The Marathon Miracle

I often felt imprisoned in my huge body, screaming to escape its mighty clutch. It was as if someone had locked me in a cell and told me the key was in there somewhere, if only I could find it and break free. For over thirteen years, I struggled to find that key.

And I tried. Boy, did I try. I attempted about every diet and idea that wasn’t too outlandish. I educated myself about proper nutrition; I took “Slim for Life” classes; I drank meal replacement drinks; I listened to tapes on weight-loss; I tried over-the-counter diet pills; I tried lo-carb, no-carb, hi-protein plans; I got a gym membership; I bought books and meal-planning guides—all in attempts to improve my health. Nothing seemed to work.

Over the years, as I got bigger and bigger, I made the same resolution every New Year’s Eve: “Lose Weight.” I would write down ideas on how I thought I was going to accomplish it this year: A new exercise plan, some new diet, a renewed confidence that this year I was really going to do it. I tried to become creative with this particular goal. I would write it down. I would type it and post it where I could see it often. I would make goal charts. For a few days, even weeks, I seemed to do okay

 Then I would experience a disappointment or have a discouraging day, and there I would be, right back to my old eating habits. I cannot even begin to count how many times I fell and would start to pick myself back up, only to experience more failure. Once again, I would turn to food for comfort. The vicious cycle continued, year after painful year, and I couldn’t get out.

It was December 31, 2000. It had been almost thirteen years since my baby Emily’s death and I was making my usual resolution to lose weight. This time, though, after so many years of living with obesity and feeling out of control, I gave up trying to make it a goal. No matter how hard I tried, I just could not do it. I thought I may as well face up to the fact that I would be fat forever.

An Angel Son

On April 10, 2001, I went to the hospital to have another ultrasound and possibly an amniocentesis, since lab work indicated possible problems.
Because of having three children born with genetic problems, Mark and I first spoke with a genetics counselor that morning. He explained the results from the lab work and told us that after the ultrasound, the doctors would determine if more tests were needed. I felt calm.

We went to the examination room where Mark helped me onto the table. I flinched as the cold jelly came squirting out onto my belly. I tried to recall just how many of these ultrasounds I’d had over the years. By now, even with my untrained eye, I knew what to look for. As the technician began, my first thought as I looked up at the screen was that something must be wrong with the machine. The baby, a little boy, was not moving. I wondered if there was too much fat on my stomach to get a good picture. The technician moved the scanner around some more, and I could see a perfectly formed baby; all his little parts looked fine. They were just . . . still. The technician leaned closer to the screen as she narrowed in on the chest. His little heart was not beating.

Now I was sure the machine was broken. Surely this wasn’t happening! No, it couldn’t be. I had just felt him kicking the day before! The technician quickly left to find the radiologist. “Yes, go get the radiologist,” I thought. She would fix the machine and show us that our baby was just fine.

But it was not to be. When the doctor came in we saw that the circumstances had not changed. “The heart is not beating,” she said quietly. My own heart was pounding and felt as if it would break, as our worst fears were confirmed. Our baby was dead.

I wanted to scream and wake up from this horrible, recurring nightmare. The radiologist left us alone briefly while she stepped out to speak on the phone with my obstetrician. Mark and I just sat there looking at each other, not knowing what to say. We numbly listened as the radiologist came back and tenderly told us to go home, and as soon as we were ready that afternoon, we were to go to the neighboring hospital, where I would deliver the lifeless body of our precious baby.

We had arrived there that morning lighthearted and even joking with the medical staff. We now walked down the corridor in a daze. I loved and hated that place. Nick, Amy, and Emily had all been born there. Nick’s birth had been a completely happy occasion. Having little Amy had been joyous as well. But just down the hall was the room where Emily had taken her last breath. And we had just discovered that our little boy was now gone, too.

We called our bishop and he came right over. Together we prayed, and Bishop Wadsworth expressed his love and concern. More tears were shed as Mark and I left for the hospital.

Arriving twenty minutes later at the hospital, a kind nurse, aware of our situation, tried to hurry us down the “happy corridor,” as it was called, past the rooms where all the laboring and delivering mothers were. We kept walking, around the corner, down another hall, into a room in the far corner. I noticed a recently posted, all-too-familiar sticker on the door, advising doctors and nurses that in this room there was a mother who would not be taking her baby home.

