This past Sunday Marijo and I made our way to Ottawa to participate in the Army Run. Marijo ran the 1/2 marathon, a distance of 21.1 km and I walked in the 5k, in a division called ‘ill and injured’. We both had many thoughts and emotions that I am going to try and share below.
Firstly, a number of weeks ago I entered my story into a contest in ‘iRun’, a popular Canadian running magazine. I won the contest, and, as a result, my story was published in the September issue. The prize was that I would be accompanied by a soldier for the Army Run. When we arrived at the run, a number of people recognized me from the magazine and stopped us to talk or take a photo. It was sort of cool.
Secondly, this run was a very important to me. I had not been in any large city centre run before, able-bodied or as an amputee, and I wanted to do the walk with just a cane, which I had never done before.
We met up with Mathieu Giard, the soldier who had volunteered to walk alongside of me for the run. Mattieu suffered a serious injury while serving in the military a few years ago, but there was nothing visually that gave away his injury, so to look at him, you would not know what he had been through as a young man. He was also dressed as a civilian, so it was not obvious that he was military. Mathieu and I got to know each other as we walked together. He is an amazing guy and I was honored to meet him.
We also met Robert Clarke, a Master Warrant Officer, and one of the principal organizers of the run. Even though he was incredibly busy on race day, he helped Marijo and I feel comfortable and safe during the day.As Mathieu and I waited in the corral for the ‘ill and injured’, I found myself overwhelmed with emotion. In front of us were about 100 other ‘ill and injured’, many being soldiers. Directly behind us were several thousand people chomping at the bit to begin their run – which didn’t start until 15 minutes after our small group left. In the midst of feeling quite vulnerable and awkward – scared that I was going to be overrun by the able bodied runners – humbled by the many men and women who were injured so that I could be free and realizing that many mistook me for a soldier, which I was not – I asked Mathieu to hold onto the stump of what used to be my arm, and held me steady. Marijo captured the moment in one of the shots above. She was moved to tears.The cannon went off and Mathieu and I began our 5 km walk in last place – sometimes arm-in-arm for support, and sometimes stride-for-stride. The thousands of other runners did overtake us eventually, but I felt secure with Mathieu watching my back. The crowds enthusiasm and my fellow runners support were amazing. Shouting, clapping, thumbs up signs – all of which made you want to do your best. But still, I knew many mistook me for an injured soldier, so when people shouted thank you for what I had done, I told Mathieu that those comments were for him. I had long stopped trying to explain but I wanted Mathieu to soak up what was meant for him and all the other soldiers.I struggled walking during the run and remember at the 2km marker saying ‘there must be a mistake. Surely we must have gone at least 4km.’ We walked passed groups of fireman and police that clapped for us and although I felt that pang of guilt that I was not one of them, I reminded myself that I had fought my own battle, it’s just that I had a different enemy called flesh eating disease. When we were a few steps from finishing, I asked Mathieu to hold his arm in mine to cross the finish line together. I had the biggest smile on my face and we came in with a time of 1 hr & 22 minutes …pretty much dead last ….but man did we feel like winners!
Thank you Mathieu and Robert for blessing this event. Thank you to all those soldiers that gave me the honour and privilege to be able to participate. My beautiful wife ran a personal best in the half marathon coming in at 2 hrs & 11 minutes. My granddaughter Caryissa only 4 wks old was at the finish line to greet me along with my son and his wife. To the wonderful gals Kathline & Lisa from irun Magazine – thanks for your smiles and your support.Thank you to Stephan and Giuseppe, fellow amputees for your encouragement. You are both an inspiration to me.
Marijo and I will be attending this event for a long time forward.
To the Canadian soldier I simply say thank you.