Chicago Recap

Another 26.2 is history! The Chicago Marathon was a tremendous success in every way possible! My friends and family, AKA Wookie’s Warriors, donated a whopping $4627 to support my marathon honoring my Mom!  The North Carolina Chapter raised $66,236 and the National total topped $990,000! Team in Training was well represented with 401 runners from across the country decked out in purple from head to toe. This was the biggest marathon I’ve ever run, with 45,000 runners and 1.7 million spectators lining all 26.2 miles! I’ve spent the last couple of weeks trying to digest the sights, sounds and emotions of the weekend that you made possible.
We arrived in Chicago on Friday and took care of race business and prep right away so we could enjoy some of Chicago’s sights.  Saturday evening we loaded up on carbs with TNT runners, coaches and Honored Heroes from all over the country.  Mom was even recognized on the big screen as our North Carolina Honored Hero!  The speaker was John “The Penquin” Bingham, whose quote “The miracle isn’t that I finished. The miracle is that I had the courage to start” is a favorite among noncompetitive runners like me.  We also heard from the father of the Illinois Chapter’s Honored Hero. His son was diagnosed with aggressive leukemia at just 18 months old.  Now he is a healthy and vibrant 3 year old who screamed for his daddy and ran onto the stage in the middle of the program. I loved it!  It was a perfect example of why we had all worked so hard on behalf of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
As usual, there is never a dull moment when I’m involved in a race. As we walked back to our hotel after dinner, I was nearly run over by a skateboarder who lost control of his board. Thankfully Mari (my TNT coach and constant running partner for the last 10 months) heard the noise and saw him with enough time to scream for me to move and push me out of the way. I glanced back as his board hit a light pole and he stumbled behind me. We just had to laugh!  Seriously… Only I would come to Chicago to run a marathon and nearly get run over by a skateboarder!  I fear Johnny is going to start insisting I wear a helmet every time I leave the house if this keeps up! And so it goes…
Early to bed, early to rise. We met our group at 5:30 Sunday morning for the 1.5 mile walk to the starting line. Yes! We had to walk 1.5 miles to the start. I was quick to calculate that the walk home from the finish line would be close to 2 miles. I was certain I had only agreed to 26.2 miles and I wasn’t sure how those extra 3.5 miles got thrown in the mix.  Oh well, not much I could do about it then. Onward!  I finished up my traditional pre-run breakfast of orange juice, coffee, grits, yogurt, half a banana and 3 peanut butter crackers as we followed the masses headed to the starting line. The sun began to light up Grant Park and we made our way to the starting corrals where we lined up based on our estimated pace.
As the clocked ticked closer to 7:30 AM, we could make out the sound of the National Anthem and the applause began to flow back through the crowd. Here we go! The music started pumping and we finally began inching our way to the starting line. The slow, crowded walk to the starting line is my favorite moment of race day.  OK, well the finish is fabulous, but the energy and emotion at the starting line is spectacular. There is a little bit of everything going on in those minutes on the way to the starting line. I love to really breathe in the excitement, anticipation, anxiety and fear that surrounds me. This is the best people watching place in the world!  Every runner has a story behind their quest for the marathon medal and I always wonder what prompts each person to put one foot in front of the other and go for it.  Everyone looks sharp in their specially chosen race day attire. I can also spot the new runners right away and know that by mile 3 they will sorely regret their outfit of choice.  I love seeing the smiles, laughter, chit-chat, high-fives and fist-bumps as well as the tears, memorials and pictures. So many people, so many stories, so many places and yet all our paths have led to this one place at this one appointed time in our lives where 45,000 runners will cover the same distance on the same day.