Seeing the Sunshine

A few days after losing the baby, I felt desperate to rid myself of the incredibly empty feeling I was experiencing, and I wondered if taking a walk would help. Spring had definitely arrived, and although everything outside continued to appear drab and dreary to me, I still longed for some fresh air. Nearby there was a park with a paved road almost half a mile long. I walked slowly about a fourth of the way around the track when I turned around and went home. Suddenly, I did not want to take a walk. At that moment I didn’t want anything except my baby.

The next morning was the beginning of another beautiful spring day. The warm sunshine beckoned me outside once more. However, I had the same experience I’d had the previous day—I walked just a short distance before I gave up, turned around, and went home. With tears flooding my eyes, I wondered if I would ever feel better.

The following week I awoke to again see the sun rising to greet a beautiful, fresh morning. I decided to try another walk. This time, though, I was determined to go just a little farther. I walked the short distance to the park and began my trek on the path. I got half way around and found myself screaming inside, No! I don’t want to do this! I just want to be pregnant! I want my baby! I hate this stinkin’ fresh air and walking, and I’m going home! With tears pouring down my face, I turned to leave. But after a few steps, I realized that it was the same distance to continue around the half-mile circle as it would be to go back. I stopped, and with great effort, turned myself back around. With each labored stride, I concentrated on taking just one step at a time.

It was the first real exercise I had experienced in months. Putting one foot in front of the other, I finally completed the circle. I had walked half a mile! Although I was out of breath as I returned home, the fresh air and morning sunshine truly felt revitalizing. I decided I wanted to do it again.

Over the next week, I took more early morning walks. During the next few weeks, I increased the time I spent walking, as well as adding a little distance each couple of days. It didn’t take more than a few weeks for my daily walks to become an anticipated habit. I looked forward to that peaceful time when I could sort out my feelings, work through my grief, and even pray. After a month, I still felt considerable sadness, but I sensed a small improvement. I noticed that it did not seem quite as drab as it had the morning I came home from the hospital. The sky now appeared a more vibrant blue. Even the sun seemed brighter.

A Message

One year Mark and his friend Gerry decided to run the Salt Lake City Deseret News Marathon. I was thrilled for Mark. It was also painful for me, though, because I wanted so badly to be doing it, too. I felt powerless and full of excuses. I must have asked myself a million times why I could not just do it. If I really wanted to run a marathon so much, why couldn’t I buckle down, lose weight, and begin training?

When the day of the big race came, I took our children down to meet Mark and Gerry at “Mile 19,” at the mouth of Emigration Canyon, bringing a supply of Gatorade and Ibuprofen.

We waited with the other well-wishers, clapping and shouting words of encouragement as each runner passed. It was inspiring to realize they had been running three hours already and to watch the effort they were making.

Then something happened that absolutely stunned me. One of the runners, a man about fifty years of age, came by. As he passed our little cheering section, he looked right at me and called out, “You should be out here!” I quickly glanced around. Is he really talking to me? It struck me at first that he must have meant that he was feeling so great that he wanted the whole lot of us to be out there, running with him. But he singled me out of the group. Why would he say that? It pierced my soul. I noticed that no one else in our little cheerleading cluster came close to being as heavy as I was. There was not a whole lot of reason to wonder why he singled me out. I was hoping none of the strangers around me had heard his comment, but I was sure some had. Although I tried to rationalize his behavior, I felt devastatingly numb, and terribly humiliated.

The children and I drove to the finish line and watched as Mark and Gerry triumphantly ran across. I also watched for the man who had spoken to me, secretly wanting to trip him. But I never saw him again. I wondered why his challenge affected me so much. The longer I thought about it, the ruder his comment seemed. Just because he had been running for three hours, did that entitle him to say anything he wanted to the spectators? Or was he bringing me a message?

Conquering Ourselves

Even though after that difficult run Mark said he would “never do it again,” he did run it a few years later. He vowed again that it would be his last marathon. It is a tough run! Both times, as he trained for the Deseret News Marathon, as well as when he ran the St. George, Utah Marathon, I admired his incredible determination. I also envied the immense satisfaction he obviously experienced when he finished the race and had reached his goal. I wanted so badly to be part of it. In the summer of 2001 I once again watched as Mark and our son, Nick, ran that day, this time completing the 10K portion of the Deseret News Marathon route.

However, that summer of 2001 was different. Thanks in part to my almost-daily walks, I had succeeded in losing forty pounds. I considered my situation. By this time next year, would I have lost enough additional weight, be in good enough shape, and be sufficiently trained to be able to complete the marathon? I already felt so much healthier!

