This race is part of my 2016 quest to do 12 races in honor of people with ALS who have been an inspiration to me. This is Race #9.
Our decision to “Run with the Amish” was not born out of curiosity, reverence or even reality TV fandom, but simple geography. My friend Carissa wanted to pick a race for her first full marathon and I said we should do it together. We met while working in DC, but had since moved away in different directions: I to NC and she to Ohio.
The goal was to find a marathon somewhere in the middle, but we quickly figured out that meant the Appalachian mountains – not exactly ideal for first marathons or trikes. So we settled on the Adams County marathon in southeastern Ohio: Amish country, hence the tagline.
“Are the Amish running?” asked…everyone. Doubtful. I’d read online that they’d be manning the water stops because the event raised money for their rural school system.
The clash of clothing culture between Amish and runners was strikingly apparent from the start line. The Amish men and boys wore white or grey button-down shirts with slacks, some with suspenders or wide-brimmed hats, while the women and girls wore bodice-fitted pleated dresses and bonnets. Contrast that to the runners in various forms of tight fitting shorts, tank tops or t-shirts, and running shoes with their inevitable neon soles or swooshes (since that’s all they make these days). It was a cordial atmosphere, but odd, and I caught sight of a lot of surreptitious stares from both sides.
Stares. I’m used to them. It happens all. the. time. People aren’t expecting a 35-year-old with a walker. What’s wrong with her? the stares ask. No malice, just an innate curiosity to make sense of something out of the ordinary. Meanwhile, I look straight ahead and pretend not to feel the eyes boring into me. Nothing to see here, I always think. I’m just existing, doing the best I can, just like you. If I can still feel the eyes by the end of that thought, I’ll look directly at them. They look away, always. I’m more forgiving with kids. I smile to let them know that people with disabilities are friendly, just another human.
My point of this tangent? I didn’t want to stare at the Amish because I know what it feels like to be seen as a curiosity, an oddity, an object. At the water stops, I tried to make eye contact and smile.
Anyway, Carissa and I were joined by our fellow Team Drea teammate, Kelly, who also drove down from Columbus. As she was “fresh” off her second Ironman finish at IM Wisconsin two weeks before, she had no desire to push the pace off the 11:00 min/mile we’d planned. Although we had originally planned to do the marathon, Carissa had a knee injury early in the summer and had to drop back to the half. Thank God, it turned out, because although it wasn’t the Appalachian mountains, it was sure hilly.
So the three of us started out together, 3 minutes before everyone else, since I was the sole entrant in the “wheelchair division.” We got the thrill of the police escort…for a solid 4 minutes before the lead pack of fast runners caught us and deflated our egos :).
“Go! Have fun!” they said when we got to the first downhill because DP had warned them about my racing catchphrase: “see you on the uphill!” I know, I’m super annoying to run with – I go screaming down hills way too fast for even a sprint, but then I crank slowly up hills slower than a walk. I maintain that it evens out on the flats.
I tried to celebrate Amanda Bernier during the downhills, remembering how deeply she loved, how she got what her heart desired most, even though she knew it wouldn’t last long enough. I thought of her on the uphills too, especially the line from her obituary reminding us to “take the time to stop, pause, and realize the beauty and wonder of the world around you.”
The countryside was beautiful – rolling hills, fields, barns, hay bales, Amish girls playing tetherball, horses flicking their tails – and the first time I’ve ever looked in my trike’s rearview mirror and seen a horse & buggy!
The race organizers had added personal touches too: signs for each participant and a couple of big sheets of posterboard with a bag of markers stapled to them for the runners to write on.
It was hilly and hot, but Kelly, Carissa and I had fun. We were all well trained for this distance and conditions, but not in a hurry, so we just ran and walked and triked and talked and enjoyed the scenery.
As we approached the finish line, I saw DP, Carissa’s husband Shawn, and our friends from college, Ann and Byers, who married each other and had boy-girl twins, H and G (as they’re known online). The twins are 3 ½ now and a riot. Ann & Byers told them to “cheer for Andrea” and somehow they heard “cheer for Tissue,” producing my nickname for the day 🙂
We collected our very cool handmade Amish medals and headed over to Miller’s Bakery & Furniture (hey, when you have one store, you’ve got to diversify) for sandwiches and potato salad. The 7 adults sat at a picnic table under a tree, eating and talking, while H and G ran laps around the tree, cracking us up with their antics.
They loved DP. Little kids always do. And it’s when the pains of longing start shooting up into my throat. While I’ve made a sad peace with not being a mom for all the reasons I discussed, I’ll never stop aching for the lost fatherhood for DP. He would be such a great dad. It is quite literally what I hate the most about ALS.
Focus on the positive. Thanks Amanda.
As we were saying goodbye, Ann said to the kids, “what do you say to Dave and Tissue?”
“Bless you!” G answered. Hahahahaha, we’ll take it.