Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Best. Run. Ever.

There is really no way to fully describe Sunday's race to you. Every time I try, words fail me, all adjectives fall short and I find myself drifting off into my memories.

This was not my first race. It wasn't even my first running race or my first Half Marathon. Still, it was the first time I ever felt the way I did, and do. If I digress here or there, following a tangential limb out to its spindly end, bear with me. And if you take nothing else away from this, it should be this - I'm not the same person I was Sunday morning when the announcer called my wave to the start line.

Friday Night, ~3:00 AM
I wake in a panic. A terrible nightmare left me gasping for breath, full of anxiety. I was running through San Antonio and my lips were split open, dry and cracking more as I ran through the cold. Every step widened the cracks a little more. Even in my sleep, my mind was trying to talk me out of the race.

Saturday, Noon-ish
Gathering the last of my gear for San Antonio, I hurried around the house hoping that I hadn't forgotten something vital. Salt tabs, Advil, body glide, race belt, fleece headband, Ashe tee, hoodie, gloves, socks, confirmation letter, Gu packs, timing chip, watch, RoadID and sunglasses. That was just for the run. Since we were staying the night, there was all sorts of other gear to be gathered, double-checked and loaded. As I went over the 'final' checklist, I noticed my running shoes in the closet. D'oh! Disaster averted.

Saturday, Evening
Packet pickup went smoothly enough. The ride up was fun, and I enjoyed the distraction Bradford, Kristin, Arvind and Sha's company offered. At dinner, the kitchen was full of people, laughter and chatter. Food was delicious and a quick check on our fundraising total brought a smile to my face. It was wonderful to see how much people cared about what we're doing and the cause we support. Bedtime arrived before I knew it and sleep came more easily that expected.

Sunday, Early Morning
Wake up time came all too soon. Once we got up and moving, everyone seemed very charged. There were red Asha tee-clad runners everywhere! I went for my habitual warm-up run in sub-freezing darkness, hoping that the sun would bring warmth and energy to my sleepy body. Upon arriving at the parking lot, I finally realized how massive this event really was. A steady stream of shuttles carried off an ever-growing river of people. We jockeyed for position in line, both waiting for the shuttle, then the toilet (EIGHT potties for 30k people), then the shuttle again. Overheating on the bus over, I noticed more and more people on foot the closer we got to the race start. We walked a few blocks to the beginning, hoping for the luxury of toilet paper for our last pre-race pit stop. Stepping over mounds of shed sweaters and jackets, we sped past the later waves and found Corral 21 - our wave. Minutes later, after hugs and giddy good lucks, we were off.

Sunday, The Race

This is why you're here, right? I wish this were more cohesive, but these memories come in flashes. I will try to keep it as chronological as possible.

Kristin and I worked to find our comfortable pace, Bradford warming up next to us. Once he sped up and broke away, we started pacing with a couple of APD officers. This only lasted about 2-3 miles until we left them at a water stop. Somewhere between that point and mile 10, I remember these things:

-Groups of girls dressed in '50's costume and Elvis get-ups...cheering and clapping as we rounded a center plaza
-"Love is a Battlefield" performed live by a lone musician in front of the Alamo
-A man riding a bicycle with a portable stereo playing a march call "Left, right, left right..."
-The Elmo signs "Hooray for you!"
-A terrible pain in my left hip that I was too afraid to mention to Kristin
-Pictures of lost loved ones on the backs of Team In Training runners
-Children holding out their hands, as if collecting hi-fives
-Contemplating leaving my hoodie at a small business to retrieve it late (I love my hoodie)
-A smiling Hispanic guy standing under a tree holding a sign that read "I love you, Jenny!"
-Cheering family members FREAKING OUT as their loved one ran by ("HOOOOOOOOOOLLY!!!!! Holly! Look! It's Holly!")
-The running "Spartan" in all his splendor
-The smiling couple who let me use the port-a-let in their yard...and there was TP!
-Dodging the street reflector in the middle of the road
-Randomly cheering and hearing my fellow runners echo back
-Realizing at 1:15 that we had a chance to hit our goal time
-Greedily grabbing 2 Clif Shots and then regretting the decision as they bounced around chaotically in my hoodie pocket
-My favorite sign - 'Your feet hurt because you are kicking a$$'

Many times during the race, tears welled up in my eyes. Most of the time, I was feeling joy - there were so many people out there supporting. They left their warm beds and committed to standing and cheering for thousands of people they will never meet.