Something wonderful happened that day. I began to think my dream of running this marathon actually had a glimmer of hope of becoming a reality. Then one morning, Mark and I went on a walk, and he encouraged me to run a little ways with him. We went farther than I had ever gone by myself. I was able to run about a quarter mile without stopping. I was ecstatic! A few months earlier I started out running ten paces, panting so hard I could barely breathe, and now I had worked up to running a quarter mile without stopping!

That Utah winter was rather mild, and I loved getting outside as much as I could to run. There were also days when I ran on the treadmill. I continued to think about the marathon.

I also hung a poster of Mount Everest on the wall in front of my treadmill. The caption was a declaration by Sir Edmund Hillary, one of my heroes. He stated, “It is not the mountains we conquer but ourselves.” I often reflected on that quote as I trained, and I realized how this marathon was becoming much more to me than just a race.

My Turn

July 24, 2002, 3:30 A.M. The buses waited in the cool darkness of the early morning. As I got out of the car, I looked up at the blanket of brightly shining stars in the clear sky. Was I actually here? I glanced over at my husband, Mark. We had talked about this moment for so many years—running The Salt Lake Deseret News Marathon—and doing it together. Now that it was actually happening, it seemed almost surreal.

The bus Mark and I boarded was almost full. I had goose bumps from the excitement and the cold as I walked down the aisle to my seat. I wondered if I should have worn something else on my legs, over my black spandex shorts. I smiled as I realized that just a few years ago I wouldn’t have dared to wear shorts around the house, let alone tight spandex in public! I knew the scorching heat would arrive in a few short hours, and I would be glad to be wearing the clothes I had on, even if it meant a bit of shivering before the race.

As I sat down, I adjusted my fanny pack, which held my tape player, favorite running songs that I would listen to when I wasn’t listening to Mark, and three packs of awful-tasting carbohydrate gel that would hopefully give me a few needed boosts. My list was there, too. I carefully folded it and put it in the pocket of my shorts. A few nights before, I had written down the names of all those who had helped me get that far. I wanted to dedicate a mile of the marathon to each of them. Compiling the list had been an emotional experience, as I realized how many angels there were in my life.

The bus finally pulled away from the safety and comfort of the parking lot and was soon on its way up the canyon. I looked over at Mark. I was so glad he was there, too. He had already run this marathon twice before, each time vowing never to do it again. I was about to find out why.

Running with Angels

We turned what would be the last corner, onto the final city block of the race. I looked toward the finish line. They hadn’t taken it down yet! We had been running for over five and a half hours. That was certainly no record, but today, speed did not matter. What counted was that I was actually there, fulfilling my dream of running a marathon, savoring every sweet, sweaty drop of effort, celebrating everything and everyone that had helped me get there. I knew my family would be waiting. Even though my legs felt as if they had been on autopilot for the last mile and a half, they throbbed with every painful step. But now it was easy to ignore the pain. Here I was, with Mark, 100 yards from the finish line of my first marathon.

So this is what it feels like! I had only seen it in their faces from behind the bright orange barricades; now I was actually a participant, a marathoner, experiencing the final stretch. It was still difficult to believe I was really within grasp of the finish line. I thought I saw some of the spectators wiping their eyes. I wasn’t sure if they were happy for us or if they just felt incredibly sorry for us. A sense of euphoric accomplishment swept over me, similar to what I had felt at the birth of my children.

I reached down and patted my list one more time. It held the names of those to whom I had dedicated each of the twenty-six miles. By now, the paper was moist and tattered and the writing smeared. Many times during this exhilarating run, I had pulled it out to review who was next on the list.

I dedicated mile twenty-five to my beloved Mark, beside me all the way. Together we had gone through dark valleys and over bright mountaintops, through storm and sunshine. He had shown sensitivity as we had mourned the loss of our children, discussed and prayed endlessly for the health of our daughters, and as we continued, simply trying to raise our family in a world of turmoil. He was at the same time a rock and a tender, loving husband and father. Mark had loved me no matter what I weighed. So many times I had entered a “weight loss marathon,” only to quit early in the race. Yet his support had never wavered during all of my attempts, and I appreciated his kindness and patience more than I can say. This time I had hung on for dear life, with Mark by my side—and the finish line was finally in sight!

I dedicated the last mile to me. As I ran the last fifty yards, I wept as I realized that just over a hundred pounds ago I was able to run only ten steps before I became so winded I had to stop. And today I had run twenty-six miles. Wearily yet triumphantly, I raised my arms, mostly because that is how I pictured coming across the finish line.

Then, clutching Mark’s hand, we crossed the finish line together. 

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