On the eve of my third annual participatory run joining the in-progress MS Run The US relay team charging across the United States I realized I have never once truly answered the question, “Why?”
Why, Adam, did you choose to participate in the MS Run The US…to run 250+ miles across Nevada and Utah…to raise $16K…to spread the word and create awareness around Multiple Sclerosis …what possessed you?
Well in hindsight there are hundreds of things I could have done to exhaust this need to be of service…but how I happened upon this event, this cause, this community is too unique…too special…too right.
It began months before I even heard about MS Run The US. I was developing that belly softening lethargy that I had often times heard about growing up from older people who spoke of their own slowing down and thickening like some sort of uncontrollable rite of passage…not only was I softening physically, but my drive…my purpose…that clock that ticks and tocks in the quiet folds of my mind that when you are young and full of vim and vigor acts as a metronome to your insatiable desire to do…to simply do anything…to be active…to move…to resist the urge to pot yourself like a geranium on some upholstered piece of furniture and “become intellectual” because we can’t always run around for the rest of our lives can we???!!! I felt like someone knocked over my metronome….and it had taken me a few months to realize that I wasn’t hearing the “tick tock”.
So I signed up for The North Face 50K trail race in Atlanta, GA. The depth and importance of that sentence alone is significant in its own right…and how this race changed my life rested on so many little things. I won’t go into all the details and the synchronicity of it all, but had I not had the moment of aspiring for more I would not have sought a 50K…had I not met a guy 15 years ago, I would not have known the Race Director for The North Face trail running series who got me into the sold out race…had I not been scared to death of the overwhelming event I had trained for, prepared for, I would not have attended the pre-race event…and had none of that stuff been the case…I would have never heard of Ashley Kumlien…heard her story…and known what to do when three weeks later a messenger would arrive at my door.
My first impression of Ashley…sitting in an audience of nervously charged pre-race runners I glanced up to look at the panel of speakers assembled at the front of the room…it was a mixed bunch…male and female champions from the previous year…a representative from the Challenged Athlete Foundation and then there was this cute girl who looked out of place…but comfortable…joking with the event mascot, Dean Karnazes and other notables…but still out of place…I wanted to hear what she had to say…I was intrigued (purely in the most superficial way). We had to get through the previous champions forced and obligatory comments…blah…blah….blah, the challenged athlete spoke…and then finally it was Ashley. What she then shared blew my mind…not only was she attractive in all sorts of ways, but she was a modest overachiever who had run across the US by herself, raising money and awareness for Multiple Sclerosis…wait…what the….ran across the country??? By herself??? Uggg…I suck. I don’t even shower daily because it seems like too much of a chore at times and she ran a marathon a day for 6 months straight!!! I should just give up now…I can’t even compete on that level. As I sat there feeling like a complete loser in life…looking at her…trying to assess where the advantage was…taking inventory…two arms, two legs…a head…yeah I have all the same parts (well mostly give or take a few)…how could she be doing so much more…I am useless. She continued to share that starting this year she was had organized a relay team that would run across the US raising even more money and more awareness on the path to a cure for MS…this was her path…her duty…and her new mission in life. I left that session feeling slightly impotent and intrigued…I wish I could do something like that I thought…if only this or that…then I could…but no…good luck with your project Ms. Kumlien.
I woke up the next day and completed my very first 50K and I was happy.
Three weeks had passed from that evening when I first met Ashley…intrigued enough I looked her up on Twitter and then went on to the website and learned more about what she was about…I was interested, but those minor searches were the extent of where my interest would take me…I bookmarked it for when I would become a better “Adam”.
“I am having trouble seeing” said my girlfriend Tiffany Nelson, “I am sure it’s nothing, it’s just really weird…I’m getting old…ha ha.”
Life is filled with sentences…simple constructs of words that share a thought, a feeling…an experience in a linear fashion. But a handful of them, while seemingly meaningless possess such profound meanings, but we simply don’t see the impact until it is upon us, this was one such sentence.
Tiffany described the sensation as the constant need to rub her eyes…as if she had just woken up and still had “sleep” in her eyes…things were fuzzy…not clear…edges were softened…light seemed intensified…this lasted for over two weeks. It was a disruption in her life…causing her to miss work…miss events…miss life…that damn sentence…it was of an ominous variety.
It was a sentence that was a key that unlocked a room that led to x-rays, brain scans, spinal taps, and subsequent blood patches, conversations with a multitude of doctors and nurses and other mint green clad hospital workers…culminating with an awkward pronouncement…
“Tiffany, you see these white spots on your brain…those 20 spots…see here…here…here…here…and here…those are caused by lesions on your brain…you have Multiple Sclerosis.”
What??? How??? Why???
It felt like a simultaneous cataclysmic event occurred where all the wind was sucked out of the universe and an inward scream rang throughout my head, my ears…numbing…disbelief…how could this happen to this person…this little wonderful person…to Tiffany…who I believe was born with a heart two sizes two big and the only way for her to live comfortably…to keep that heart of hers inside her body…is to give that love away…and she does so freely…to everyone she meets…a gigantic hug and a kiss on the cheek…this was her reward…this is what she earned…it didn’t seem fair.
We learned that the issue with the eyes was an “episode” and that each of those little white marks on Tiffany’s brain was the occurrence of an “episode”. These episodes can range from debilitating to insignificant…you never know when you will get one and how severe it will be.
My heart screamed as I began to understand the gravity of the life sentence she was just handed.
The seeds that were planted just a few weeks ago after hearing Ashley share her story began to blossom inside of my heart…which I have learned is the only place where courage grows.
I felt like it was a “god shot”.
That all these things are been put in my life and placed before me for a reason…it was my duty to pursue it…I had to…I couldn’t ignore it…I had to fight this terrible disease for my little person…who’s heart was two sizes too big.
I picked up the phone to call Ashley, introduce myself, share my story and volunteer to help support this crazy run….I hung up with a runners application in my inbox and my commitment to Ashley to run a segment of the 2013 inaugural MS Run The US.
As I sit here in the RV, on this night before I join Aaron Schneider (Ashley’s husband) on his run tomorrow…I think back on my whole experience…a lot has changed…Ashley is now a Schneider…she is only as cute as a Sister could be AND she’s pregnant…Tiffany and I have taken separate paths…she continues to fight her battle with MS…she is brave…the courage she has demonstrated…and not by choice is nothing but remarkable…I have gone in and out of a number of different seasons myself…but along this journey I have become a part of something special…I have joined a community…a family…who knows struggle…who knows pain…but also has a spirit that shines bright…so bright it’s like a beacon of light that spans across the country from LA to NYC.
So…why did I run the MS Run The US relay? It was to help two ladies…who were both too small to bear the burden on their own.
To hear about my experience running 250 miles over 8 days please read through my earlier posts.