2008 Anne Horton Writing Award
Honorable Mention Narration/Description
"An Unforgettable Challenge"
In my lifetime I have been able to overcome many challenges. Some of the challenges I face are more difficult than others but, I do not let the affliction I was born with, Cerebral Palsy, get in my way. Even though I have a disability, people view me as “able”-- a girl who can accomplish anything she puts her mind to. When I set my mind to something, there is no turning back. With confidence, determination, and perseverance anything is possible. I often think about all the goals I have already accomplished: getting my driver’s license and participating in the 2004 U.S Paralympic Swimming Trials, for example. I often ask myself this question: “What else can I do that might be fun and challenging?”
One of my best friends passed away in March; his name was Zane Ryan. Shortly after Zane’s death, I became very close to his mom, Chris Ryan. One evening in July as we were sitting at the kitchen table talking, Chris remarked, “I am running in the Chicago Half Marathon on September Ninth.”
With a look of interest I asked, “How long is the race?”
“Thirteen miles,” Chris answered. “I think you could do it.”
Thirteen miles sounded incredibly long, but running a half marathon was something I had never done before. I not only wanted to run this race but I also felt like I needed to as a tribute to my friend. Chris and I decided we were both going to run the Chicago Half Marathon for Zane and that is exactly what we did.
It took two months of strenuous training to prepare for this half marathon. Running became a part of my daily routine. The activity helped me deal with my grieving. During the first week of training I only ran three miles a day. Each week I increased running mileage. One week before the half marathon, I was able to complete eleven miles in two hours and thirty minutes. I stayed focused on a balanced diet and I drank plenty of water. I could not wait to run in such a spectacular event!
For the special occasion Chris and I decided to wear our Zane Ryan memorial t-shirts to show that we were running for someone. Zane loved Superman, so the front of the shirt was the red Superman emblem with a yellow "Z” in the middle instead of an “S.” The back of the shirts included Zane’s name and life years, which appeared in red writing.
Race day finally arrived. The September morning was cool; a beautiful sun of gold slowly rose above the fluffy white clouds. Chris’s best friend Carol came along to cheer us on throughout the race. It really meant a lot to Chris and me to have her there cheering us on. I sat in front of the Museum of Science and Industry doing pre race stretches with Chris. The race had not even begun yet, but my adrenalin was already pumping. I felt anxious and excited at the same time. I was ready for this race.
It was 7:30 a.m. when Chris and I began to walk to the starting line. “Let’s get this thing done!” Chris said encouragingly.
“Yeah let’s do it!” I shouted enthusiastically.
The two of us continued to stroll to the starting line silently, but with smiles of satisfaction. Our blue, red and yellow “Super Z” memorial t-shirts could easily be noticed in a mob of pinks, greens, and purples. Chris and I, a unique pair, edged closer and closer until finally I saw it: the starting line of red, white and blue was steps away. I heard the startling pop of a gun. The race was in progress. “Eye of the Tiger” was playing in the background, which had me psyched as crowds of people began to scurry faster and faster. I gave Chris a high five.
“Have a nice race,” Chris said.
“You too!” I replied.
“I’ll see you at the finish line!” Chris yelled.
Suddenly, we lost each other in a stampede of a thousand footsteps and multicolored swirls. ”Okay all you runners get out there and race!” the announcer shouted.
Spectators cheered loudly throughout the race. Every time a corner approached, I slapped at least ten hands. As I was running, supporters yelled “Go Super Z girl go! Keep it up!” At every encouraging comment, I increased my leg speed more and more. With inspirational songs such as Chumbawumba’s “I get knocked down” or Garth Brook’s “Standing Outside the Fire” playing from my I-Pod, I sprinted passed several walkers and joggers. At the six mile marker I caught a glimpse of Carol in her “Z” shirt whistling on the sidelines.
During the race I observed my surroundings. I spotted hula dancers swaying to the rhythm of Hawaiian music. Lakeshore Drive was absolutely beautiful. The sky and the lake appeared to be connected. The wind was blowing in my face. I was in ultimate paradise. Occasionally, different bands played motivational songs of patriotism or songs of praise, which kept me going forward. I stepped over thousands of crumpled paper cups with Gatorade in one hand and water in the other. Sweat drizzled down my face and my arms. One volunteer asked, “Do you want a splash?”
I replied excitedly, “Yes please!” Suddenly, I was drenched from head to toe feeling refreshed and ready to run again.
At the ten-mile marker I had been running for two hours and thirty minutes. My body started to fatigue but I knew I could keep going. I sucked down a packet of chocolate Gue, which helped boost my energy to finish the race. Every step I took, the finish line grew nearer and nearer. I increased my speed again because I wanted to finish strong. When I finally saw the banner of red, white, and blue, I felt relieved. I was going to be a 2007 finisher of the Chicago Half-Marathon. Cheering and clapping had grown louder than ever. I removed my earphones so I could embrace the final moment of the race. I found it difficult to keep up with my feet. At this point I was no longer running, but flying, passing people ahead of me. I crossed the line and flew into Chris’s arms. I finished with an impressive time of three hours, six minutes, and 21 seconds. I was overwhelmed with a mixture of happy and sad emotions as I flew into Chris’s arms.
What an amazing experience the Chicago Half Marathon was! Chris and I were defying gravity—having the time of our lives.
I will never forget how hard I worked to prepare for this race. Zane always believed I could do anything. He would have been so proud watching me run with his mom on that beautiful Sunday morning in September. So if I can run thirteen miles why not run twenty-six more? Perhaps I will do a biathlon someday, that is both swimming and running, or maybe I will swim the English Channel. If I do not try, I will never know.