It took us 15 minutes to make our way to the official start. By then the lead runners were already past the 5K mark, but I already knew my time wasn’t going to bring home the winner’s purse, so I didn’t let it hurt my pride. As we passed under the first tunnel and ran into the city streets I was overwhelmed. I have never seen so many people interested in runners! I knew my family and fellow TNT peeps back home would be tracking me online and receiving automatic text messages throughout the race when I passed various points, but I never dreamed thousands of people would get up at the crack of dawn to watch lunatics traverse the streets of Chicago! I’m used to dodging bikes, dogs and annoyed drivers who can’t stand waiting an extra couple of minutes to get to a drive-thru where they remain seated in their comfy cars waiting for an egg mcmuffin with a side of fried hash browns.  In Chicago, every part of the course was lined with spectators ringing cowbells, blaring stereos, screaming our names, passing out pretzels, oranges, skittles, cookies and cold water. Crowds were sometimes a dozen people deep with people perched on the side of bridges, hanging off balconies and standing on chairs. The entire city embraced the marathon in ways that I can not begin to describe. There were over 13,000 volunteers offering words of encouragement as they gave out water and Gatorade every mile or so (I even saw beer offered, but I refrained since that had not been part of my standard training practice).  Even the runners were cheering on each other. Several of us ran parts of the course together and we all had “Wookie” printed on the back of our shirts. People would see us and yell “Go Wookies!” How great is that?!
I saw lots of quotes on signs and on shirts in Chicago. My favorite of the day was “One day I will not be able to run. Today is not that day.”  It served as a constant reminder that I was running for those who could not, or one day would not be able to run. I was running for those who wished they were healthy enough to do what I was doing and I was making it count for a bigger cause than just myself.  I won’t deny that I needed to conquer Chicago to prove to myself that I’m bigger than Epilepsy. I needed my Chicago medal as proof that regardless of my circumstance I could still beat the odds. I knew that October 9th was NOT going to be the day that I could not run.
The highlights of the race came at miles 1, 11, 17 and 25. There she was, in this packed crowd of 1.7 million people. This wild woman wearing purple, clanging her TNT cowbell, screaming at the top of her lungs and waving a purple sign that said “Go Gatewood!” Yep! That’s my Momma! I have no idea how she made it around the city so quickly and managed to grab a front row spot every time. I don’t know how she was able to find me in a crowd of 45,000 or that I was able to find her in the crowd of spectators. Obviously the Gatewood sign helped, but still, there were lots of people and yet we always saw each other. At mile 25, when I was practically counting the footsteps that were left until the finish, I heard a familiar voice and looked off to the left side of the road. That wild woman again! Mom was standing out in the street waving and jumping and squealing. That sight made it worth it. Eight months of hard core training, an entire summer rearranged according to a training schedule, lots of early morning alarms, several pairs of shoes, six months of fund-raising and a lifetime worth of spaghetti. All of it was worth the chance to see my Mom, healthy and energetic, cheering me on in the final mile of the Chicago Marathon. This experience was what I had envisioned back in 2006 when I ran my first race with Team in Training. I’ve logged a gazillion miles and raised almost $15,000 for LLS since then and I have no regrets. It was worth every step (and every blister)!
When we got back to Charlotte, we took the elevator in the parking deck to our car. As we gingerly began the post-marathon limp towards the car, the lady beside me stopped and made eye contact with me. She pointed to my coach’s backpack logo and asked if we were with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. I told her we were returning from running the Chicago Marathon to raise money for LLS. She said “Thank you for doing that. My brother died from leukemia a couple of years ago. That’s a good thing you are doing.”  Here I was, on the top of the parking deck at the Charlotte airport with a stranger, and one more vivid reminder that the challenge was worthwhile.
26.2 miles wasn’t easy. Cancer isn’t easy, but running in hopes of a cure just makes sense. I would do it all over again (and yes, I probably will) if just one doctor can tell one patient that they have reason to hope.  Hope still exists for those who believe and I believe.
I’m thankful for Wookie’s Warriors.
I’m thankful for $4627 for LLS.
I’m thankful for the ability to run.
I’m thankful for the power of my purple peeps.
I’m thankful for the lessons I have learned from a brain injury and Epilepsy.
I’m thankful that running restores my mind and energizes my spirit.
I’m thankful for my family that supports my insanity.
I’m thankful that 26.2 miles (actually closer to 30 miles) is behind me.
I’m thankful that I set a new personal best marathon time.
I’m thankful that my Mom is a SURVIVOR!
I’m thankful and I’m blessed.
Copyright  © Gatewood Campbell, October 2011

