“30,000 women and a few good men,” the announcement blared through the dark and foggy morning at Union Square at 6 am in San Francisco bouncing off tall building and hotel facades and echoing through valleys of concrete and steel. The announcer was revving us up for the start of the 10th Nike Women’s Marathon; the largest women’s marathon in the world. This race benefits the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society which funds research into treatment for blood cancers and was created by Nike, Inc.
Nike is the Greek Goddess of Victory. In Greek, Nike (Νίκη) means Victory. She is always depicted with wings. She is the goddess of strength, speed, and victory.
I’m not a runner. I hate waking up early. I especially hate waking up early to run.
My younger son Samuel became ill at nine and half months old in 2004. He was diagnosed with Leukemia. He was stoic throughout his treatment, some of which were very painful, yet he never cried; as long as we were with him he endured everything. Samuel died six weeks after being diagnosed. He never said his first word and never took his first step. Our family will never be whole.
My friend Vivian tried to get me to run the first Nike in 2004 as a way of healing after Samuel’s death. I refused. She tried again in 2005, I refused. In 2006 she showed up early one Saturday morning and wouldn’t take no for an answer. She drove me to the Team-in-Training kick-off and signed me up. I told her I would do it for her, this-one-time-only. She laughed.
I trained grudgingly, hating every minute on the track and on long runs over city streets and trails. I hated it because every time I laced up my shoes, it reminded me that Samuel was dead. Seeing my lack of enthusiasm, my coach even asked me why I was there. Vivian, I thought but didn’t respond.
A few weeks later, I was asked to speak at an event. I told Samuel’s story. My coach walked up to me with tears streaming down his face and said, “now I understand why you are here.”
On a Sunday morning in October 2006, I stood shoulder to shoulder with hundreds of participants; some cancer survivors, some like me, mourning lost family members. As I made my way through the streets of San Francisco, I knew that Samuel was at my side.
At Crissy Field, Vivian was waiting. She walked with me for a while and cheered me on when she let me continue. From the flat ground of Crissy Field the course begins climbing upwards through the hills of San Francisco. Vivian’s cheerful encouragement boosted me over the next steep hills. I made it to the end. My obligation done to Vivian, my honouring Samuel’s memory accomplished.
A few years later, Vivian was diagnosed with breast cancer. She went through similar treatments as Samuel but she survived. She died a few years later.
But Vivian was right to laugh that first day when I said only this once. She knew. She knew how important it was to keep Samuel’s memory alive. How important the work that the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society does. Much of the research funded for blood cancers has produced treatments used for other cancers as well, like breast cancer.
Every year since 2006, I wake up at four in the morning to lace up running shoes and head out into a cold dark morning to run from Union Square out to Ocean Beach. Every year, I pass a section in Crissy Field where on my first run Vivian met me to cheer me on and I know that each year since her death that she’s there with me.
Just yesterday, 20 October 2013, I ran Nike. At Crissy Field, I remember Vivian’s bright and cheerful face. I run with Samuel at my side.
I fundraise for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and run Nike every year since 2006. I represent Samuel and talk about him to other Team-in-Training participants. Thanks to Vivian, his memory lives.