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Thursday, November 18, 2010

Reflections on the road to the Honolulu Marathon

There are some moments of your life that stick with you, very vividly in your memory, regardless of how much time had past.  In the winter of 2004-05, I had one of those moments.  I returned home from work and my fiance (now wife) was sitting on the couch in the living room of our apartment.  She looked up at me and said, "Cassandra has cancer."  And then she broke down into tears.  I dropped my briefcase and my computer in the doorway and ran to comfort her as fast as I could.

I hadn't really thought about cancer until that day.  My grandma had recovered from breast cancer a long time ago, and she never talked about it.  No one else I had known had ever been affected by the disease.  Now my wife's best friend had leukemia.  The disease was real to me now.

I remember bits and pieces of Cassandra's treatment.  I remember going to the hospital and seeing her there, feeling very weak.  I remember hearing about her feeling nausea from her treatments.  I remember how her mother, a nurse, tried to comfort herself by reading everything she could about the subject.  The type of leukemia Cassandra contracted had a 92% remission rate, she told me.  She didn't seem comforted by that statistic, and I didn't blame her. 

I remember fundraising for and participating in the 2005 Light the Night Walk for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.  We all received red balloons with little lights inside of them as a part of the walk.  Cassandra's mom received a white balloon, which told others that she was walking in honor or in memory of someone with cancer.  Cassandra wasn't doing so well at that time, so it really could have been either one.  We walked around Lake Phalen as a group, followed by hundreds of others with red or white balloons glowing in the darkness. 

The starting line of the Light the Night Walk at Lake Phalen Park in St. Paul, MN
That was my first experience doing any sort of fundraising for a cause.  I knew I couldn't help Cassandra get better, but I felt like I needed to do something.  Cassandra's family put on a little fundraiser outside of Sam's Club where we sold food to customers.  I was there from when the fundraiser started until it finished.  Sam's Club agreed to match those funds.  We all passed an envelope around at our jobs.  We personally donated a few bucks.  In the end we raised a few thousand dollars.  It wasn't much.  But I figured if Cassandra heard that we all came out to walk for her, and raise money for her, maybe that would help her recovery.

Cassandra did get better.  She has been cancer-free for several years.  I don't know if I played a part in her recovery.  It was just important for me to be there to support her and her family. 

Cassandra, with hair growing back nicely, and my wife.  

So I began my involvement with LLS through grave concern for a friend.  But I'm not going to go around saying that I began fundraising for Team in Training with the same concern.  Almost five years had passed since Cassandra's diagnosis.  We still did the Light the Night Walk every year, but Cassandra had moved off to Missouri with her new husband.  That urgency to do something...anything, just wasn't there. 

I first heard about Team in Training through the book "50 Marathons in 50 Days" by Dean Karnazes.  This isn't a book review, but this thing is awful.  It's mostly a 200 page, book version of a 4-year old jumping up and down and saying, "Look what I can do!"  But he does make a few good suggestions.  And one was to check out Team in Training through LLS. 

For those that don't know, TNT is a fundraising program for LLS that offers pretty lucrative rewards.  If you raise a prescribed amount for LLS, then they will send you on an all-expenses paid trip to an exotic (or not so exotic, depending on how much you raise) location to compete in an endurance event.  The events range from triathlons to marathons to century rides and nature hikes.  And if you've never competed in an event of that magnitude, it's okay!  They provide all of the training and support you need to both complete your event as well as make your fundraising goal.  Alright, I've finished plugging TNT.  Back to the story.

So let's be honest here.  I signed up for TNT for two selfish reasons.  One, because I wanted to go to Hawaii.  My wife and I have been married for almost five years, and we never had a honeymoon.  Two, because I wanted to run another marathon.  I last ran the Grandma's Marathon in June 2010.  So I had been training pretty consistently for a marathon all year.  Now at first, my being out of the house for 3-4 hours at a time on the weekend to do a long run had its perks for my wife.  First and foremost, I wasn't around being my annoying self.  But absence makes the heart grow fonder; even if the absence is from me.  Suffice it to say, my wife was a little sick of marathon training. 

And thus, one of Christian's better hair-brained schemes was born.  If I raised $4,900 for TNT, they would send me and my wife to Hawaii, FREE (or mostly free) for four days.  I could run my marathon (also for free) while we were there.  Then we could extend our stay an extra week and call it a honeymoon.  BAM!  YAHTZEE!  Two birds with one stone!  And all of that for less than half the price of a normal Hawaii vacation.  "I should work for Priceline" I thought, "cuz I just named my own price baby!"  I went to a TNT orientation meeting and signed right up, in August 2010.

