Saturday, July 20, 2013

To Hell And Back...For The Kids

I ran a 5K race this morning that handed me my own butt.

It was the inaugural trail run to benefit St. Jude's Hospital for children.

My dentist, Dr. Jimmy Gardiner, organized the race on his 600-acre farm nestled on Underwood Mountain.

Good Lord...I didn't know what I was in for.

When I signed up at his office after my check-up and cleaning, I figured it would be a nice change of scenery, since most of the 5K races that I've done involved pounding the pavement through various towns, past neighborhood homes and businesses.

Registration began at 5:30 a.m. (seriously?) for a 6:30 a.m. start time (most races start around 8 a.m.). Well, I couldn't find the registration tent anywhere. I had followed the directions to the farm, where I passed many campers and horses who were there for other scheduled festivities, until a woman drove up to me and told me to turn around and head back to the main road...registration would take place in front of the butcher shop. What?

But then again, I live in Alabama. Things are done differently here.

So, I headed back to the butcher shop where tables were being set up to receive people. I parked in the field, picked up my registration packet, and pinned my number onto my shirt. Number 13. That didn't go unnoticed by some, and they wished me luck as if I needed some kind of miracle. I had drunk a couple bottles of water earlier to hydrate, and my bladder was full. I looked around.

No bathrooms.

Uh oh. Now what? I noticed other people looking around, and saw some of the men heading toward trees, while some of the women stood with crossed legs and quizzical looks on their faces. The butcher shop wasn't open (too early), so I did what any self-respecting Southern woman would do in such a pressing situation -- I popped a squat between my car and the car parked next to me.

Of course, what showed up on someone's pick-up five minutes later? Figures.

The race would begin about 1/10th of a mile down the road in front of the neighbor's mailbox. Dr. Gardiner led us in prayer (a first at a race, but then again, this is Alabama), and off we went, following a man riding an ATV since no trail map was available. "If my plan works, there should be people pointing the way along the trail," Gardiner told us after prayer. But, hey, this was the first race he's ever organized. We couldn't help but laugh in support.

We passed by all the campers and their horses (second time for me), and they cheered us on as we snaked our way toward the barn and the dirt trail. The first mile was slightly downhill. No problem. The second mile, however, began to challenge my ankles with its ruts and gravel. My lungs felt the challenge as well, as I huffed and puffed; the humidity was higher than average and it hit me hard (so, that's why the early start time!). The group started to break up; some moved ahead, some dropped back. I found myself alone as I rounded a bend in the woods, the trail heading straight toward a creek.  I glanced around.

No bridge.

I hopped through the water like a gracefully-deficient antelope and found it refreshing on my hot feet. Onward I chugged, trying to catch my breath and find my pace, but the pockets of mud and the rocky grooves slowed me as my heart knocked at my ribs. What the hell did I get myself into?

And just when I thought it couldn't get any worse, the mountain appeared. The steep ascent awaited with its sneering smile. I staggered my way upward, stumbling over rocks, tripping over my own two feet, sweat stinging my eyes. But I knew I couldn't stop.

Finally, after putting myself through living hell, I reached the summit and spied the finish line. Those who finished ahead of me cheered me on with their applause. This gave me my last spurt of energy to cross the line. Halle-freaking-lujah!  After a brief cool-down, I joined the sidelines to help cheer the others on to the finish.

I run these races to support various causes. Though they challenge me on a physical level, I know it is worth it in the long run.  After I finished today's trail run, I thought, This has been one of the toughest races I've run in a very long time. 

And then I thought of the kids in St. Jude's Hospital, facing the challenge of cancer. Nothing I went through today compares to what they are going through. My heart broke open with compassion.  And if I can contribute in any way, I will, because these kids deserve healthy lives.

Would I put myself through this hell again to support them? You bet I would.


  1. Great race and good for you.

    My Grandmother was always so proud of Danny Thomas for making it good as a Lebanese Catholic and an actor and for creating St. Jude's. (I guess we are cousins of the Thomas'.)



    1. Kathy, thank you for your comments. It was a tough race, and I'm feeling the effects of it now, but I'm not complaining, knowing what those kids go through.

  2. Congratulations on your race. It is not easy to do.

    1. Thank you, Carol. No, it's not easy, but it was worth it in the end. Thanks for stopping by!

  3. Well Done Penny! I have recently - through work - been reading short profiles on cancer survivors and one thing is certain, it is not easy and it can be very grueling, but once you pass the bends in the road challenge through the grooves, reach the mountain tops and face the unknowns you come out a better person. You dearest Penny are a better person now for competing in what you thought would be a "normal 5K"! Tons of Kudos to your doctor for being new to the field of 5K's where everyone, including the children you are helping, comes out a winner! Love you baby girl!

    1. Thank you so much for your comments and insight, Kathy! It was grueling, but it pales in comparison to what these children must be going through. Love you, too!!!!

  4. Well done Penny! I have recently been reading -for work- profile stories on cancer survivors. One thing is sure: once a person moves past the bends in the road, the challenging grooves that cause setbacks, then the climb to the mountain tops the hope of finishing becomes brighter and strength is restored. Afterward the survivors all said the same thing “I have become a better person...I am a winner!” You faced many challenges after you realized this is not a "normal" 5k. (Alabama does how Alabama wants - smiles), and you finished. I can only imagine your face once you saw the finish line! Tons of kudos to your doctor for taking on a vision to help everyone (St. Jude's children, their families, the runners, staff, and the volunteers) be a winner! Congratulations my beautiful friend~

    1. Thank you, Kathy...I would do it all over again.

  5. Thanks for sharing your helping out such a wonderful organization. I totally understand proper etiquette that is befitting a Southern Belle being from KY. Congrats!