Mom on the big screen at the National TNT Inspiration Dinner!


Time Among Generations

I have received so many unexpected gifts since my Epilepsy diagnosis. The biggest gift was time.

My injuries made employment difficult and I left full-time work almost 5 years ago. Several months later my Grandmother (then 91 years old) decided she should stop driving but she was still mobile and needed occasional rides. Since I was available to help, I started picking her up on Friday mornings and taking her to the grocery store while she did her shopping. It wasn’t long before I was doing all her shopping and then going to her apartment two days a week to help with various tasks that had become difficult for her. They were easy tasks for me, but for her would take all day and wear her out.

I made up the bed, watered her plants, swept the balcony, fixed her lunch, refilled the frig with Cokes for the maids who cleaned every Wednesday and her own Diet Caff Free Cokes, refilled her Hershey’s Almond and Toffee Nuggets, opened her weekly bottle of wine, opened the milk cartons, popped open the child-proof caps on everything that was unopened, painted her fingernails and even filed and painted her toenails. Each day she would have a little list of what needed to get done. We chatted the time away with current news, updates from out-of-town family, Mom’s worldwide travels and my family adventures with growing boys. We teased each other when my noon alarm rang, reminding me to take my medicine and her to take her Parkinson’s medicine. Occasionally we would argue and accuse the other of not knowing what they are talking about. I would tell her she’s old and forgetful. She would tell me I fell. Back and forth we went. Two heads are always better than one, and with loads of humor in the midst, we would eventually get there.

Hunter was not in preschool for the last nine months before he started Kindergarten. I already had my routine in place with Emmer. She counted on me being there every Tuesday and Friday. I figured he was 5 years old and could manage to occupy himself for a couple of hours when I was there.  Just as Emmer and I had already established our routine, he quickly fell right into place and established his own routine. We stopped at the grocery store each day to pick up what she wanted. I carried the list and he followed behind with the small buggy. Eventually he knew exactly what supplies she would want and which aisle to find them. He helped me carry the bags to her apartment. I took the steps to the 3rd floor and he always took the elevator by himself (proving his independence at an early age). He peeked in the door each day and looked for his special treat, one Andes mint, always sitting and waiting for him on the dresser in the entry. He headed right for her as she sat seated on the far left side of her sofa sipping super hot coffee and reading the newspaper, cover to cover. They greeted each other, shared hugs, he thanked for the candy and then escaped to her bedroom to curl up in her recliner and watch cartoons. When it was time to make up her bed, he assumed his position on the right side of her bed and helped pull up the sheets and tuck them in tightly just the way she liked them. He carefully placed her two pillows on the bedspread and fluffed them, just before patting them down into place without a wrinkle to be found. When he heard me pick up the keys, he knew it was time to head to the main entrance to get her mail and stop at the bank. His job was to carry the keys and open the post office box. He sorted the junk mail and dropped it in the recycle box and put everything else in the plastic bag we carried. We stopped at the bank where the teller kept his favorite lollipops. He always took two, claiming one was for his brother, though I’m fairly certain Justin never actually got a single lollipop.

This was our routine. Day in, day out. This was what we did when we went to Emmer’s. We had tasks to accomplish and a correct order in which to do them. When I was taking too long he would get visibly antsy. Emmer always knew when she needed to step in and occupy his mind. She told him she was going to teach him something important that he would need for the rest of his life. She taught him how to count coins. He would wheel her walker to her and dump out some change onto the seat of her walker. She started with the basics showing him the coins, letting him hold them, study them, feel the weight, the sides and the see the color. She taught him how to identify the coin and then taught him the value of each coin. Eventually he understood enough that she began to teach him how to add them all together. I can see them right now. I would stand in the kitchen doing my chores and peek through the open shutters into the living room where he sat at her feet. His eyes for trained on the seat of her walker and all that bronze and silver as her petite hands would move them about as she reminded him what each coin was. When he got lazy and started guessing, she was quick to correct him. She would say “Now Hunter, you are guessing. Pay attention and tell me what this coin is.” He would refocus and follow her instructions. 

Two generations apart, these two connected with each other. Hunter will carry that with him forever. Had I not had the gift of time he would never have had this gift. My injury…an unexpected gift that will last forever.