Then came the buyer's remorse.  I had to raise $4,900 by December 2010.  I've never raised that much money for anything.  Actually, I've never raised any money for anything.  The only time I had attempted fundraising was when my Under 12 soccer team wanted to go to Florida for a tournament.  I had to sell those nasty fundraiser candy bars door to door.  Instead of going up to people's houses, I walked around the neighborhood for a while, and then told my mom that nobody wanted to buy any.  My parents took the candy bars to work and sold them all in a couple of days.  I went to Florida on my parents' dime.  Fundraising fail...

On the other hand, I knew I was a little more outgoing than I was when I was 12 years old.  In that time I had morphed into a loud-mouthed, kilted, local superhero.  Not only that, but a superhero with facebook.  So I shot out a status update with a link to my fundraising page.  About 15 minutes later, I had raised $125.  Holy crap!  At this rate I was going to Hawaii by the end of the week!  After that status update, I felt like I could do this.

After signing up with TNT, I went to my first group meeting.  "That's the barefoot runner!" one of the fundraising coordinators said as I walked in wearing my Vibrams.  She proceeded to tell all the other fundraisers everything that I had told her about me during the orientation meeting one week earlier.  She even knew my name.  I complimented her memory.  She replied, "Of course...we're a team." 


Winter Season 2010 TNT Team

Well, I supposed that we were a team.  We all got the same free shirt.  We learned a pretty spiffy team chant.  We were all training together and working for the same cause.  That's teamwork right?

After that I went off on my own to do my own thing.  I attended a few of the team trainings, but mostly I ran on my own.  I thought, "I've run a marathon before.  I don't need this training stuff."  So I ran and I worked on my own fundraising.  The running aspect of TNT really hasn't been a focus for me.  I've trained for a marathon before, and I'm doing fine training for it again.  And I train alone.  "I don't need this team thing."  I thought to myself.   

So at the start of this effort, this was just a project that I, and I alone, had undertaken to get a free vacation.  Of course my motives were also altruistic.  You can't sign up for this sort of thing if you don't want to help people.  But at first when I received a donation, I would think, "one step closer to Hawaii!"  But as I got into it, my attitude started to change.  The reward became less important, and meeting the fundraising goal became more important.  Going to Hawaii was an added bonus, but I wanted to reach my fundraising goal because I said that I would; and I knew I could.   

I wanted to reach it because people shared their stories with me.  They sent me cards and letters telling me how they had lost their loved ones, or had their lives changed forever because of this terrible disease.  I had people tracking my progress, and asking me how my training was going.  I began to feel like I was running for everyone who had donated to my cause.  I didn't want to let them down. 

On a personal level, this experience has been about rising to the occasion.  It has been about setting big goals and not stopping until I accomplish them.  It has been about being there to support others, even if only in a small way.  I know that $5,000 isn't a lot in the grand scheme of cancer research, but it plays a part.  I'm part of a team that has raised over $50,000 this season for the cause.  As a whole, LLS has raised over $1 million.  And my fundraising helps, not just because I am part of a larger fundraising effort, but also because I have stepped up and let those who have been affected by cancer, "I care, and I am here for you to support you however I can." 
But as much as this has been about me supporting others, it's also very much about everyone who has supported me along the way.  I didn't think about that much until my father died at the end of October.  The day that he died, my long-time neighbor Becky was at our house the whole day, attending to whatever we needed.  She and her daughter Jenna cleaned our house because we were too distraught to do it ourselves.  They arraigned a fantastic lunch for the get-together after my father's funeral service.  They didn't necessarily know what we needed, because we didn't really know ourselves.  But they were there to support us in our time of need in the way that they could.

When I announced that I was running this marathon in my father's memory, the donations came pouring in.  We raised over $1,000 in less than a week.  The people who donated were my father's family, his friends, his co-workers, my friends, my co-workers, and people I didn't even know.  I wouldn't be less than $350 away from my $4,900 goal if it wasn't for every person that has donated to my fundraising effort.  I appreicate every donation, from $10 to $1,000 that I have received, because those who have given are doing what they can to support me. 

I was both surprised and delighted when Dan and Kim from TNT attended the service.  Dan came up to me after the service and offered his condolances.  I thanked him for coming.  He said, "Of course...we're a team."  I had heard a TNT employee say that at my first fundraising group meeting, and now I got it.  To Dan and Kim, I understand why LLS calls this fundraising group Team in Training now.  Thank you so much for helping me understand that.   

I didn't necessarily join TNT to become part of a team, but that's certainly what happened.  Teamwork comes from the support that you provide others, and the support that others provide you.  That's what I've experienced on the road to the Honolulu Marathon.  Now I can't wait to line up with my TNT teammates and celebrate our accomplishment the best way I know how: running a barefoot marathon in a kilt.  Honolulu HERE I COME!!!


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