My first race in 2016 with Athletes in Tandem was the BMO Harris Bank Phoenix Half Marathon this past weekend and was memorable in so many ways.
Last year I had signed up to run with an athlete at this event and was planning to add a sightseeing trip to the Grand Canyon with my wife, Cindy, since it was on her bucket list. Many years ago we had planned a 21 day whitewater raft trip down the canyon with my brother but for some forgotten reason the trip was postponed and we never had an opportunity to go back. Last year’s race was scheduled for February 28th and we had airline tickets purchased. As it got closer to our departure date my wife’s brain tumor had progressed to where she was needing more and more physical care and I cancelled our flights and requested a deferment of my race entry.
She passed away peacefully on February 28, 2015 and never got to witness the grandeur of one of the world’s seven wonders.
This background of a lost love and a missed opportunity of sorts played into my emotions for this year’s race, held on February 26th.
I paired myself with David, an athlete I had not met before but who had a race or two under his belt.
David has Angelman Syndrome, a genetic disorder that causes developmental disabilities and neurological problems. The families of individuals with “Angelmans” form a tight community who work diligently to find a cure, and it was through this community that David and his family became aware of Athletes in Tandem.
Our first meeting of one another was an hour before the race, and like most individuals with Angelmans, David was happy and loving. We seeded ourselves towards the front of the 3200 runners and listened to the singing of the national anthem. As the young female vocalist hit the high notes of … “O’er the land of the free”… an auditory sensitive dog in the crowd howled along an octave or two below and had many of us giggling.
As we all know, it takes a mile or two to have our running lanes open to where we don’t have to be constantly on guard. It’s even more relevant when pushing an adult jogging stroller. David would offer a fist bump here and there and runners would obligingly respond. He was enjoying his moments and would often laugh as we passed people. I took it as he had a sense of friendly competition in himself and let those that fell by the way side know that he was talking trash.
It was mostly the ladies that he laughed at. One gentleman in the final miles offered a fist for David to bump but he would have none of that at the time. I apologized on David’s behalf and said to the young man that he didn’t have long enough hair and that his smile was pretty enough…no offense.
The course was perfect for running with an athlete like David. Flat with a chance of a slight downhill for the sprint to the finish.
We met up with David’s parents as the medical staff escorted us through the med tent as a short cut to bypass the burgeoning crowd of runners finishing. We hugged, shook hands and made commitments for future events before we each left.
The day before the race I had driven down from Flagstaff and took the scenic road through Oak Creek Canyon stopping to hike a short trail. This was as close as I would get to experiencing the Grand Canyon on this trip. Back in 1973 when I started the ninth grade my mother and sister and I moved to Sedona, Arizona to start a new life. Turns out we only stayed four months there but we frequented Oak Creek Canyon and Slide Rock enough to hold it as an indelible memory.
Between childhood memories and an approaching anniversary of love lost I snapped as many pictures as I could of the canyon. I was exuberant in the beauty of this lesser known canyon and shared my joy with Cindy. Ahh…but what I have come to wonder is, was I sharing it with her or was she sharing it with me.