This past Saturday (yesterday to many of you) was The Brooks Rehabilitation Challenge Mile, one of the many smaller “runs” hosted alongside the Gate River Run. There are several reasons why I like participating in the event (this was my second year — read last year’s post here).
Firstly, I like hanging with this group of people because I’m free to be myself. People laugh with me instead of making a huge deal out of it when I pick up a little speed on an unseen decline. It’s nothing here to have muffin crumbs on my face or be seen peeling a banana with my teeth.
But more importantly, this event reminds me that it’s about encouragement, not competition. I couldn’t help but notice this as I watched people of all abilities cross the finish line. When one gentleman, who had made it most of the way in his wheelchair rose to walk the last several feet, the crowd cheered his name for what felt like a good five minutes. I think most of us would rather have our ability back, but it’s certainly true that when the challenge is tougher, the victory is sweeter.
As we crossed the finish line, people cheered and yelled our names. We were downtown, along with hordes of people, participating in the events of the Gate River Run. We even got medals. Our time? A thirteen-minute mile.
This time, things were a bit different than when I used to do the run with my friends. For starters, instead of making it to the end on my own two feet, I was pushed in my wheelchair. My goal then was a nine-minute mile, sustained for 9.3 miles. This distance was just a mile (the Brooks Challenge Mile to be exact.) But when I was one of thousands of runners, no one ever cheered my name. I never came close to winning a medal. And I never got quite the same feeling of camaraderie.
When David, a friend I met through Brooks Adaptive Sports and Recreation Program, first asked me to go, my initial thought was — no thanks. I don’t like calling attention to myself or my disability. The last thing I wanted to do was take part in some kind of Cripples On Parade function. (By the way, I hate that word, but the humorist writer in me thought it fit.)
Then David mentioned he needed someone to push. Faced with his own balance issues, he needed something sturdy (like me in my wheelchair) to hold on to. There are so few times I get to be of service to someone else. I quickly reconsidered. Besides, it might be fun. I underestimated just how much.
There seemed to be every kind of disability imaginable. And every kind of mobility aid — wheelchairs, walkers, canes and prosthetics. Able-bodied folk helped push wheelchairs, steady those on foot or guide the vision-impaired. Everyone cheered for everybody else.
Back when I could run the whole course, it seems me and my friends were caught up in the whole competition aspect of it all. This was more about support. I don’t mean to say it was more fun — well, yeah I do. It was more fun. Maybe I’m just a sucker for the feel-good stuff, but I was struck by how good it did feel.
All of us had faced our own personal struggles. Fought against obstacles to be there. It may just have been a mile, but when a challenge has this much meaning, it might as well be a marathon.