I don’t like the word can’t.
I don’t like it when I hear my sixth graders use it.
I don’t like it when I hear my four year say it.
Because that word doesn’t exist, not really.
I truly believe that the only limits in life are the ones that exist in our own minds. And last month I had an extraordinary experience where I was fortunate enough to race with someone who reminded me to live beyond limits.
When my friend Amber invited me to join Team Elshanator and race the St. George Half Marathon, I was ecstatic! I had seen Elsha at a few local races and had actually been too shy to introduce myself, but I was brave enough to reach out through Facebook, so I already knew how inspiring she is and I also knew that we shared a common love of running and U2 (Elsha has even met Bono a few times!).
This year was the 35th annual St. George Half Marathon. St. George is known for having fast races, but this might be the one exception. This particular half is a challenging and hilly course, but it’s also one of my favorites. Our 5 woman team consisted of my St. George Running Center teammates: Amber Green, Kristen Thorne, Sarah Skeem, myself, and of course Elsha.
We all met about an hour before the race began to get in a little warm-up run, meet Elsha’s sweet parents, and formulate our race plan. We decided to take turns and switch the driving responsibility every mile. That would mean that each of us would have three 1 mile repeats hopefully giving us ample time to drop back a bit and recover if we needed to. Our plan was to get Elsha across the finish line in 1:30. We also decided that we would go in order of oldest to youngest, which meant I was the second driver, so I had miles 2, 6, and 10. Instead of having one of us take the last mile, we decided we would split it into fourths.
The race went off to a fun, and pretty fast start. For the first mile our team was running with Hayden Hawk, a super-athlete and pro runner for Hoka, and Steve Hooper, also a super-athlete and the owner of the St. George Running Center. Never in my life have I raced alongside either of them and I’m not going to let it bother me (at all) that while they were jogging, I had to RUN just to keep up with their “easy” pace. It was a once in a lifetime, briefest of moments, but it made for a really fun memory.
When I took over as the driver at mile two we were cruising along at a pace I wasn’t sure I could maintain. To be completely honest, the “driving,” or pushing, is challenging. Without the use of your arms for motion and balance, the work is centrally focused in your leg muscles and I was surprised how hard those miles felt. That being said, I have never felt such joy in all the one mile sections of my life. It was truly a pleasure to have it hurt for a few moments of my life, to feel something hard, and to embrace being uncomfortable for someone else. In all of my races, nothing even compares to those precious moments shared with my team that day. There was such a special energy, and it all came from Elsha.
At the end of mile 6, right before we switched drivers again, Elsha let us know that she needed some adjustments, so we stopped and helped reposition her head a bit. I was amazed at the concern from the runners around us. Almost everyone stopped mid-race to see if we were okay, to ask if they could help, or to tell Elsha how inspiring she is. I know runners are the best kind of people, but I was so touched by all the sincere support from everyone. If for some reason the four of us couldn’t have been able to go on, there were a hundred other runners that day who would have gladly finished the race for us, and with Elsha.
Rounding the final bend and crossing the finish line together was such a special moment. Running is a great unifier, it allows us the chance to focus on our commonalities, and to celebrate those things that bring us together. We were 5 women, bonding over a shared love of running.
In Elsha’s own race recap she remembers turning on U2’s album Joshua Tree at around mile 7, and we basically rocked out to the whole thing. Before every race, when I’m standing on the start line and I’m trying to get my head together and calm my nerves, I always listen to U2’s song, Where the Streets Have No Name. That first line, “I want to run” helps me remember what I’m doing out there. I loved sharing that common interest with Elsha. I will think of her every time I hear that song and hope that I can channel a few ounces of the kind of strength she possesses.
Elsha has participated in over 110 events from 5K’s to relays. I asked Elsha what she loves best about running, she said, “I love running because when I’m running, I feel like I’m really running. When I hear people cheering it is really special, and I’m so proud of my pushers for doing such a great job for me to do something that would normally be impossible for me.” While we weren’t able to secure a “break the tape finish” for Elsha like she deserved, we were able to cross the finish line in 1:33:52. That qualified her for 8th place in her age group and first place in the assisted division.
Katherine Switzer famously said, “If you are losing faith in the human race, go out and watch a marathon.” It actually doesn’t even have to be a full, it can be a half, and it may be someone other than the runners who inspires you to live beyond limits, overcome “can’t” by focusing on what you CAN do, and chase whatever dreams bring you joy. Happy running friends!