i ran for her

Several months back, I got myself in trouble. Well, at the time I probably wasn’t in trouble but now that several months have passed, I’m feeling like I’m in trouble. See, a couple of my mom friends are uber-crazy runner people. And I don’t use terms like ‘uber-crazy’ lightly. We’re all ‘friends’ on Fitbit and when I compare my weekly step count to theirs, well … let’s just say I feel like a lahoo-saher. And then I don’t want to be ‘friends’ with them anymore. Yet, I continue to wear my Fitbit so I can dream about keeping up.

I got myself in trouble when my cra-cra friends peer-pressured me reached out to form a 4-person relay in an upcoming marathon. Way back then, I jumped at the chance. Mostly so I could see them. But also? Because I haven’t run that far in about four years (when I challenged myself to finish the Fifth Third River Bank Run (a 15.5 mile trek). I started training in December for that event and I still freaked out at the starting line. It turned out all right, and actually better than I’d expected, because I found a friend to push me through the run. Thanks again to Rebecca for fatefully finding me in the 9-minute pace group at the right time. Or was it 9:30? I don’t remember. Either way, we killed it. Together.

Anyway, through all that training, I remembered how I’m not really a runner. I guess folks have different definitions for what constitutes a runner. Some might say, ‘if you run, you are a runner.’ Others might say, ‘if you finish a race, you are a runner.’ And still others might chime in, ‘if you quickly move your feet and don’t call it prancercise, then you are a runner.’ I struggle to call myself a runner because well, each time I go out, I kinda convince myself how much I suck at it. My legs are short and stocky. My strides are not long. There is nothing graceful about the way I move. I sometimes have to count my breaths in and out so I remember to keep some kind of cadence. And, I meet other ‘runners’ along the way and try not to compare myself to their long, lean physiques. But I still do.

Thankfully, we just came back from a week in the sun where I got the opportunity to get out and test the waters a bit. After the winter we’ve had, it’s been challenging to do anything aside from run on a dreadmill and I think we all know how running any longer than ten minutes feels on that contraption. My longest run was just over five miles. Given that I have just over six and a half to run coming up, I figured it was a good start.

I knew that I needed to get another long run in today. I did about everything I could to delay it but with rain approaching and no clothes left to unpack, I decided it was time to lace up and get out there. The first three miles went by pretty quickly and then between miles four and five, I felt those thoughts creeping in. ‘You can’t do this.’ ‘Your legs are getting awfully heavy.’ ‘The wind is going to push you off the road. You’d better walk.’

And then I remembered her.

Yesterday, we had to get through security at the Orlando International Airport, or MCO, if you’re using Hotwire. It was a busy travel day as pretty much everyone was leaving the happiest place on earth, but we arrived with plenty of time to spare and made our way towards Terminal B. I dumped Connor’s water into some plants and gave my ID and boarding passes for Connor and I to the first TSA agent. No problem. We approached the conveyors of doom and one gentleman told us there were two lines forming so we headed to the furthest left. It was then that everything careened downhill.

First, does everyone not have a 150% anxiety increase when they realize they can’t find their socks and have to take off their flats? I know I did. Then, Connor was on the opposite side of the roll-y things and the agent called out, ‘Young man, you need to be on this side of the line.’ about three times. Connor didn’t hear him because he was intently watching the contents of the bins but also? Because he doesn’t answer to young man all that often. I apologized and said he couldn’t hear him and my dad and I corralled him over to the acceptable side. The line wasn’t moving so I looked up and saw a woman with a cane being assisted by a man I assumed was her husband through the metal detector. At first, I thought it odd that he was even walking her through because it was very, very evident she was not steady on her feet.

When I watched more closely, I realized that she must have suffered from something akin to multiple sclerosis. (This is just my guess; please don’t flame me for being uncertain). Her legs wouldn’t straighten and I honestly wasn’t even sure why she had a cane. It didn’t appear she could have used it on her own. I saw a wheelchair on the other side of the detector and couldn’t figure out why they wouldn’t have let her pass through in it but I let it go at the moment. The whole experience became much worse when I watched the agent make her go through the detector multiple times. Something must have been triggering the machine.

On what I believe was the third pass, I turned to my mom, tears forming in my eyes because I was so angry that the agent was forcing her to endure this. I think I may have mumbled that I could punch someone in the face I was so upset. This woman could not walk. Her husband was basically holding her up by her elbows as her legs attempted to move her forward through the detector. And then back. Again. And again.

Now, I realize that there are very stringent requirements in place for a reason. I would go through a detector fourteen times if it was necessary for agents to ensure I was not a threat. But this woman? Is there no other way to assist an individual with special abilities? It’s probable she could have been moving through security with the absolute intention of harming someone but I have to assume that there is another method to employ for chair-bound individuals. Have to. And if there isn’t, there should be.

My parents spoke with the couple (and their two tween-age daughters) after they passed through while I made sure Connor had his belongings and shoes back on. I give this woman all the credit in the world as she seemed relatively calm about the whole situation. And maybe she’s experienced it before? And maybe it isn’t an issue for her. But I was simply appalled and livid for her. It may have also been because the agent showed absolutely no emotion or any level of consideration for her abilities throughout this ordeal. As I passed through and he made some snarky comment about who I was with, I punched him in the face. (In my mind).

Anyway, we all went on our way but the experience stuck with me enough that between miles four and five today, I decided that I could make it because I have two able legs. I have two legs that can carry me as far as I will them to go. This woman does not. So today, I ran for her; and for those who cannot just lace up their shoes and do the same. And I hope, wherever she is, that she knows what an inspiration she is to this ‘non-runner’ because every time I start to think I can’t, I’ll remember that I absolutely can.

P.S. We’ve already submitted a complaint to the TSA regarding this situation and I hope they listen. For as much as they have a responsibility to protect travelers from harm, I firmly believe they also have a responsibility to protect the safety and dignity of each and every individual passing through.


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