Yesterday was the 50th running of the JFK 50 Mile Ultramarathon, and my 5th time at the race that I love so much. The opportunity to spend the day on a beautiful trail, with lots of interesting like-minded people, and the accomplishment of crossing that finish line once again; what’s a little temporary pain? For the most part, this blog posting is not going to be about my race. I’ll give a brief report, but then I want to tell you about a truly, inspiring person that circumstance had me cross paths with.
I should tell you that I did not know I would be in the race until Monday, five days ago at race time. I received a call that I had a spot if I wanted it. It took me about ten seconds to so ok. I texted Nicole to get her thoughts, she texted back “Go ahead, you deserve it”. Little did I know that this would have a double meaning. My long run recently had been 8 miles. Fifty miles? No problem. Hah!
The weather was perfect, couldn’t have asked for better. At pre-race, I connected with my Team RWB teammates and we posed for a couple of photos. The first part of the race is on the Appalachian Trail, hilly and rocky. It is actually my favorite part of the course. I was running with a teammate, a Green Beret soldier from Missouri. We pushed each other and chatted. We were doing a fantastic good pace and I was already thinking about the Guinness I would have later that evening. That is when I found myself flat on the ground. I had hit a rock wrong, heard and felt snaps in my ankle, and hit the ground hard. A small crowd had quickly gathered around me to offer help. Pain was shooting up my leg but I told them, and my friend, to please continue on, that I would be ok. I lied but I did not want to slow anyone down. The aid station was about a mile away so I got up and ran/walked to it. The next aid station after that was seven miles away. I decided to push forward, maybe the ankle would loosen up. It did not.
About two miles in to this section I needed to lean against a tree to take the weight off my foot. It hurt like hell and was swelling up fast. I felt a hand on my shoulder. “You ok buddy?” It was a fellow Team RWB’er. I told him yes. He looked at me and suggested we walk for a while. I told him to go ahead and that I would be fine but he insisted. We introduced ourselves and set out to run/walk/hobble. His name was Jim W. and his story is one of the most inspiring I have ever heard.
Jim is a wounded veteran. He is a true warrior. In 2003 he was a combat platoon leader operating in the southern section of the Sunni Triangle. A difficult assignment. In September 2003 he was hit by an IED and later struck by a grenade. Upon his return to the states, his physical and mental health were spiraling out of control. He became his own worst enemy. One morning, a nurse even told him, “We did not think you were going to make it through the night”.
He has a traumatic brain injury, a constant state of migraine, sporadic sight loss (his left eye had gone dark while we were running), and loses the function of his left arm from time to time. Jim has suffered through PTSD, depression, and has been suicidal several times. He was told that the life he lives today would never be possible.
But, as I said, Jim is a warrior. He has a wife and two little boys that he adores. He made the decision that his life was worth fighting for and that is just what he did. He decided that nothing was going to stand in the way of him just being him. When he asked, his doctor told him he should not compete in a triathlon, he went rogue and did it anyway. In fact, in the last year, Jim competed in numerous Ironmans, a triple Ironman, several marathons, and here he was in a 50 mile ultramarathon. In fact, he had been in Europe for work and had flown in the night before for the race. One of Jim’s missions is to help people that need it. That is what he did for me.
Here I was struggling with a boo-boo on my ankle and this man had been through hell and back and now was trying to get my sorry ass moving. Thinking that there are a lot of people who could benefit from his story, I asked him if he was doing any speaking. He humbly said that it was not time for that yet. I hope someday he will.
My ankle was steadily getting worse and it was getting harder and harder to even walk. As much as I appreciated Jim’s company, I desperately wanted to make sure he finished the race. It was way more important. He left but made me promise to finish. We both knew that I lied.
I finally made it to the next checkpoint and did the math. Thirty-four miles to go, eight hours to do it in, an ankle I could not put weight on. I knew that I would not even make the next time cutoff so I bowed out and caught a ride back to my car.
Quitting sucks but sometimes you walk away with some valuable experiences. The day was great, I was doing something I thoroughly enjoyed, and I met an amazing person who brought some perspective to life. You really can’t ask for more than that.
Last thought. In the words of Mike Erwin, founder and fearless leader of Team RWB: Jim, you fire me up!
Last last word: Just had xrays done. Fractured fibula. Bummer.