Looking back at the past few Octobers of my life, this seems to be a month of particular inspiration for me.
Two years ago I participated in my first Army Ten Miler (ATM) race at the request of my friend Donna, who was undergoing cancer treatment and wanted to have a goal to shoot for during her recovery process. We ran/walked that race along with wounded warriers and 35,000 other racers honoring our heroes.
Last year I ran the ATM to honor Donna, who had intended to sign up again for the race but was forced to sit it out by anther cancer recurrence. She was so disappointed that I told her I’d run her part AND my part, instead of run/walking. Donna is doing fine now. (Yay!)
I hadn’t signed up for an October race this year, needing to focus every last ounce of my physical and emotional energy on finishing my book. I mean really finishing it, down to the final cover design and footnote proofreading—I’m so close! (I have learned that there are many “I’m done’s” over the course of writing a book.)
So I was absolutely delighted when my friend Judy posted a request on the Vienna/Oakton, VA, Moms Run This Town (MRTT) Facebook page asking if anyone would be up for running an informal 5-K race to honor her father. Judy’s announcement of the Never Too Old (NTO) 5K went up just a few days before the event, but the response was immediate.
Judy’s father, Dr. Ing-Sei Hwang, is a cardiovascular surgeon who retired at age 71 after working 80-hour weeks his entire career. He has, apparently, always been extraordinary. When he was young his mother died of malaria in Taipei during World War II. Ing-Sei worked his way up to become one of the top medical students in Taiwan and was given the opportunity to train in the United States. He was allowed to stay. (Round of applause for our hard-working immigrants!) Judy’s mother spoke no English when they arrived and wasn’t allowed to drive. Take a look at this beautiful couple today.
Dr. Hwang started exercising after his retirement, really for the first time in his life. In 2013, he ran his first 5K race during a visit with Judy and their extended family. He was so excited to finish that he wore his medal to a formal dinner that night and on the plane home. He couldn’t wait to do it again. Last weekend the family was back in town for Judy’s mother’s 70th birthday celebration. But they couldn’t find an official race that fit their schedule. So Judy put the call out to our MRTT community.
In her note, she described her father as “the kindest man I know.” She later told me he used to peel her grapes for her as a child. What? It made me rethink my “fend for yourself” parenting style. Too late now.
So we gathered at 8:00 a.m. on Sunday, October 11, at the Red Caboose in Vienna, VA—family members, running girlfriends, kids of running girlfriends, dogs of running girlfriends. It was a glorious, sunny day with the perfect touch of autumn chill in the air. Dr. Hwang was humble and gracious. Judy got choked up thanking us all for being there. We all got choked up watching Judy get choked up.
We took off, happy and inspired, all of us at our own pace. It was a straight trail run, a tad over one and a half miles out and back for the 3.2 mile (5K) distance.
Dr. Hwang had a smile on his face when we passed him on the way back. As I’ve written here before, my running motto is “Slow Is the New Fast.” Dr. Hwang was going really fast, and it was wonderful.
When we saw him making his way toward the finish line, knee braces still in place and sweat glistening on his forehead, we all started to cheer. His smile broadened, and he broke through the finish line ribbon.
After he had caught his breath, he told me, “I’m so proud of my daughter. I didn’t want to let her down. I was worried I had to stop, but I kept thinking of all of you waiting here for me. I know you had to wait a long time!”
What a lovely soul. What a gift to have met him. And what a great teacher he is for all of us as we move forward to our senior years.
“When I turn 76 I’m going to find you and we’ll run another 5K together,” I told him. He laughed. But I’m quite serious about that.
What about you? Whom have you met lately who inspires you? I’d love to hear your story in the comments!
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