Before my departure for NY I had had my hair coloured – the front part was bright red – I wanted to stand out! To do something different! I had no idea that the rest of the team wanted to do the same and so some people went out to buy a red colour rinse! All of Saturday I kept thinking – this time tomorrow! Months earlier I had been on to YouTube and followed a ‘virtual’ view of the route. So I had some idea, but that was all of what the route was going to be like.
In South Africa, major sporting events start early like 6 o’clock – in NY they start at 9am! However this still meant an early start for us – very early – 3.30am early! For some of us because we were not seeded we had to start just after the professional men and just before the professional woman, at 9am! The other thing was that all 45 000 participant of the race had to get over on to Statten Island before the race started so that the runners could run over the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. The waiting time went quickly. I was calm, also excited, and the atmosphere was one of camaraderie. I had witnessed my family, father, husband, brother, son, daughter and friends, over the years getting ready for the annual Pick ‘n Pay Argus cycle tour, standing there waving them off and then being at the finishing line to welcome them in, but this was the first, and perhaps the only time in my life when I was also on the other side of that line. At 8.30am we began to make our way from the holding area to the start line. It was now light. The sky was so blue, not a cloud to be seen, and not a breath of wind – the most perfect day to walk 26 miles through New York City – five boroughs – Statten Island, Brooklyn, Bronx, Queens and Manhattan!
It was now or never! As we waited for the gun to send us on our way, I admit that there was a tear in my eye and Matthew gave me a hug. We were off- about 120 of us with our guides, some got off quickly while others took their time to get going. The bridge ahead was a gentle incline – the steepest on the whole course. It was amazing to have the whole bridge to walk on, devoid of any motor vehicles, and at the half way mark of the bridge there were many people ahead of us and some behind us, but to stand on that Verrazano-Narrows Bridge on a clear, bright blue, windless day, looking over towards Manhattan has got to have been one of the most precious moments of the entire event!
Soon we heard the fast footsteps of the first professional ladies about to overtake us on the other side of the bridge. One of the things I was most nervous about was the fact that I had never participated in an event like this before and so was not aware of how to run with other runners, and so when we got to about the 5 mile mark the rest of the field had started and were catching up with us. Fortunately the roads were wide and for the most part people just ran past. However there were a number of other runners who were not pleased to have a ‘walker’ on the course and were rude with remarks or pushing. But they were just a few people. The Achilles runners and their guides all wore a luminous green top with Achilles blazened across it, so there was no mistaking who we were. What was also very heart warming and exceedingly encouraging was how many of the fellow runners who passed gave words of encouragement.
Another aspect of the encouragement came with spectators shouting words of encouragement to us as we passed; I had printed my name on my shirt so there was no mistaking who I was, though there were times when I was sorry that I had put my name on it because so many people were shouting out my name, and I did not know how to respond. I must say that I wish that we had taken a lot of photos along the way to remind us more of things that are now just a jumble of thought, impressions and memories! A sort of ‘log’ of the progression along the way. I have to say that not once along the way did I think that I would not make it nor did I entertain any thoughts of giving up. Many of the spectators, held banners of encouragement, along the way! One that I saw a number of times, was “pain passes, pride endures!” and that was a wonderful encouragement.
Early on in the walk my one foot became sore and we had to stop, and that is where we inserted the jelly pad under my toe, without which I know I would not have managed. Matthew had also provided me with a base layer which allowed me to walk the marathon without needing to shed or add layers. Although we had energy drinks and sweets, which Matthew kept feeding me, I am not sure that they were the right things for my body. At one point I needed something more substantial, and so Matthew went into a garage and bought me a turkey sandwich – half of which helped! We did not have many breaks and what breaks we did have comprised of sitting on the curb for a few minutes. What was also wonderful was that without asking my guides always rubbed my legs, which helped a lot. Walking through the feeding stations was a scary affair. The ground was wet and covered in thousands of discarded paper cups.
Although Matthew appeared to be my number one ‘guide’ and seemed to assist me the most, I was also very grateful for Nomboso’s presence and I felt so embarrassed because when we met up with her at the 7 mile mark I was so glad to see her that in my excitement of meeting up with her, I knocked her flat. Up until she joined us, there was an empty space without her, and once we were altogether I felt complete, that I could have done anything with Matthew and Nomboso supporting me.
Matthew and I had agreed that should he at any point along the way feel the need to point out that my walking was not what it should be he could say ‘ladders’ which would be a reminder to me, to pick my feet up. I must say that I do not remember him saying that, however, there was one point, and this was the point of my whole undertaking of this venture – to see if this sort of activity would improve my walking – was when I became very aware that my body was very tired and that my walking was laboured. So what I did was; I mentally went through my body, starting at my head, using my mind’s eye, to see what was happening to my body. When I got to my hips, what I saw was that I was not swinging my legs from my hips but instead I was somehow propelling my body forwards. Now knowing this to be the case, I then started to use my hips and my walking became easier. Within a few minutes of this Matthew asked me what had happened:- so he noticed! Within the last 5 miles I was very tired and had to ask to link arms first with Matthew and then with Nomboso to help me, because I had become rather shaky, and so I think that the last few miles we covered in record time!
I felt very satisfied that when the sweeper van came through at about 4 pm there was no inclination to get on to it. At about 5pm the roads were being reopened and we then had to walk on the pavements. We could always see other people in front of us and were aware of people still walking behind us. However we knew that so long as we were still walking there would be someone waiting at the finishing line. The last two or so miles were walked in the park, and shortly after we entered the park – which was now dark, Matthew announced that we would get a cab home, even though we were only two blocks from our apartment. All my training had been recorded in kilometres and I had got used to what that distance was and how fast I could walk it or how far it was. So on the day of the marathon I was totally discombobulated as the distances were in Miles!
At last I could see the finishing line, the three of us, Matthew, Nomboso and I held hands and crossed the line together, 10 hours and seven seconds after we started! I had, with the help of many achieved what I had set out to do! I was so tired but the sense of pride and achievement and having my son doing it with me, was a very very special moment in my life!!
I think the official put the medal over my head, first, but what I recall the most was Matthew hugging me and lifting me up and swinging me around! My body was tired and my feet were sore, and my body had been on the go for 16 hours, so that combination together with Cerebral Palsy left me shaking like a leaf.
I did it! Was it my greatest achievement – no not my greatest but I hope that by doing it I showed others that anything is possible if you set your mind to it. But I had always known this and did not have to prove it to myself. Was it life changing – yes and no. Yes because it showed me that I was at a crossroads in my life as far as my physical condition was concerned. I could have done nothing and my body would have got stiffer or what I did was prevent that It occurred to me recently that actually what I had done for my body was to follow the homeopathic principal of ‘like cures like,’ and so by walking the marathon I had accomplished exactly what my body needed!