I didn’t realize the impact these times had on Hunter. This week he came home from school and told me they were learning how to count money in class. “Mom, people in my class don’t know how to count money. I know how to count money. My Great-grandmother taught me how to count money. Not my Grandmother, but my really really old Great-Grandmother. Most people don’t have a Great-grandmother, but I do and she’s really old. We used to go help her when she lived in her own apartment. She taught me how to count money. She would ask me how much an orange drink cost at Cashions. It’s always been .69 but she never remembered that. She always asked how much my favorite drink was and sometimes, if I had done well with my counting she would let me count up to .69 and take it with me to buy my own drink. But we had to get enough money without using the quarters. She kept the quarters for playing bridge with her friends, so we had to count up enough dimes, nickels and pennies. Sometimes if it was a really special day she would give us enough money to go buy Happy Meals for lunch. I loved that! Oh… I miss those days.”  Then he smiled, propped his chin on his hand and stared out the car window.

I smiled too, knowing that he had a treasured gift. Those nine months gave him memories that will live with him forever.  A life-changing injury gave all of us gifts. The gift of time for each other. The gift of time among generations. I will treasure these gifts, for generations to come.

Copyright © Gatewood Campbell, October 2011

Hunter in 2009 shopping for Emmer’s supplies

My Passion for Pavement

I am overwhelmed beyond words by the outpouring of support for me at the Chicago Marathon! So many people and so much money! YOU are what Team in Training is all about. This is an avenue for all of you to give hope to those fighting cancer. As individuals, we can touch a few. As a TEAM, we touch thousands! This passion of mine is only possible because of generous donors who help make my dreams a reality. I can only stand back and shake my head in amazement at what we have accomplished together.
Drum roll please…..$4,627! That is HUGE!!! 
Over 70 different families from all over the country, and even overseas have made this happen! You reached deep to support me, to honor my Mom and to honor your own loved ones. Your sacrifices will indeed change the lives of those affected by these vicious blood cancers. I am blessed with amazingly generous friends and I cannot begin to express the gratitude I feel. I wish I could reach out and hug each one of you. From the bottom of my heart, I thank you!
Many people have asked where I find the determination to take on marathons. Partially it’s because I am truly my Mother’s child and I’m half crazy. The rest of it is because it’s personal, but without the help of all of you, none of this would even be possible. You have played a vital role in the success of my quest for a cure. I want to share with you the success that I have seen first hand and you will understand why your role is vital.
Mom’s leukemia diagnosis came in 1996. Fortunately the disease progressed slowly and it wasn’t until 2002 when she needed her first round of chemo. The chemo was successful in treating her cancer but the side effects were horrible. Several months into her treatment I went with her to the doctor. My memory of that day is still vivid. The doctor offered Mom a deal she couldn’t refuse. She could stop treatment immediately and avoid the torturous side effects of another month of chemo. The doctor described it as gambling. He said she could walk away with the progress she had made and bet that research over the next few years would result in a new drug that she could better tolerate. She took the bet and ran. 
I’m not much for gambling. I prefer the sure thing. I decided I would do whatever I could to ensure the right drug was ready when Mom needed it. A couple years later I discovered the partnership between Team in Training and the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. I realized this would be the way I could directly impact cancer research and drug development. I ran the Country Music Half Marathon with TNT in 2006 and the San Diego Rock ‘N’ Roll Marathon with TNT in 2008.
Early last year it became clear that Mom would need chemo again. There was one lingering question that we needed answered. What would be the drug of choice this time? Would her only option be the same drug from 2002 that she could not tolerate, or would her bet pay off? You can guess how this story ends. Indeed there are new drugs in use now and she received some of them during her chemo last year. When the doctor told us that he would be using a new drug, miles and miles of pavement flashed before my eyes. The aches, pains, tears and agony of Nashville and San Diego were all worth it for that one moment when the bet paid off! This is why I run and this is why you give, for that one moment when a doctor can give a patient good news. Medicine is not an exact science and no two people are exactly the same. What works for one does not necessarily work for another. Research and drug development must continue. Your generosity ensures that research goes on. You are paying it forward and I’m forever grateful.  
The Chicago Marathon is all about celebrating life in our family. A marathon is a shining example of my Mother, her perseverance, her dedication, her adventure and quite frankly her “get over yourself and just do it” attitude.
Thank you for taking this journey with me.
Thank you for loving me.
Thank you for trusting me to run the race until the finish.
Many, many thanks for CELEBRATING LIFE with me!
Copyright © Gatewood Campbell, October 2011