Am I too old to run pain free? After spending most of the past fifteen years on my ass, I’m beginning to wonder. As a kid, running was easy and natural. Today it takes a half mile to stop shuffling like I’m being marched off to prison with bound ankles. Even after that first half mile, there’s pain in the right calf and left hip. Then I think about why I’m training for this marathon and I shut out the pain.
Last night I watched the ESPY awards with my family. It’s an unofficial tradition in our house. Every year, I’m reminded of one of the most amazing speeches ever. I never met Jim Valvano, but Nick Valvano used to work for my dad in the 1990s. Nick is President Emeritus of the Jimmy V Foundation, and has been on the board since its inception. My dad and Nick have fallen out of touch over the years, but I remember playing golf with him and his story of what it’s like to play at the Jimmy V Foundation golf tournament as a hack. With all the celebrities, there are fans lining the fairway and cameras all around, and great fear in the mind of the hack. During the run today, I thought about Nick and how fulfilled he must feel fighting for such a worthy cause, and how much more comfortable he likely is now after so many years hitting golf balls with other people around him. And then my thoughts shifted to Jim on stage less than two months before he died from cancer, encouraging everyone to never give up. Don’t ever give up. What calf pain? What hip pain?
And that brings me to the real inspiration for running the Chicago Marathon. Those that know me know this part of my story. On January 1, 2011, I received a text that would change my life. It was an attempt to reconnect by a former high school classmate, a girl I dated in college.
A year and a half earlier we found each other on LinkedIn after 20 years, communicated via e-mail and a couple conversations on the phone, and I realized we shared parallel experiences. Except for one big difference. She fought and beat breast cancer. As I dealt with challenges in the months following our LinkedIn / e-mail encounter, she served as a source of inspiration and hope. At least I had my health. At least I wasn't facing the very real possibility of an early end to my life.
Then I received the text. We spent hours on the phone. We exchanged hundreds of witty e-mails and text messages. We went out for dinner when I travelled later that month to Connecticut on business. We started dating. I realized how fortunate I was to be with the strongest, most amazing, most beautiful girl the world had ever seen. I learned about the struggle she faced, and how she's come out of it with the same infectious energy she had in high school and college. I discovered a source of inspiration for me and everyone around the world in a small bundle of energy with a contagious smile that changes the world for those who experience it.
We married in September of that year and continue to live every day happily ever after. I wasn't with her during her most challenging days, and can't imagine the pain and fear they caused her, and cause millions of people every day around the world. Her story hasn't ended, and I hope serves as an inspiration to many that life is beautiful and victory is possible despite seemingly insurmountable challenges if you continue to fight.
I work hard every day to get stronger so I can carry her even farther than she's already gone. It's the least I can do for someone who carries me every day in many ways. This little run in October will be my first marathon, an opportunity to raise money and awareness, a tribute to my wife's incredible strength, and an opportunity to kick cancer's ass.
I’d post the link to my fundraising site, but can’t without compromising the anonymous nature of this writing. Instead, I've posted a picture of us on our wedding day and ask that you donate to a cause dedicated to fighting cancer – whether that’s The Jimmy V Foundation or Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. Thanks!