BOSTON MARATHON 2017 for Bill and Antonia.... "It was in the physical that I could find my salvation" - Antonia
26.2 Boston Marathon Miles
Family and friends...among many on the course - cheer her on.
Yesterday I ran the Boston Marathon, and it was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. To explain why, I need to go back to August 2015 when we were told that my beloved husband Bill, my soul mate and cherished darling, had stage 4 pancreatic cancer. He died 3 months later. My children and I were plunged into an abyss of grief. For all of 2016 we were reclusive. I didn’t leave home for 3 months and thought that life – any meaningful and joyous life – was over.
Unable to get off the sofa, I put on 20 pounds and couldn’t accomplish anything. I couldn't make a phone call. Walking my dog Ajax, who was now my bosom companion, was about it. Summer came, and one hot day as we were in the woods behind my house a gentle breeze wafted its way to me and I ran a few steps towards it to feel the sweet coolness. The sensation of leaves and twigs crackling under my feet, the caress of wind on my face, the rhythm of arms and legs moving, and Ajax’s unbounded delight at the new game made me electrifyingly present to my surroundings and to the moment.
I wasn’t in the past, I was in the present.
Salvation In The Physical World
That was transformational. A tiny spark ignited and got me thinking. Back home, I dusted off my sneakers, borrowed my son’s shorts and T-shirt (couldn’t fit in to my gear) and headed out again for a gentle mile. Within a few weeks I was back to 20 miles a week, and I came to realize that it was in the physical world that I could find my salvation – I was cooking, gardening, embroidering and playing piano. The connection between mind and body had never been so clear to me: by moving my hands and body, my mind, too, would be exercised and moved to new territory. Nowhere was this more apparent than in the “runner’s high”.
I had always been a runner and raced 5Ks with Cathy as my coach throughout my 40s. I love a challenge, like running up Mt Washington, and realized that a new challenge was what I needed to give me a new life.
I applied to run the Boston Marathon for Project Purple pancreatic cancer charity. Got rejected. Applied to Dana Farber. Got rejected. Applied to 2 more charities. Got rejected again. I knew my mission had to be the Boston Marathon, as this is my home and community, so felt that the door was closing.
A stroke of luck came when my friend told me he knew the manager of the Dana Farber team. With some silver-tongued eloquence I was given a spot on December 15th 2016.
The first order of business was to call Cathy. I know nothing about marathon running and I needed an expert. At our first meeting, I pledged that whatever she proposed I do, I would carry it out to the best of my ability. That proved to be a key decision, and even with 2 injuries and a family crisis to navigate when I got to the starting line I was as prepared as I could possibly be.
Running for Dana Farber was also seminal. Bill was treated there, and when he was ill we were powerless, tossed about by fortune. Raising money for this cause is a positive action. I’m not taking his death lying down. I can’t change the outcome for him but I can for others -- and that helped me accept his loss. It was something I could throw my energy into and could yield spectacular results from my family, friends and community.
I dedicated my run to Bill and also invited everyone to share their own losses with me. Those stories inspired me to keep going even when the going got tough. I can see Bill (never an athlete) saying “you know, Honey, it would be easier by car” and he would have been bemused as to why anyone would put themselves through the marathon. But he would also have been there massaging my feet, bringing water bottles, reminding that I chose to do this and cheering me on. I had never crossed a finish line without him there.
On race day, my singlet, arms and legs were covered with more than 100 names of those who have been lost to cancer, and all of those people were present and remembered.
Boston rises to the occasion of "The Marathon". It is extraordinarily moving to be a part of it. The roaring crowds, words of encouragement, and placards carried me through. I ran the first 20 miles with exhilaration. The next 5 were super tough and painful, which is when I needed the love and inspiration of those names. And during the last mile I was crying, and smiling.
What I feel now is joy, which I thought had been lost forever. Joy for my accomplishment, joy for the support of my family and friends along the route, joy because life is good, joy for Bostonians who have created such a wonderful event, even joy for spring and sunshine.
This has been so much more than a race for me. I feel like a phoenix rising from the ashes of grief.
This next part can be no coincidence: Bill donated his body to medical science, and so his ashes were only delivered to me 2 weeks ago. Both our children were home for marathon weekend, and we scattered his ashes among the trees in our garden on Sunday night. It was at about mile 15 yesterday that I connected the dots about ashes, and even now as I write I am overwhelmed. Love you Bill, miss you and am grateful - and joyful - to have known you.