I faced a bit of a dilemma last weekend. After getting news of my mother’s death early Thursday evening, I had to decide what to do about the mud run on Saturday for which I’d registered back in April. In addition to paying the entry fee, I’d already reserved a hotel room near Des Moines, Iowa, and was inside the twenty-four hour cancellation deadline. Those, however, were minor issues.
Of greater worry was my apprehension that my siblings and others might view running the race as disrespectful and inconsiderate. As I shared my apprehensions with some of my kids, each of them said quickly and simply, “Do the race.” It was Randa, though, who clinched it for me. As we stood in the kitchen talking about my concerns, she looked at me and said with quiet conviction. “Your mother ran a good race; I think you should, too.”
I thought about that and remembered how Brett Favre played the best game of his life only a day or two after his father died. I realized that this is how athletes honor those they love: they play the game, they run the race, they dedicate their effort to the one they loved.
And so we drove through the rain Friday afternoon up to Winterset, Iowa. Early Saturday morning, we drove through the fog and mist toward Earlham, including several miles of mud and chat on what were purportedly gravel roads. After walking through more mud and then pinning on my race number, I had Randa pin on the memorial bib I’d lettered with permanent markers onto a piece of Tyvek I’d cut from a used mailing envelope the day before:
“Run for Ruby”
Ruby H. Arnett
We love you, Mom
Under leaden skies and with a light mist blowing in my eyes, I ran three-point-three miles of Iowa hills and woodland in the mud from the rains the night before. Remembering that Mom faced some tough times and went through her own valleys, I crawled through mud trenches and climbed through pits and over mounds of loose dirt. Remembering that she overcame many hurdles and obstacles, I climbed over walls and scaled cargo nets. Remembering that there were rocky times in her life, I ran through the stone-strewn trough of a creek in the woods. Remembering how often she stayed up until past midnight ironing clothes while everyone else in the family slept, I ran past other athletes half my age, passing some of them while going up hills. Remembering how she faced whatever challenges life brought to her, I jumped over the burning fire and climbed up and over the final hurdle and slid down into the water below. After each obstacle, I’d reach back over my shoulder and pat the honor bib. “Thank you, Mom. For everything. We love you.”
A young woman only a little more than a third my age passed me as I was heading into the final obstacle, a mud pit with barbed wire strung so low I could barely keep my face out of the brown water. “There’s no way I can catch up with her,” I thought to myself, “she’s already ten feet ahead of me.”
Remembering Mom’s determination and perseverance and how many times she’d fought through pain and sickness to do what needed to be done, I pushed myself harder, clawing at the muddy bottom of the pit and straining my toes against the slippery mess beneath. Even though I’d already used up nearly all the energy I had, I somehow caught up with that young woman as we both passed beneath the last strand of barbed wire; fifty feet later, I crossed the finish line three steps ahead of her.
Considering all the junk that Mom saved, all the styrofoam plates and paper cups she re-used, I’m pretty sure that Mom would have been tickled with my handmade, recycled sign. I’m real sure that she would have been cheering my effort at the finish line and that she would have been proud of me, even though thirty or forty other people crossed the finish line ahead of me. I believe she would have felt honored by what I did.
I do know that there wasn’t one step of that three-miles-plus of trails and obstacles that I wasn’t thinking about her. And appreciating everything she had ever done for me and our family and others.
I hope that when I finish the course that she has finished that I can say that I ran as good a race as she has run.