Imagine, if you will, a girl with a spirit much stronger than her body. A body betrayed from within by a form of muscular dystrophy that without reason slowly removes her physical abilities. In spite of this predicament, she has a dream shared by many people, but not many in her position. After being pushed by her friends in a chair at races of various distances, her big dream is to complete a marathon. Unfortunately, considering the distance and effort involved, this is one dream they were not going to be able to help her achieve.
I know a little about the confluence of dreams and disabilities. I have been hearing impaired since birth and while it really does not affect my running, there have been several dreams thwarted by my shortcoming. I have also been assisted countless times by my family, friends and even strangers when my hearing has left me at a loss. I am in a constant debt to those around me. The most touching moments are when an absolute stranger goes above and beyond common courtesy to help me out, which happens on occasion. While my handicap is not on par with Andie’s I saw this as a way I could reverse the roles and be the person that not only makes someones day, but helps achieve a dream.
With about two months until the start of the Portland Marathon I recieved an interesting message from a stranger on Facebook. While I did know who Andie Proskus was through the Uberthons races and various posts about her new race chair, I had never actually met her. We had talked online a little about possibly doing a half together, but nothing concrete had come of it. One of her friends contacted me with the offer of covering my race entry if I would help Andie reach her dream of completing a marathon. Aiding in this endeavor was the well timed delivery of a Hoyt racing chair. My first two thoughts were purely selfish, wondering if I could even be ready for a marathon in less than two months and if I would be risking injury in the process. With the realization that the only requirement would not be in the form of a finishing time or speed, but to just traverse the distance, I accepted.
Fast forward a few weeks, after getting a handful of longer training runs in and the week before the event I finally had the chance to meet Andie and her army at the official chair unveiling. They were a happy, friendly crowd, and I found she had a team that was working together to allow her to continue running in the way she was able to. Andie was a happy, bubbly girl and her face upon seeing the chair was unforgettable. After being taken around Big Al’s a couple times by her friends, she let me know it was my turn. Judging by the look on her face I offered to take her outside. She was thrilled and we took a quick spin around the parking lot as I got my first chance to work with the chair. Rolling resistance was quite minimal but its overall length and fixed front wheel made turning a little bit of a chore. After swapping around the handlebars it was much easier to get the front end off the ground and pivot on the rear wheels.
Race morning was a well planned event, involving two vehicles, a police escort and a team of people to help get Andie settled in her new chair. I tried to help a little, but let those with experience take care of getting her situated for the most part as I got loosened up and stretched. After some work, Andie was ready to go and we headed to the start. Due to the length of the chair, we were led to the wheelchair corral at the very front. For safety reasons, it was better for the runners to overtake us than sticking us in the middle of the crowd. There were a lot more wheelchair participants than I was expecting and it was inspiring to see them line up for the event.
After the start, we had the setback of Andie’s hat flying off in the first block. I struggled to stop the chair and a kind spectator brought it to us. Apparently the wind of our passage was a bit stronger than expected. Luckily Andie was prepared with a home made quilt and warm clothes. I enjoyed the cool temps and the sunrise as the frontrunners began to overtake us. While the goal was to finish, with a somewhat moderate pace, I was sweating within a mile as I figured out my speed and gait with the chair. I knew I was moving a little quicker than I should have but I was still breathing easily as we slowly climbed the first hill that ended at the 5K mark. At that point we turned back towards downtown and started to descend. Remembering my stroller running days with my daughters, I leaned down and asked Andie if she was ready to have fun. She replied with a yes and I let gravity take over as we held to the right side of the street. The chair steadily accelerated and I was in a controlled sprint the whole way back to the waterfront as I heard Andie’s laughter floating back to me. The cheers and yells of the runners we passed made it even more fun.
After that it was mostly flat and we ended up settling behind the 3:10 pace group for a while up until about mile 13. There were many cheers for Andie and people shouting encouragement. We made a couple quick stops so I could give her water and a few pieces of banana and then we continued on. We met the team at mile 11 and I let them take her for a quick second so I could stretch my hamstrings and remove my shirt as it was starting to get warm. Then it was time to say good bye to them until the finish as Andie and I would be on our own for the rest of the run. She had a grin the whole time, as the miles rolled by. I started to slow at every aid station to grab a snack and stay hydrated. We could see the St Johns bridge in the distance which I knew would be the real test. My hamstrings and calves were slowly tightening as we approached the climb. Even as I reminded myself of our goal of just finishing, I felt shame as I was forced to walk up the bridge. There were many cheers and words of encouragement from the other runners passing us. The view as we crossed was totally worth it. Even more so was the downhill after the apex. We gained a lot of speed but slowed to a walk again as the course climbed a hill a few blocks long.
For a supposedly relaxed run, I hit the wall pretty hard. In spite of regular stops to stretch my hamstrings, they were getting worse. Adding to the fun, my thighs started spasming, which has never happened before. I attributed this to the gait change because of the chair. I was now taking regular walking breaks, with quick long strides in an attempt to loosen up. It hurt a lot, and I was literally on the verge of tears for several miles. With less than 6 miles to go until the finish, even if I threw in the towel for me, I couldn’t do it to Andie. There are many more marathons in my future, but this might be her only chance. I hoped that I would not fall victim to a race ending cramp, gritted my teeth and concentrated on moving forward, at any pace. We stopped at every aid station, and even shared a few gummy bears. The long downhill by the Adidas complex was a blessing, as the opportunity to run at ‘normal’ pace allowed me to stretch out again and we passed a large number of runners with Andie laughing as we went. It leveld off and I kept the pace as long as possible to stay loose. The next hill forced me to walk for a little but it was immediately followed by another downhill.
At this point we were about two miles out and I was determined to give Andie a strong finish. Each climb was an effort, but the knowledge of how close we were to the end spurred me on. Everything hurt, and my breath was short but I was pushing the pace. At this point I didn’t want to feel anything. The spasms had eased for the moment I just wanted to finish. The last stretch became a blur as the number of spectators increased and the crowd got louder. I literally got chills in the last few blocks as it seems everyone was yelling and cheering as they caught sight of us. The last couple turns were the hardest, pivoting the chair and trying to stay a safe distance from the runners we were catching. My head was down for most of it, focusing on pushing through the handle bars and keeping the momentum. I was a shock to see clock at less than 4 hours as we crossed the line. Andie’s friends quickly took the chair and I came around and caught her huge grin as I tried to keep my head. I squeezed her hand and told her ‘we did it’.
‘We did it’
Not I. It took her dream and determination. A lot of effort and planning from her friends. Some assistance from the guys with badges at the Portland Police Department. We all came together to make this moment happen. Because the biggest dreams exist as a bastion of fantasy, the best kind of idle wish. In spite of reality, every once in a while we can accomplish something that literally wasn’t possible. That is why we dream and precisely the reason we need to hang on to them. Because nothing amazing has ever been an accomplished that did not begin as a dream.
Dream on, my friends.