The excitement was racing through my veins as I finally forced myself to close my eyes at 12:30 AM last night. Three hours later my alarm woke me, and I had no problem jumping out of bed. It felt like Christmas morning. The butterflies were working overtime, as I began my morning ritual for one last time before running into New York City.
As I ate my oatmeal with banana chips and raisins, a banana, and a wheat bagel, I read encouraging emails from so many, and smiled remembering my phone conversation the day before with the 6th and 7th graders of St. John the Baptist. I had taught both these classes ballroom dancing over the past 2 years, so I was thrilled when Bridget, the sixth grade teacher, requested a phone date with me before Day 65. They called me at 2:00 PM Central Time and put me on speaker phone. After a joyous shout of Hellos from the students, several students took turns coming to the phone and asking specific questions they had for me. It was such a rush hearing the intrigue in their voices. The next day, Bridget sent me pictures of these passionate kids running laps around the playground in honor of Run for Roses, followed by a delicious refueling with chocolate milk.
Kids all over St. Louis were running for Run for Roses this weekend. Our Lady of Guadalupe, the parish where my aunt Cathy works as the Pastor’s Assistant, had organized a Fun Mile Walk for families in honor of Run for Roses before their fall festival. Each family paid $5, all of which they donated to Run for Roses. This camaraderie in running that Run for Roses inspired was a dream come true.
At 4:30 AM, my stretching was interrupted by a knock on the RV door. It was Mom, Dad, and Katie, all wearing their Run for Roses t-shirts! I couldn’t believe they were finally here, and Day 65 had actually arrived. After ferociously hugging each of them, they piled into the RV, where I finished stretching and we excitedly discussed the order of the day’s events. At 5:30 AM, we realized we’d better fill up the RV with gas, since it was only ¼ full and getting gas in Manhattan could be problematic. Unfortunately, getting gas put us behind in time, so once again, Mike and I found ourselves racing double time through the first three miles of the route.
We started running in pitch dark, which felt adventurous and thrilling. We came up to the George Washington Bridge, where the one pedestrian entrance was closed. I started to panic. It was dark, and I started kicking myself that I hadn’t done a dry run the day before. We could not afford to get lost today! Luckily, there was a man getting out of his car, and I out-of-breath asked him how to get to the bridge. He pointed us in the right direction, and we let out a sigh of relief as we began flying across the GW Bridge. The only light to guide us came from the little lights that gleamed from the bridge. It was a foggy morning, so the city skyline was hazy.
Suddenly we were running through Manhattan. The hugeness of this had not yet hit me at the time – my only focus was blazing through the first three miles so we could get to Katie and my other running friends on time. We had told them to meet us at the “5 miles to go” point at 6:15 AM. I didn’t want to be rushing with the whole group. I figured Mike and I could more easily make up the time on our end, which is what we were luckily able to do. The city was completely asleep, which worked in our favor. Mike and I raced through the streets and did not have to stop for any red lights. And then in record time we arrived at W. 150th Street and St. Nicholas Avenue, just five minute behind. Since I had built in extra time (we needed to arrive at Fox 5 Good Day New York by 7:15 AM), I knew we were going to be okay.
Outside the RV awaited Katie, Liz, Rachel, Melissa (Mike’s wife who had flown in the night before) and my friend Mark. Our posse of seven waved goodbye to Mom, Dad, and Thom as we began the last leg of the Run for Roses journey through the quiet streets of Manhattan. We ran like a united flock of birds – an image I had seen constantly throughout my 65-day journey. And with Katie by my side, and surrounded by old friends and new friends, I felt stronger than ever before. As we descended through Manhattan, the sky slowly began to light up. My friends wore Run for Roses t-shirts, and Katie wore her specially made Run for Roses running tank. We were running at a strong 9.5 minute mile, sharing stories as we quickly got closer and closer to 67th Street (home to Fox 5 Good Day New York, who was taping our arrival). With a mile to go, Rachel and Liz handed out kazoos and rose petals to the runners. The city was awake by this time, and pedestrians walking to work looked at us with curiosity as they blew their kazoos, threw their rose petals, and shouted out “Run for Roses!!!”
