Saturday, October 18, 2008

Return of the Saint

There is something about 10-mile runs. While today's 10-mile run was about 10 times easier than the first, something very similar to my first 10-miler occurred -- the appearance of St. Rick.

Since I haven't told that story here, the digest version is that my first 10-miler, I was in St Louis, away from my running group. This was the longest run I'd have before the half marathon. So I drove to Forest Park and joined up with the official training group. Only one problem: only three people showed up, because the St. Patrick's Day 5/10k was going on. The girl I started with was significantly faster than me. She was kind and ran my 12-minute pace until she was sure I could navigate the course, then she took off. About a mile later, a man wearing a sweatshirt caught up with me and asked if he could run with me for awhile. 

We ran about 7 miles together, leaving me only about two left to run alone. And while those two were extremely tough, I'm sure I wouldn't have made it to those last two miles without Rick there to distract me. And as a leader in the... oh, sad day, I forget the denomination (and perhaps it was more than a typo that I originally typed "DEMONination..." oops)... whatever it is church, now for their missions organization, I believe. So we had some light theological discussions and chatted about our running goals (we were both running our first half marathon -- and neither sure WHY we thought that was a good idea!). I ran into him again on the Metro on the way to the half, and met his lovely wife and embarrassed him by referring to "Saint Rick." But he truly was a God-send (which is somewhat like a godsend) that day.

Today I met the Saint in a different form, shortly after completing my 10 miles -- which, strangely enough, is now a taper distance. A guy in a wheelchair was rolling along the trail and began chatting with me. At the beginning of the conversation, I found myself trying to stereotype him (homeless, perhaps? mental issues?), but he dashed through the boxes I tried to place him in. I think he just needed to share his story, and as a journalist, I needed to hear it. He's been in a wheelchair for a month. It didn't seem appropriate to ask him how he ended up there, so I didn't. But he told me about the distance he has covered, started last week going from JCMG to Mike Kehoe (which is about 1.75 miles one way -- so 3.5 total) to making it to the Washington Park entrance (another half mile out -- so 4.5 total distance) this week. 

He asked how far I was going, so I mentioned my running partner and I had just completed 10 miles and that we are running a marathon in two weeks. He informed me that he is training for the 2012 Olympics. He later laughed and said that is only a dream, because at age 58, he'd be the oldest qualifier. But he struck me as the kind of person who could do it. He told me about the difficulty of facing the trail in a wheelchair. The trail is sloped, which means he uses one arm on the way out and the other on the way back. And while he didn't mention it, there is also a short, but fairly steep hill within that route. I imagine it would be pretty challenging on wheels -- especially as he is still getting used to them. 

He's trying to convince the city of a need for a place where those in wheelchairs -- and senior adults -- can gather -- with a basketball hoop and obstacle course. He informed me that most folks in wheelchairs have their favorite place to sit at home and watch their favorite soap operas all day. And as I thought back, in a year of running on the Greenway, he is the only person in a wheelchair I've seen out there. 

He told me about the power of prayer in his life, and how he thinks it is so cool that God is right there to listen. He said that I was the blessing God sent today. I responded that he was also mine. 

And he introduced himself. "My name is Rick." I should have known.