The elderly woman had a determined look on her face. Her back was bent with osteoporosis, and she wore a brace on one knee. Still, she kept on with a determined jog.
I was at Milwaukee’s USA Triathlon National Championships supporting my son-in-law and brother-in-law, who were among the 6,000 competitors coming from all 50 states, nine countries and five territories. The youngest athlete was 15, and the oldest was 88. The weekend events also included “Run Like Angels,” a chance for people with disabilities or extra challenges to compete, boost their self-confidence, and feel a part of the community.
The air was humid and threatening rain as thousands of spectators gathered on the shore of Lake Michigan near the art museum and Discovery World. I stood just before the start of the red carpet near the finish line, cheering people on, when this elderly woman caught my eye. She had completed a 1,500-meter swim in the lake, followed by a 40-kilometer bike ride and was now about to step onto the red-carpet and complete her 10-kilometer run.
The woman’s gray hair was wet with sweat and she was barely jogging, but she was still moving. I thought of a quote by 85 year old Jane Goodall who is still active. “People who retire fade rather fast unless they have something really important they want to do,” she said. “It’s feeling you have a purpose, and that you have less and less time to make your mark. Instead of slowing down, you have to speed up.”
This woman must have the same view. I wondered about her drive. Had she trained so that she could have this one moment of cheering? I remember the feeling of crossing the finish line when I competed in Crazy Legs many years ago. My husband and son were my supporters and when I entered the red-carpeted chute, it was with a great feeling of accomplishment. I became addicted to running after that and even took part in a race wearing an air cast for a stressed ankle.
“You can do it!” I called out to her. Others called out encouraging words, too. I had never spoken to this woman, yet I felt I knew her. She was the epitome of the drive that we feel as we pursue our passions. She had set goals, trained even when she didn’t feel like it, overcome injuries, and like the energizer bunny, kept on going.
We all have our niches and our special talents that we can share with the world. Whether it’s raising great kids and grandkids, serving others, or working to save the planet. We are all part of Team World.
The woman stumbled, and the crowd seemed to hold their breaths. Would she fall and hit the hard ground? We have all faced so many challenges this past year and with discouraging news about the virus and our planet, we continue to face challenges. This strong-spirited woman, however, regained her balance. Her gait, unsteady but committed, kept driving forward.
I felt tears welling up as I watched her determinedly continue on. The crowd and I shouted more encouraging words. It seemed to me like our cheers traveled far beyond this small space. Come on world, we seemed to say. We can do it!
The woman picked up her pace. The announcer shared the history of her many accomplishments in the past. Yes, world, look at all we’ve achieved and overcome. We’ve got this!
The woman, urged by the support, ran even faster. Ten meters left. Five meters left. With the sound of thunderous applause in the background, she sprinted the last foot and crossed the finish line.
She flashed the crowd a winning smile. Her back, oddly enough, now appeared straight and strong. She raised her arms in triumph.
And those of us gathered around her, the young and old, the bent and unbent, each one of us inspired, reveled in her victory. Come on world! We can do this!