As we approached 67th Street on Third Avenue, Thom snapped some footage of us before racing ahead to the finish line to tape the big arrival. I grabbed Katie’s hand as we ran around the corner of 67th Street. And as we ran towards our family and friends, who were holding a big Run for Roses banner, Katie saw them. Her four best friends from Nerinx Hall. They had flown out to New York City the night before to surprise Katie at the finish line. When my mom shared this secret with me weeks ago, it made me shiver and tear up – so happy that my baby sister has such wonderfully amazing friends. When Katie spotted them, she threw her head up to the sky as she began to sob, tears of raw joy. Seconds later we ran through the gap between our loved ones, stopped running, and embraced. We had made it.
Mom, Dad, and our older sister Kelly joined our hug – a hug that embodied the months and months of preparation and sweat and tears………the culminating hug where we knew it was all worth it. We had made our mark upon the world, and that moment of time would forever be stamped upon our hearts. Katie and I then broke away to hug the many loved ones who flew out to be part of our big day. They flew from St. Louis, California, Chicago, and Colorado. It reminded me of a wedding line after the ceremony. Having so many loved ones from all over in the same room – or sidewalk in this case – was quite remarkable. I had almost made it through the line when I spotted my good friend Julie! I couldn’t believe it!! I had no idea she was flying in – she surprised me by flying in all the way from Seattle! She told me that when your friend says that she’s running from St. Louis to NYC, that’s something you’re gonna be at the finish for!
Minutes later, Katie and I got miked up for our big interview. With Katie by my side, I was no longer nervous for our live interview. They positioned all our family and friends (each wearing a Run for Roses t-shirt) behind us. We were one giant organism; the energy was palpable. Greg and Tai, the morning show hosts, quickly introduced themselves to Katie and me. Greg was struggling with our names and kept calling me Katie. He didn’t quite seem to know what was going on, and his confusion reached a comical level as he looked at Katie and myself and said, “So you guys are brother/sister?” Luckily the interview itself went smoother than the pre-questions.
After the live interview, we chatted and mingled on the sidewalk of 67th Street for quite awhile, no one quite ready to leave this magical section of New York City. Hunger was the thing that finally got the crowds moving. People were ready for breakfast. We had our incredible RV which served as a very convenient taxi for 25. Dad drove this car full of clowns to Midtown where we would eat.
Julie, Thom, and I decided to postpone breakfast so we could drive the RV to the Walmart parking lot in New Jersey, where it would stay until my family would drive it back to St. Louis on Sunday. The drive to Jersey was a long one, but Thom navigated through the narrow city streets just beautifully. I finished packing up my bags and cleaned the bathroom and shower while we were in motion.
From New Jersey, we hopped into a cab and returned to the Millennium Broadway Hotel, where my family was staying. We dropped our bags off at the hotel before venturing to TSQ for lunch. We walked from the hotel to the restaurant through pouring rain, so grateful that the rain had waited until now to launch its fury. I was not dressed appropriately. With only a tank top and capri sweats, I was very chilly, so I hopped into the most touristy of all the Times Square tourist shops and bought myself a pink I Heart NYC sweatshirt. This statement could not have been more true. Julie,
Thom, and I had a fantastic lunch. Stuffed and sleepy (the adrenaline had finally begun to slow), we returned to the hotel. Thom and Julie napped, as I left for my interview with Fitness Magazine. I navigated my way through the rainy, crowded streets in my spiky heels, purple plaid knee socks and black dress. It was the first time I dressed up in 65 days, and I don’t know what I was thinking braving the heels when I had to walk all the way to 50th Street and Third Avenue. I may have done more damage to my feet with that half our walk than with the hours of pounding the pavement during the 65 days. My pinched toes and lack of sleep, coupled with bumping into strangers in the rain, transformed me into quite the crabby woman on this walk.
