How long does it take to fulfill a lifelong dream? For me, it was eleven hours fifty-seven minutes and twenty-nine seconds.
It started when I was a little kid, back when I was a fan of “Charlie’s Angels” and TV dinners were a treat. One day I was in our family room, spending a lazy afternoon watching television. Video of the Boston Marathon showed the wheelchair division. People in wheelchairs were pushing their bodies to the limit. That image stuck to my soul.
Physical therapy was a huge part of my life back then, and I had never considered what came after perfecting my ability to walk with my feet flat instead of on my tip toes. Outside of the confines of basic function, that might have been the first time I wondered what I was physically capable of doing. Without telling anyone, I always kept my desire to complete a marathon in the back of my mind.
About five years later I joined a sports team for people with cerebral palsy. For the first time, I was around people with disabilities who were older than I was and had disabilities similar to mine. Mentors and coaches pushed me beyond the limits of what I thought I could do. Around this group, nobody focused on my limitations, and during grueling workouts, several people randomly would call out “Whatever It Takes!” It became my mantra.
My passion was track. Training for hours became part of my routine. Over time and with the help of the head football coach at my high school, I could bench press more than my body weight, went to various competitions, made the Paralympic team and challenged the world record in the 400- meter dash. I still wanted more. I wanted to know if I could literally go the distance.
After practice one day I was talking to Kerry, one of my coaches. Just like others on that team, she was more focused on what I could do than what I couldn’t. College was coming up for me and she asked me if I had thought about what I wanted to do. My mind wasn’t on academics when I inadvertently blurted out I wanted to compete in a marathon. I had rarely said that out loud before and for a split second, I thought she might laugh out loud. I was wrong.
Within weeks she found the Woodlands Marathon. The relative flatness of the course and the fact that it was in a community that was a half hour away from where we lived made it perfect. But because of my limited upper body strength, I knew completing this race would take me a very long time. Would people be willing to accommodate that?
Kerry made an appointment with Doug , who was organizing the race. He instantly put me at ease. Not only was he willing to have me participate, but he also designed an alternate course to keep me off the main roads until daylight. He also made sure that the last part of the course was the same as everyone else’s so that I could finish with the other runners. The plan was to start at midnight and finish at noon.
When Doug asked me why I wanted to “run” this particular race, the answer was easy.
“So many people look at me and make assumptions about what I can’t do, I said, I want to prove to myself that they are wrong, that it is only my expectations of myself that are important.”
The first few miles of the race were easy. Kerry and her boyfriend had volunteered to walk with me the entire way for security and encouragement and my parents followed in the car with supplies and food.
A bout 10 miles in, my excitement started to give way to fatigue and I didn’t know if I would finish. I had finally reached the wall I had heard others talk about and I wasn’t sure I could climb over it. More friends showed up at about 4:30 a.m. when I was finishing mile 14. They encouraged me to just keep doing what I did for hours every day of my life– PUSH!
At mile 20, I thought I would finish. I knew I had done several 10ks in the past, I thought I could go that distance again. At mile 25 I questioned whether it was possible for me to push another stroke. I was exhausted. Physically my strength was gone. Emotionally it seemed like every good feeling I ever had seeped away with my energy. Blisters covered my hands, my arms were aching and severe spasms were making my body as stiff as dried out silly putty.
At that point, my dad drove the car about 500 feet in front of me. He stopped and got out and said: “Just come to me, Lorraine.” When I was about ten feet away from him he got back in the car and did the same thing over and over.
“Whatever It Takes” echoed in my head, reminding me of all the grueling workouts I had finished in the past.
Doug saw me coming close to the finish. Looking at my face, he knew I needed some encouragement. He stood before the crowd and told my story. Then he said “Lorraine has been here since midnight folks, and she looks pretty tired right now. Let’s all show her we think she can accomplish her goal.”
The roar of encouragement from hundreds of people gave me the lift I needed to cross the finish line. I set out to complete the Woodlands Marathon in less than twelve hours. I did that with barely two and a half minutes to spare. As people took my picture and shook my hand, my mind drifted to the memory of watching the Boston Marathon on television so many years before. As an awkward kid, I didn’t know what was possible at that point. But a dream was born, and I never lost sight of it. In the minutes after the race, I hoped I had come full circle. Maybe my completing this race could motivate other people to realize their dreams, just like the athletes I had seen in the Boston Marathon had done for me.
A seed of confidence sprouted in me that day. For the rest of my life, I know I can do anything.
With the support of the right people and a belief in yourself I now understand that anything is possible. Life long dreams can be accomplished in less than half a day.
If you are willing to do whatever it takes.