Every Mile is a Gift

In the summer of 2011, a co-worker named Brian asked me if I was interested in being a NYC Marathon guide to a visually impaired athlete, as part of the organization Achilles International. I remembered running alongside and cheering on Achilles handcyclists in my first NYC marathon the year before but didn't appreciate the number of visually impaired athletes who also finish the marathon every year.

Even though I had run just three marathons at that time, I accepted the challenge of guiding Mariusz from Poland to a sub 3:15 marathon in NYC, with the help of Brian and another guide. While I felt honored to be part of Team Mario, I was also nervous. What if I couldn't keep up with Mario? Or what if I failed in my duties as a guide that caused Mario to get hurt? Or not meet his goals? To gain more confidence, I started attending weekly Achilles workouts in Central Park leading up to the race. I immersed myself in a community of volunteers who were guiding and encouraging people with all types of disabilities to walk, jog, and run.

In my right hand, I held on to a white string or "tether" that a visually impaired athlete also held in his or her left hand. Initially, I stayed within inches of my athlete for protection. This restricted our respective arm swings and led to a slightly awkward running form. But with practice, I quickly built trust in myself and with my athletes and was able to extend the tether and create a foot of space, allowing our arms to swing more freely and have a smoother running motion.

Doing something so simple as holding on to a string and calling out a turn or bump in the road truly empowers Achilles athletes to achieve hope and joy and stride with incredible grace and strength. At the marathon that year, when Mario and I turned right on 5th avenue into Central Park, he felt the increasingly loud cheers of the crowd and the fresh scent of the woods, and I could see him sensing rays of light shining through the fall colors of the trees and smiling. He exclaimed, "We're in Central Park!" I will never forget Mario's happiness in his ability and opportunity to run in arguably the greatest park in the greatest city in the world.

I'm humbled, grateful, and inspired every time I volunteer with and coach Achilles athletes. What I'm reminded of the most is that "every mile is a gift." Every finish line is a gift. Knowing that we don't know when something will be taken away from us. As Amby Burfoot, former Boston Marathon winner and Runner's World editor says, marathons teach you great humility because it is difficult and you are often defeated along the path.

As I recently recover from injury and as I continue to guide others, I am truly grateful for every step we take. Cherish your path and stay positive and resilient through ups and downs. Find a way to help others do the same, and it will make you appreciate that every mile out there is truly a gift.