Luckily, my energy began to return as I was sitting with Samantha, the Fitness Magazine interviewer. She was excited to hear all about the journey, and it really was wonderful getting to talk for a full hour about the past 65 days of my life. Samantha will be posting the Fitness blog about Run for Roses within the week.
I was about to walk out of the Fitness Magazine building, when I listened to my voicemail. My heart leapt as I heard Boomer Esiason’s voice congratulating me for my grand efforts for Cystic Fibrosis. He thanked me as a fellow parent of someone with CF and told me how much it meant to him. He ended his endearing message with the hopes that our paths will cross some day. I called Boomer’s cell phone back, but only got his voicemail. Bill Squires sent me a link to Boomer’s radio show, where Boomer plugged Run for Roses – I will be posting that on www.runforroses.com very soon.
I returned to the hotel – feet screaming, but excited to close my eyes for 10 minutes before getting dressed for the party. 10 minutes flew by way too quickly, but I started to perk up as I dressed in my favorite blue dress and put on my party gloves (little lace white gloves with roses on them). I was feeling so excited that I even braved the high heels again. After all, I didn’t have to run tomorrow. My feet could handle the three inches of leverage.
Thom, Julie, and I walked into The Ainsworth, an exquisite bar in Chelsea whose décor consisted of beautiful wood tables and fancy chandeliers, the perfect blend of earthy and schmaltzy. We were greeted by swarms of family and friends, clapping upon our entrance. The owner of The Ainsworth generously gave the whole Run for Roses party a section of the back lounge, as well some great drink specials. Champagne was donated from the restaurant, as well as friends. We toasted Run for Roses, danced the night away, and had an incredible evening of celebrating.
Rachel brought me a beautiful hand-made finisher medal, which I wore proudly. It definitely stood out, and though I got a few critical looks from the fashion mongrels of Manhattan, it helped other strangers recognize me as “the girl they saw on the news this morning who ran from St. Louis.” I had a really fun time regaling my adventure with them, as they toasted my endeavors.
Around 12:30 AM, we all headed out, still riding the high from the day and the night. It all seemed like a wonderful dream.
I am actually writing this blog on Day 68. The weekend was one continuous celebration with my family and friends, so today was the first time I had to blog. It still has not quite sunk in that Run for Roses is officially wrapped.
I am feeling a whirlwind of emotions – from fierce pride to ecstasy to exhaustion to sadness. What do you do after you have fulfilled your dream? “What is next” is definitely the question of the hour. It’s scary and exhilarating. For now, I have decided to just breathe and enjoy my week of playing in New York City before returning to St. Louis on September 30th. Next week I will begin to pound the pavement once more as I seek that special job that will pay rent and health insurance, while still allowing me to continue my passion in the arts and advocacy for CF.
The great thing about dreams is that there is no limit to the number of dreams you are allowed to have. I believe in the magic of dreams. Because of the astronomical support each one of you has showered upon me, I was given the incredible gift of seeing my dream unfold into reality. Because of you, I will never stop dreaming. I already have new dreams that are slowly starting to churn through my mind. As they begin to take form, I will definitely keep you in the loop, my fabulous partners in passion. You have made what could have been a very lonely journey a journey filled with constant love and encouragement. The stories you have shared with me have profoundly moved me. I am a different woman than I was on July 20th. I am stronger than I ever have been before. Somehow I have regained the confidence that I had lost after years of rejection in the acting world. I am once more that empowered girl of 18. From here on out, I will follow Bill’s sage advice – “Don’t take no for an answer. Failure is not an option.” I can’t thank you all enough for being a part of this. I will forever be grateful.
And Katie, my dear sister whom I love more than life itself, thank you for daring me to fly – for inspiring me more than anyone ever has. Because of you, sweet girl, I have become a runner, and I will continue chasing my dreams until CF stands for Cure Found.