Changed people.

When we started this journey we were a group of strangers connected only by one goal: to make a difference in the lives of those affected by cancer. Little did we know how much it would change our own lives…

This experience is unique. It is riddled with challenges, no day goes as planned, and sometimes the gas tank is punctured by debris… It’s dry, humid, hot, cold, dark, light and every kind of weather and temperature in between. Its roads with sweeping views of the ocean or the Grand Tetons ….and roads with no shoulder and fresh road kill. It’s relying on the generosity of those around you for food and shelter and being blessed beyond belief by their hospitality. It’s never giving up and enjoying the day for what it is. It’s not knowing exactly where you’re going (not sure we ever found desert county road G…) but it’s always 4k Ok. Its patience, kindness, and taking the time to listen. It’s sidestepping the rattlesnake to reach the mountaintop and the picturesque site that awaits you. It’s having an injury and discovering how awful walking is when you wish you could run. It’s realizing that no one can give you a single mile, you have to take them, earn them, and feel them… Its hearing someone else’s story and making it part of your own. It’s running each stride with the names of angels on your calves giving you wings. It’s a moment in time that drags on and flies by simultaneously. No one ever said it was going to be easy, they just said it would be worth it. It’s running across America. It’s the 4K for Cancer. It’s something I will never forget and will always treasure.

Reaching Baltimore was the end of our 42-day trip. It was the epic finale we had awaited with people gathered at the top of Federal Hill holding signs and cheering. But it also marked the start of the rest of our lives, through which we will always carry in our hearts the people we met, ran for, and by whom we were changed. As I said goodbye to my teammates we were already making planning for future visits and races. As we held up our 4K flags we held in our hands a symbol of something that doesn’t end when a team reaches 4,000 miles together. It’s a connection made by passionate people who became lifelong friends as they helped to create a support system across the nation.

I went to the store the day after I returned home, wearing a 4K shirt, and again was amazed by the reach of its influence. The cashier ask me if I had done the 4k and then teared up as she explained that her friend had been on one of the bike rides and another friend had passed away from cancer just the week before. She wiped her eyes and as I walked away I could just feel the invisible support represented by the 4K surround this lady and bring her comfort.

Team Portland biked 120 miles on August 3rd from Bend to Eugene stopping at a church about a half mile from my house! They were all in good spirits and it was really exciting to see them again (having met up with our team in Yuma, Colorado at the half way mark of each of our journeys). They only had about a week left and today finished their 70-day ride in Portland, Oregon. When I asked them if they thought 70 days was too long they said it was “too short”! Thus is the bonding that takes place on our teams…you get so comfortable with one another and learn to leave short bursts of annoyance on the roads…you learn how many times people sneeze in succession, what extreme food restrictions people are subjected to thanks to allergies/intolerances (to gluten, peanuts, apples etc), who drives way too fast and who not to sit by when you’re trying to sleep in the vans. You also learn who to go to when you need a comforting word, a listening ear or want to take a fun picture with a state sign. Your teammates become family and their craziness can make you smile on even the muddiest day or when the tire gets popped by a construction nail and you have a half marathon to run in the heat. You talk about everything from baby names to politics to why you should eat vegan. You never get bored when you have a different running partner every day and constantly changing scenery to enjoy!

When I think about the 4K the faces of people flash through my mind…

3 year old Kynlee and her courageous battle with leukemia…her mom as she watches her daughter fight…Pam as she lost 100 pounds and reclaimed her life through running…and then went on to run in memory of her friend who lost her life to colon cancer…Suzie who helps run Relay for Life and remembers the fear of being pregnant and watching her husband face cancer…Liam who stays at a Ronald McDonald house with his mom and two siblings as he tries to stay strong…the art gallery owner whose daughter Sofia has a prosthetic leg but is just so thankful for her life…Leslie who is biking across America as a cancer survivor…Victoria who pulled over to the side of the road and started to cry as she heard what we were doing…the lady who pulled over in Blue Rock and handed us a $10 donation…the young woman who pulled into Dunkin Donuts not having wanted to get up for the day and being changed by our chance meeting…running in memory of her friend Kimberley who at 42 passed away leaving a 12 year old son…

Laura who had leukemia at age 7 and was left with brittle bones but a strong heart…John whose mom has faced cancer three times and dad has struggled with alcoholism but is one of the most positive and determined people I know…Chris who lost his mom and ran for her every day…Janet whose coach passed away…Kate who lost her dad but carries on his spirit with every step…Maria who remembers her poppa with a smile…Stephanie who wishes she could remember her grandparents (who passed away from cancer before her birth)…Kathy who started to run and reinvented herself for God’s glory…Joey who can catch a ball while getting chemotherapy administered through an IV…Hines whose parents are doing everything to bring all children with cancer hope…Tori whose courage is contagious…a sister, Susan, who is gone but will never be forgotten…a teacher who lost his life to cancer but is remembered by his students everyday…

These are just some of the people we met. Some of the people for whom we ran. Some of the people who are affected by cancer. Representing just some of the pain and hope that our world holds. These are merely some of the stories that I will never forget. Some of the faces that will forever encourage me and remind me that the pain of running is temporary, empowering, and a privilege. Some of the reasons why I run and why the 4k has been such an honor to take part in.

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