by KathyMaria Badalamenti
From the Editor: A consistent message from the National Federation of the Blind is that living and working with the sighted is normal, that isolation is limiting and even smothering, and that moving beyond one’s comfort zone is sometimes necessary to live the lives we are entitled to enjoy. This message is easy to articulate and repeat; it is harder to live.
In this article KathyMaria Baladamenti has a goal; she is nervous and unsure, but she decides to participate in a race to help others. With humor, wit, humility, and determination, here is what she says about her experience:
On Sunday, May 6, 2012, I meet my team in the lobby of a hotel in downtown Cincinnati, Ohio, at 5:00 AM for team pictures. My team is raising money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, and we have trained hard for this cause. All of us wear purple shirts with our team name on them, which we have personalized by writing names of sponsors and heroes. My cousin Judy was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and underwent treatment while I was training for the race. I am wearing her name in my heart and on the back of my shirt. She is my hero.
After pictures are taken, we walk over to the Paul Brown Stadium to face other teams. In this crowd of three thousand are teens ready to sprint, people in wheelchairs, a person with a walking stick in each hand, blind runners tethered to a sighted person, and people of all ages from children to teens to young adults to seniors. Many in this heterogeneous group are dressed in pink in celebration of their newly acquired pighood.
Eight pig pens are set up for us to use in lining up for the race. We are assigned a wait pen according to our predicted race time. That is, the fastest group is assigned to pen one, the slowest group to pen eight, and all the others somewhere in between. It might look like the starting gates at the Olympics, except that a herd of us were stuffed into each pen.
I was assigned to pen number eight, the only one from my team to be there. So here I am, walking past pens one through eight, while the instructor chants “Keep on going” and my fellow teammates enter pens along the way. This means I have to go further than anybody else just to get to the start of the race. I walk a mile to be assigned the pig’s tail. On top of all this I end up in the back of pen eight behind two runners dressed in pink tutus and sporting curly wire tails that dance in my face.
I stand in my place, alternately batting away the curly pig tails and hitting the button on my talking watch, wondering when I get to start. I know I’m the last of thousands of people, and that’s all I do know.
At 6:00 AM we are all lined up and ready to go. The weather is absolutely beautiful, and I am grateful not to be carrying extra gear. The plan for nasty weather is to purchase extra coats, jackets, and other warm clothing at the thrift store and layer it over our running clothes. Then, as the weather improves, we peel off layer by layer and pitch it along the route for volunteers to gather up and take back to the thrift store. In this weather I need no coat or jacket.
I am ready to go, but we are not moving. Over the loud speakers we keep hearing a voice telling everyone to get into their pens. That voice wants three thousand pigs locked in their pens. Who is that voice? Who knows? I can’t even tell you where it’s coming from. Maybe from the sky, hmm? Is it God? Yes, Lord, I’m ready, and there are two pigs in front of me.
Then the program begins. We hear words from the person who started the Flying Pig Runs fourteen years ago, and from the person in charge this year, and a prayer is said by a priest, and the American flag is presented, and our national anthem is sung. Now it is 6:30 AM. Mr. Sun is smiling but not blowing any hot air. The first pen is opened; the race begins. I am standing still. The good thing is nothing hurts yet; the brace on my right knee is holding; my Depends is dry.
I will spare you the openings of the next six pens and get down to the important one. At 6:48 AM the last pen opens, and off I go, just 13.1 miles to go before lunch. The first 6.8 miles are pretty good. The temperature is rising, but it’s not too bad yet. I am running and walking in my intervals and enjoying the scenery. There are what are known as water stops along the way where people are offering us Gatorade and water, and before long the path is covered with discarded paper cups--kind of like a minefield of cups. I step on a few to hear them pop, and then I decide to play “dodge the cups.” That is a fun game when you are bored. Try it at your next yard party. There are spectators and lots of shouts of “go team,” “you're doin’ good,” and “thank you,” and people were holding up signs, which I understand had some neat things written on them. Maybe you can find someone else to tell you what they said. I would tell you if I knew, but I can’t see well enough to read unless my face is right in the words, and I can’t take time to run over to the signs and get real close.
Yep, the sidelines are blurry at best. I don’t know what they are doing on the sidelines. I miss the beer stop. Just a shot, but still I miss it. Might be good beer, too. I don’t know.
After one hour, forty-two minutes, and twenty-two seconds, I cross the 6.8 mile mark. At this pace I could finish the race by 10:04 AM. I figure that is too early for lunch, so I think I will just slow ‘er down and stroll along. So there I was, like being in a parade, waving at the spectators and thanking them for coming out to support us. There are handshakes and high fives with many well-wishers. I go through a water stop, where people are holding out water hoses for what I thought was what the coach meant by “misters” but, when I held my hand out to feel the cool water, I felt my shoe get wet, and I remembered Coach Stan saying, “Avoid getting your feet wet.” Oh no! What is going to happen now? Will my feet shrivel up? Too late, just keep moving.
Yeah, I am really enjoying myself. Another runner offers me a peanut butter cracker, and I eat it, hoping that it will not ruin my appetite for lunch. I don’t know where I am at this point, but I keep moving, and then I decide to play a little leap frog. I run to pass some people, and then I walk until they all pass me up, and then I run again to get ahead of them. It is lots of fun and makes the miles pass.
Mile marker nine, just 4.1 miles to go; it is getting pretty warm, and every inch of my clothing is soaking wet. Maybe I am delirious! I decide to remove the sweatband from my head and ring it out. As I attempt that trick while jogging, I drop my glasses and partially step on them. I stop and pick them up. They are a bit cattywampus, and I am afraid to twist them too much, so for the rest of the race I am looking through the bottom of the right lens and the top of the left lens, which makes me feel like the road is tilted to one side. I take what I see and follow the crowd.
Somewhere along the route, people jump out of the race to get their picture taken with Elvis. I give someone my phone and ask him to take my picture with Elvis. The nice fellow takes the picture for me and then hits the wrong button so the picture is not saved on my phone. I sit down on the grass to try to see my phone better and realize that my foot is killing me. I get my reading glasses on to find that the bottom of my foot has a blister rubbed by my compression stocking. By this time Elvis has left the vicinity, my foot hurts, and I have messed up my time. Not to waste more of it, I proceed with one sock on and one sock off.
My right hand is numb, so I keep shaking it, and, when I look, it is swollen and discolored. My wrist band and watch have cut off the circulation, and I must remove them. Now I am carrying them and wondering if I will lose my right hand, or did I remove the culprits in time? Then how would I type this story, which I have been constructing in my head as I deal with the challenges of the day?
All is well. I finish the race in three hours, twenty-four minutes, and eight seconds. I place twentieth out of the fifty in my division, female 61-65. Not so shabby, eh? It’s over. Here I am in my thermal wrap, my medal around my neck, happily eating up all manner of sweets. It’s a perfect day!
Humor aside, the best part is that I am able to raise $1,544.20 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, and more specifically for the people for whom leukemia and lymphoma are a personal thing, those who stood at the sidelines and cheered us on--like the one little kid in a wheelchair who reaches for me. I can’t see her, but her father says to me, “She wants to touch your hand,” and then he reaches out and brings my hand to hers. Then there’s the man whom I can’t see but whose voice I hear coming from the side of the road saying, “Thank you so much. I have leukemia.” And finally there’s the lady who just finished the whole marathon, who says to me, “Twenty years ago I had leukemia, and my parents were told I would not grow up.”
Yep, I’d do it all over again. I’d do it for all of those people who need the cure my money is meant to bring, and I’d do it all again for me. Talking the talk may be the first step, but walking the walk is the ultimate journey.