“You’ll never know unless you try.” These inspiring words by Sandy Morrison permeated the walls of the school gym at Bevin High.
“Even if you fail, find satisfaction in knowing that you gave it all you had. Ok, class, see you Monday, have a great weekend.”
Sandy picked up her exercise gear, turned off the lights, and headed back to her office. She had worked as the gym teacher for the school district for 25 years. In addition to teaching her students about health and fitness, she offered words of encouragement, especially to those who were struggling. It had become quite a challenge over the past few years, as students shuffled into class tired after staying up late at night playing video games. The ones that were not gamers, spent hours at home sitting on the couch and munching unhealthy foods as they streamed movies and Youtube videos.
While reviewing the notes from the day’s class, she felt the vibration of her cell phone in her pocket. Determined to continue her tasks undistracted, she let the call go to her voicemail. She was forced to answer it when the call immediately came back through and was pleased, once she saw who it was from.
“Hello, this is Ms. Morrison,” she said.
“Hello, Miss Morrison, how are you today?” asked the voice on the other end.
“I’m well, sir. Just winding up the week and looking forward to a weekend of good weather. At least that’s what the forecast says,” she said
“I’m just calling to notify you that all your paperwork is in order. Reservations, meals, transportation are confirmed, and meetings are arranged. If anything comes up or you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to contact me. Ok?”
“Absolutely, Mr. Miles. Thank you for everything you have done to assist me with this again this year and looking forward to seeing you in Massachusetts.”
Sandy hung up the call and gave herself a fist pump, elated at the thought of the upcoming event. It was a trip she made each year, but this time it felt especially important for some reason. Maybe it was the sense of freedom from being so limited for the past two years due to the pandemic. Perhaps it was the longing to travel, spread her wings and test her limits. Either way, the feeling of exhilaration made her do a little dance until a leg spasm threw her off balance and she caught herself from falling.
The next morning, Sandy was awakened by a call from her friend, May. Best friends since childhood, they shared many years of celebrations and life’s disappointments. They were always there for one another even when they lived miles apart.
“Are you still asleep?” May asked.
“Uh, yeah, I guess so. What time is it?” Sandy asked.
“It’s about 1030. I’ve been waiting for you to call so we could go for a run. I figured you were busy with some early morning tasks, not even thinking you were still in bed, Are you alone?”
“Yes, of course, I’m alone. I’m just exhausted and overslept. Give me an hour and I’ll meet you at the fountain. We can get a short sprint in, at least,” said Sandy.
The park was crowded when Sandy arrived. She preferred early morning runs when all she could hear were the birds chattering and catching an occasional curious deer. It was frustrating to run between pet walkers, children, strollers, and bicycles.
“Ugh! This sucks! There are way too many people here,” she told May as they greeted one another with a hug. As they stretched, Sandy told May how excited she was that her plans to go to Boston had been finalized.
“High five, girl! It’s not like you haven’t been training for it for the last 7 years. Awesome! Let’s go!”
The two women chased and teased each other until they got into a rhythm and paced each other steadily. They never talked much when they jogged, instead concentrated on their breathing to preserve energy to establish optimal distance. Together they managed to run two miles further than the week before.
Sandy returned home later that day, showered, and prepared to meet May for dinner. She took a moment to rest and struggled to fight the fatigue that was starting to emerge. Normally, her energy levels soared after coming down from a runner’s high, this time she felt too drained to move.
“May, it’s me. Can we take a rain check on dinner tonight?” she asked.
“Uh, sure, “replied May, “why? What’s up, did something happen?”
“No big deal, I’m just exhausted. I must be coming down with something.”
“Ok honey. I’ll check back with you in the morning. Get some good rest and call me when you get up in the morning,” May said.
Unable to ignore a pain in her leg, Sandy grabbed a cold pack and went to bed. It was late afternoon when she woke up to a knock at her door.
“Who is it,” she asked.
“It’s me, Sandy. Open the dang door, will ya? I brought dinner.”
Just as Sandy closed the door, she stumbled and fell to the ground. Although she tried to laugh it off as being clumsy, May became concerned.
“Honey, what’s going on? Is there something you are not telling me?” asked May.
“I think it’s back and this time it’s more severe,” Sandy said as she burst out in tears.
May sat on the floor and gently placed Sandy’s head in her lap. They cried together. For seven years Sandy had been in remission. The thought of her multiple sclerosis returning was too much for them to bear.
Monday morning came and Sandy was back in school, pushing her gym class to perform cardio exercises. She had taken medications that she had not used in years, but they helped her with pain and fatigue. She wondered how long she would be able to hide her symptoms from her peers.
After work, she went to the track and managed to run six miles. The following day, she missed work for a doctor’s appointment that confirmed the end of her seven-year remission. The prognosis was dire.
She considered calling to cancel the plans to participate in the upcoming event in Massachusetts. The depression that set in played a large role in her feeling of hopelessness, but her determination gave her a reason to keep going. She called May and asked for her help in getting her to the Boston marathon.
For weeks, they met at the park and ran together. The pace became slower, the duration and distance shorter. They relied on various mobility aids to help with stability and strength, as well as medications to help Sandy bear the pain.
May accompanied her best friend on the trip to Massachusetts. She helped her dress in her running gear and pushed her onto the starting course of the race.
At the sound of the bell, Sandy rose and with the assistance of arm crutches, she slowly and steadily paced herself. She ignored the healthier runners who passed her by and focused on her breathing, which the disease was trying to take from her, and forced each step that it was trying to stop her.
She was able to continue for three miles before May came from the sidelines with her wheelchair and oxygen. Sandy closed her eyes as she felt the cool wet cloth that May wiped across her face. She looked into May’s eyes and with tears, thanked her for everything.
“Absolutely, honey. You trained for five years and successfully qualified for this race that you have always wanted to do. Although you didn’t complete the twenty-six miles, you are successful in your attempt. Impressive!” May said.
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Sad but hopeful at the same time. A beautiful tale of friendship.