That's what really hit me.

The whole reason I am running is to help countless children I will never meet. Each of those spectators gave me hope that, yes, I would prevail. And that's what we're doing for the kids in India. With our help, they will prevail and they will live a better life. So in the end, this post is for all my coach, my fellow runners, my Asha donors and all those cheering people lining the road Sunday morning. You're all part of this journey.

Thank you. There is no way I could have done this without you.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Why I Run...

On Sunday, 30,000 runners will gather to complete the inaugural San Antonio Rock n Roll Marathon and Half Marathon. As the excitement and anxiety build, I keep reminding myself why I'm doing this - I'm running to help raise money for Asha, a non-profit dedicated to supporting education programs for kids in India.

In my second year on Team Asha, I've decided to devote my fundraising to one project in particular. That project is the Shristi Special Academy. Here's one student's story, as written by my teammate Vinod. I hope this offers insight into why I'm doing all this.


This story starts with a little girl named Deepthi.

An active and alert seven-year-old, Deepthi loves solving puzzles and playing with her friends. Like any other seven year old, she loves being the center of attraction in her class and takes a leading role in participating and initiating activities in her peer group.

What you will find remarkable is the change the past few years have brought about in her.

A history of birth asphyxia and seizures had left Deepthi weak and small for her age. Delayed development milestones meant that she was unable to chew or swallow – she was on milk even at the age of three. A history of hyper ammonia syndrome resulted in a very monotonous diet, which further contributed to her weakness. She couldn't walk or talk or localize visually. Her future looked bleak at best.

This was when her parents brought her to Shristi, in November 1998.

Shristi is a non-profit society, established in 1995 by 3 special educators with a vision to reach out to individuals with special needs. With unique programs designed to enable independence among the Mentally Challenged, Developmentally Delayed and those with Autism and Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder, Shristi reaches out to all age groups. It remains among the few institutions which caters to infants and even the severely retarded across urban and rural communities.

The rehabilitation of those coming to Shristi includes therapeutic intervention with a focus on special education, sensory stimulation, physiotherapy and language stimulation.

Through an intensive, individualized and child-focused training program, Shristi has enabled many young children with developmental delays to go to normal schools, setting them on the path towards a more normal life. Several older individuals have gained employment enabling life-changing happiness.

Deepthi joined on one such special Early Intervention program in November 1998. The primary goal of her program was to ensure better nutrition and feeding practices, as this was the major problem faced by her mother. Special emphasis was also given to helping her catch up with her motor milestones, primary among them being walking.

Today at 7 years, although she still has seizures, which are controlled by medication, she has learned to walk, communicate through single words and gestures and take part in all activities of the class. She eats with minimal help under supervision and is on a toilet schedule to help streamline her bladder movements and achieve better levels of normalcy. She is receiving occupational therapy for her hand functions and through speech therapy will achieve better levels of communication.

Asha Austin's role is to help Shristi find suitable educators for various domains: Mental retardation, Autism and Vocational Training.

These educators are specialized to handle mentally challenged and autistic children at Shristi. Then Asha endeavors to find sponsors for these teachers and facilitates linking sponsors with them. Asha follows through by disbursing and monitoring the sponsors' funds. It works with both sponsors and Shristi in India to obtain regular progress reports of the children handled by the teachers and build a strong sponsor-teacher communication. The sponsor can also arrange a visit to Shristi through Asha and the project coordinators in India.

This program makes it possible for an individual to sponsor partial or full cost of supporting one teacher at Shristi Special Academy. The teachers at Shristi are special educators trained to work with mentally challenged and autistic children. We believe retaining educators in the system is the way to sustain education, particularly in the context of special education. Committed though they are, supporting these educators financially is a necessary part of retaining them within the system. One can become a sponsor for a teacher at Shristi for as little as $20 a month.


More details about Asha's support with Shristi can be found here.

Please donate any amount you can. The ongoing success of the Shristi Special Academy depends on you!