Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Riverwalk Run: A small testament to how far I've come

“Dude, why did you do it?”

The Riverwalk Run: A small testament to how far I've come

TJ and Josie at the finish line of the Riverwalk Run.
TJ and Josie at the finish line of the Riverwalk Run.

“Dude, why did you do it?”  

That was my buddy Rob, on a rainy Saturday morning down here in Fort Lauderdale. I had just completed the Riverwalk Run – a Junior League fundraiser race down here. He thought I was nuts for even entering the run, and in retrospect, he was probably right. Pondering an answer, I quickly went through the checklist of what just happened in the last 66 minutes.

The Junior League holds an annual fundraiser run, with two adult distances and a 1k “Kids Run” that I was supposed to run with Josie at 8:15am. When I went online to register, though, my mouse added “Riverwalk Run 5 Miler” to the shopping cart – most certainly NOT a kid’s run. Jen was the Junior League’s volunteer chair, meaning she was in bed early Friday and out the door at 4am Saturday. I was up with Tommy from 1:15am until 2:45, and then back awake by 5:30 to pack a bag of stuff for the kids and me. Race time was 7am — my biggest accomplishment may have been getting us out of the house by 6:15.

Jen called on our way over, seeing if I was really going to run the 5 mile course instead of the 5k. I told her to get me the 5 Miler bib; if I couldn’t hack it, I could always back out in the first mile and take the 5k route. She said I would mess up the timing by finishing before everyone else; to which I replied, “There is no way I am finishing before EVERYONE, no matter which race I run – Kids 1k included.”

The prudent decision would have been the 5k; after all, it’s been a few years since I did any sort of training. Oh yea, and since Jen was working the registration table, I had both kids to push in a very used double jogging stroller, being held together with zip ties (seriously). Neither the stroller nor the children are lightweights, so add an additional 80-90 lbs. of kids, carriage, squeeze yogurts, sippy cups, and an iPad.  

The first mile was tough – including going up and down a bridge within a pack of people. Several of them nearly played Mary Decker to the jogging stroller’s Zola Budd. My pace started out well, but faded pretty quickly, setting up the real possibility I wouldn’t finish in time to get Josie to her run. That was just the beginning of my worries.

It would have been wise to check the weather. I saw the rain clouds accumulating, the ones that started to drizzle a few blocks after the race forked and I reaffirmed the longer route choice. Those were the same clouds that went from drizzle to downpour around mile 2, and continued for twenty solid minutes. The poor kids were pretty wet, despite all attempts to cover them and run under tree canopy.

Then there was the small matter of running with the colostomy. The prolapse makes it a bit awkward, and definitely can cause some bleeding. It’s always fun to see your large intestine seep red. The bigger immediate worry, though, was getting out on the course and then having the bag, uh, “fill up”. Which is exactly what happened, somewhere after mile 2. I’ve got rain coming down, two kids partially covered in a dilapidated stroller, I’m a mile past the “no turning back now” sign, and am desperately searching for a place to empty this thing. Thank God there was a construction site about a quarter mile later; it now has some extra fill to the foundation. 

Anyways… I thought about all of this in retrospect, and it certainly seems like the wiser option would have been to jog with Josie in the Kids’ race. There are those little moments though, that made my decision to run the right one. I had the iPod “Hospital” playlist on – sort of the 2012 version of the high school sports “psyche-up tape” – containing songs with real meaning and personal inspiration. Some of those tunes I associated with different moments in Moffitt or Broward General; now a handful are a wet morning run (or something resembling a run) memory. There were moments I flashed back to during those five miles – struggling to walk down the block on Halloween after lung surgery, or not being allowed to eat or drink anything for 10 days during my initial diagnosis. There was the omnipresent challenge of the first oncologist’s “he’s probably not going to be here in two years” and the satisfaction of RACING 19 months later, albeit at a glacial pace.

Finally, there was the little voice of a somewhat wet, slightly chilly four-year-old. I pulled the stroller under a tree after Mile 3 and asked Josie if she wanted me to stop and get them home, or finish the race. She responded with a simple, “No Daddy, keep going.” When the biggest inspiration for staying alive is telling you to keep going, guess what? YOU. KEEP. GOING. You don’t stop. And you do it with goosebumps down the back of your neck, a lump in your throat, and renewed vigor to get those inspirations across the finish line.

“Dude, why did you do it?”  

As Rob stood there waiting for an answer, it just sort of came out. 

“After all the **** I’ve gone through the last two years…” I started, and paused to find the right words to respond to ‘why?’

“I needed to know that I could.”

 


 

T.J. Sharpe shares his fight against Stage 4 Melanoma in the Patient #1 blog. Read more »

About this blog
T.J. Sharpe is sharing his fight against Stage 4 Melanoma. A South Jersey native and Bishop Eustace graduate, he currently lives in Fort Lauderdale, FL with his wife Jennifer and children Josie and Tommy. He was Patient #1 in a clinical trial at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa as the first person worldwide to use this sequence of treatments to fight melanoma, and is currently in a second clinical trial at Holy Cross Hospital in Fort Lauderdale receiving Merck’s anti-PD-1 drug Lambrolizumab

The Patient #1 blog will update the progress of T.J.'s fight against cancer, and also touch on many cancer-related topics.

Follow T.J. on Twitter and Facebook. Reach T.J. at Patient1@tjsharpe.com.

T.J. Sharpe
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