On Sunday, Feb 16th my husband, B. Sterling completed his first full marathon. He’d trained for it; his heart was in it, and he was determined to run the race, despite some worrying knee injuries. Anxiously I tracked his progress throughout the race on my phone all that morning, and when I saw that he had completed the 20 mile mark, I corralled our two kids into the car and we headed downtown to watch him finish the 26.2 mile race.
The finish line for the Austin Marathon was on Congress Avenue, just a quarter of a mile from the handsome Texas Capitol building, and the sidewalks were lined with thousands of spectators who, like myself, wanted to watch a loved one cross under the finish line arch.
The only place left to stand with my kids was a spot on Congress where the runners turned to face the last 60 yards of the race.
It was fantastic vantage point. Those of us at the barricade got to be the last voice of praise and encouragement to the exhausted, weary runners who couldn’t yet see the finish line. But we could. And we got to witness the best perseverance in the human spirit from our little corner of the sidewalk.
One women in the race hobbled toward the turn… broken, barley able to continue. It looked like her knee had given out. When we saw her coming we all instinctively cheered. Someone next to me pointed for her, “Look, there it is…there’s the finish line! You can make it.” She turned to see, and I watched her face melt into sweet relief. She saw the bright blue banner of the finish line and seemed to draw from deep inside one last, pure drop of strength. She forced her injured knee to do its job. We could literally see her steel herself for the task with that one reserve of strength and as we cheered, she somehow managed to jog those last 60 yards. It was as good as watching a miracle.
As he approached the finish line one man, covered in tattoos, looked like he was about to win an internal conquest over his demons. When he came to the curve and saw the finish line he began to roar. It gave me chills to hear him. It was unabashed from deep in his gut. He was as wild as a Scottish highlander. It was a wail and a roar all at once. It seemed to be a victory cry over a deeply painful past.
I cried when I saw one women, about my age, hobbling toward that last stretch before the finish line. As she did, suddenly two little people burst through the barricade and sprinted toward her. Her children– two little girls. They each grabbed a hand and led their mother, impossibly it seemed, they lifted her. She burst into tears of joy and relief to have them with her. Incredible, I thought as I cried to see it. It was a though she’d gotten this far as an athlete, but it was as a mother in solidarity with her children that she was able to cross the finish line.
I saw pairs of friends and sisters. Brothers, arm in arm. What had they endured together that this race had forged into gold? Who had been sick and was now in remission? Who had died and now with tears running down their cheeks, the surviving family members raced in remembrance. In remembrance of me, in remembrance of me. Do this in remembrance of me.
And then I saw my husband, towering above most of the runners at 6’5. Miraculously his knees hadn’t failed him. He was still jogging toward the last stretch. My kids and I screamed with joy when we saw him. He made a wide berth and came right up to the barricade to slap both our kids’ hands. Then just like all the other runners, he spotted that blue banner at the finish line and a relief washed over his weary shoulders. He raised his sweat-drenched arms in a Rocky gesture. He was off to win his victory.
I envied him the moment. I envied all the runners the moment because they had outlasted. They had gone further and deeper than the rest of us.
My children were still looking at their hands in awe when he crossed the finish line; as though a champion, not just their dad, had brushed them.
“I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith.” 2 Timothy 4:7