.
I was thrilled, as you might imagine. I had run a few marathons but this would certainly be the pinnacle of my running career! And since my sister, who had qualified for the race, would be running that year too, it made the opportunity even more special. My girlfriend at the time, Janelle, who’s now my wife, would also accompany me to Boston, and planned on being a spectator / cheerleader for “Team Richard” that year.
I remember bits and pieces of the race in 2013. I distinctly remember how it ended. The abrupt halt less than a mile from the finish line. The initial rumors that there had been a pyrotechnic explosion at the finish line and that the race would resume shortly. And all the endless sirens and emergency response vehicles that raced through previously blocked off streets towards the finish line area that Richard and I would never see that year.
In 2014, Richard was invited to return to the Boston Marathon and again he asked me to serve as his Guide runner. All the runners participating in 2014 were bound and determined to finish the race, especially those who had run the previous year but like Richard and me, had come up short. In 2014, Richard had two guide runners, myself and another friend named Randy Spellman, but race officials would not let us run together with Richard. Instead, we had to divide up the course so that only one of us was with our runner at any given moment and for security reasons, the race management ensured fewer people on the course, one of the many lessons learned from the previous year. Randy started the race with Richard and our designated Guide Exchange point was just about Mile 10 on the course. The exchange occurred without fanfare; more or less a simple high-five between Randy and me. And I picked up Guide duties at that point, heading up a gradual hill towards Mile Marker 11 and the famous Wellesley College, an all girls school that runners call the “fastest mile” on the course because many men pick up the pace while running past hundreds of screaming Wellesley college girls for nearly a mile along that stretch.
I remember positioning myself to the outside of Richard as we ran through Wellesley, keeping the college girls to his immediate right, and me on the opposite side of the road, where there weren’t any distractions. Richard was enjoying the moment, raising his hands several times which in turn only made the college girls scream even louder. It wasn’t difficult to see his tall stature lumbering between Mile 11 and 12, with his prosthetic running blade. Both Randy and I had created running shirts that read “Go Richard” on the front so when we ran past crowds that day, they would yell the same thing printed on the shirt, there-by offering additional encouragement to our runner.
My stumble in the roadway was enough to catch Richard’s eye as he saw me break my stride. “Are you okay”, he asked. To which I replied, “Yeh…I think I rolled my ankle but I’ll be fine….”. But Richard, a seasoned runner, knew better. He didn’t say anything, but we both knew the reality. I tried my best to hide the pain for the next two miles, and when I saw the aide station approaching at Mile 14, I suggested to Richard that I pop inside to get my ankle taped up. He could continue along the route and I’d catch up to him after getting some quick medical attention. We agreed to the plan, but once I got inside, the medical staff knew my fate without even taking an x-ray. “You’ve most likely broken you foot”, the doctor would say. I didn’t believe it until he had me stand on one foot….that bad one….and I grimaced in pain. My day ended less than 5 km into the race.
Richard continued on the course and miraculously we were able to get in touch with Randy, who linked up with him around Mile 18. Richard and Randy crossed the finish line together, an especially happy occasion for Richard, who had longed to reach that milestone in his personal running career.
As for me, on the other hand, I was pretty livid. I was not happy with the broken foot and for several weeks afterwards, complained, griped and moaned at every chance I could. My temporary injury was a good excuse for me to feel sorry for myself, complain about life giving me a raw deal. I’m pretty sure I even blamed God for my current situation…..even though it was …. temporary.
Then one day, I thought about Richard. The guy had just finished running and finishing the Boston Marathon…on a prosthetic running leg! Wow….what a feat! In the years I’d known him, he was doing more with one leg than many do with two legs. And then there was me….feeling sorry for myself. Like a ton of bricks, it finally hit me that my temporary injury would eventually heal….But Richard’s leg was not going to be like a starfish, and eventually grow back. Talk about a reality check.
Maybe you’ve been in a similar situation as me, feeling sorry for yourself, asking God “why me?” What could you or I have ever done to be singled out and punished by our Heavenly Father? It’s in our human nature to question God. We want to know every reason why things happen. We want to be in control, don’t we? And when we’re not in control or we don’t know the answers, we feel like God has betrayed us.
But that’s not our God.
God doesn’t want us to be victims. He wants us to be victors.
He doesn’t want us to feel singled out. He wants us to be one of many in His kingdom.
And God wants our attention….and sometimes, when things don’t go according to our plan, it’s God’s way of giving us a wake up call.
Like it or not, that’s God’s way.
Remember the promise in Romans 8:28 where scripture says:
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”
What’s holding you back today from realizing what God has in store for you? What wake up call is He placing on your heart?
My prayer for all of us today is that our eyes are opened to the road blocks, the changes in directions, the set backs, and the failures….all part of God’s plan to enrich, fulfill, and strengthen our lives and those who we are called to serve.