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Maya Enista Smith Headshot

Braved the Marathon

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On Sunday, I ran the New York City Marathon. You can file that under things I never thought that I would do, but here I am, icing my knees with frozen broccoli stir fry and my ankles with frozen peas and carrots. I have the pleasure of working for Lady Gaga's Born This Way Foundation and eight weeks ago, the foundation's President, Cynthia Germanotta mentioned that we had an open spot on our BTWF marathon team. As soon as she finished her sentence, I could hear myself saying "I think I'd be into that..." and before my brain could catch up, I had committed to running 25.2 miles longer than I had ever run before, a year after I had a big, big baby and two weeks after my thirtieth birthday.

There were three things that got me through the marathon, and will stay with me for the rest of my life and I'm privileged to have this space to share them with you and hopefully, they resonate with you as well. In those miles, I was reminded that I had an amazing team around me (both given, and chosen) and that as difficult of a time that I was having, someone was hurting more and that when I finally felt that I couldn't give anymore, someone else reminded me that I could. I hope you read my words and remember that even when you feel alone, you have people who care deeply about you and want you to succeed, that as bad as it feels in the moment, it always gets better and that if you ever feel like you have nothing more to give, there are people (including the Born This Way Foundation) that can help you.

There were two groups of people I looked forward to seeing on Sunday. The first was the eight other strangers that I had been thrown into this crazy adventure with -- Josh, Kayleigh, Shadille, Jackie, Cathy, Nicole, Ashley and Sue. We traded emails, exercise plans, fears and worries and together, envisioned what it might feel like if and when we crossed that finish line. I met them all for the first time on Saturday and on Sunday, when we each crossed that finish line, we turned from strangers with a common goal to a team of people who had accomplished the initially impossible and had done it for a cause bigger than ourselves (individually and collectively). On Mile 13, I saw my second team. As I took a sharp left turn in Long Island City, I saw my husband, my son, my brother, my sister-in-law and my dad. Their faces, their cheers and their belief in my crazy quest to run a marathon is what kept me running for those first thirteen miles and ultimately, what helped me finish the marathon.

At Mile 5, as we ran down a long straightaway in Brooklyn, I caught a glimpse of a large, wood staked American flag waving. As I got closer, I saw it was being carried by a man in a yellow shirt and I watched as firemen and policemen saluted him and each time they did, he'd raise the flag above his head and wave it proudly, causing crowds to break into chants of "U-S-A." His name is Tommy, and he ran the marathon on behalf of Boston Children's Hospital. His daughter, not yet three years old, would be visiting Children's for the third time next month, for her third open heart surgery. I spent the next 13 miles within 100 feet of Tommy, sometimes stopping to talk to him and once, under the Queensboro Bridge, holding the flag for him so he could stretch. Tommy was in pain, not intending to carry a huge, heavy American flag for six hours, but compelled to do so when he saw it staked in the ground at the start line. Tommy is a committed Dad, an impressive athlete, a patriot and the reason I got through a lot of those miles. He was in pain, and I wasn't carrying an extra 20 pounds, so we both had to keep going.

At Mile 18, I was in Manhattan and starting up the gradual incline of First Ave. My ankles popped with a sharp pain each time my foot hit the pavement, with no relief when I walked. I looked up around 72nd St. and saw my brother on the side, cheering me on. I ran up to him, in tears, and told him that my ankles hurt more than I could tolerate and that I thought I had to walk. I asked him if he had any ideas of how to make it better and without a word, he ducked under the barricade and said, "I'll run with you." Unprepared to run, and having already completed his own seven mile training run that morning, he ran the last eight miles with me.

I had come to him looking for permission to give up on something that honestly, neither he nor I thought I could ever accomplish, and instead he pushed me, supported me and challenged me to finish what I had started out to do. As we turned right towards the finish line in Central Park, he ducked to the right and said, "the glory is all yours" and watched as I crossed the finish line and was given my medal. In reality, the glory that I felt was due in large part to him. He didn't make my ankles feel better, and he probably made my knees feel worse, but he made me feel like I wasn't alone and like he knew something about me that I didn't -- that I could do this.

So, here I am, icing my knees, popping Advil and hobbling down stairs, but I ran the New York City Marathon.