With the New York City Marathon coming up this weekend, I am reminded of an experience two years ago that not only changed my view of the annual event. It changed my life.
I'd set out that morning for a walk in Riverside Park. As is often the case, I meandered off my intended path, adrift in my thoughts.
I strolled over to Central Park, where I found myself in the midst of the marathon. I arrived just in time to watch the leaders in the wheelchair / handcycle division cross the finish line. To see men and women who've lost their legs or the ability to use them completing a 26-mile race is something I'll never forget. Nor will I forget the love and beauty on the faces and in the voices of those lining the course, cheering on complete strangers as if they were family.
After a time, I began walking uptown through the park pondering what I'd just experienced. The runners were coming soon, and I was eager to find a good spot to watch Paula Radcliffe pass by.
The sound of whistles and yells brought me back into the moment and I glanced up to see, off in the distance, two racing cyclists coming toward me. Wondering what they were doing on the course, my heart leapt in recognition as my mind put together the pieces in instant slow-motion:
... the cyclists were slightly ahead of and on either side of a handcyclist... the handcyclist was wearing sunglasses... the cyclists had whistles in their mouths... at each bend in the road, one would blast out a signal...
The man competing in the race, who had no legs, was also blind.
In that moment, I was given one of the most powerful gifts I've ever received. Here was a man, who looked to be in his late 40s, without legs, without sight, racing in the one of the greatest, most challenging marathons in the world.
Then and there, I made three vows to myself: to never again take a single moment for granted, to never forget how blessed I am, and to never complain about anything... ever, ever again. I'm happy to say that for the most part these past two years, I've stayed true to those vows.
I did see Paula Radcliffe run by, as well as the man and woman who ended up taking first place in the marathon. But for me, there was no competition... the real winner had already crossed the finish line.