The runner already is attracting stares.
He is wearing $20 Walmart sneakers. He has a four inch red mohawk, which sprouts from his head like the feathers of an odd bird.
On this cool St. Louis morning, the other athletes wonder what he is doing at the starting line of a grueling 26.2 mile run.
Runner number 1023 can explain his presence in two words. Earlier he has printed the black letters on a simple white sheet of paper. Before he begins the long run, he poses for a picture with the paper in his hand. It reads: SANDRA MITCHELL.
Just days ago George sent me an email: “I promise to hold your name every race until you are cured.”
“Geo” might attract stares anywhere. His eyebrows are dyed the same color as his cherry Kool Aid mohawk. He has a ring through his nose. The holes in both his ears are so big, I easily could slide a tube of lipstick through them. But when I look at the picture he has sent to me, I see something else. Determination. Compassion. Honesty.
Geo and I met on my recent visit to New Orleans. He was working at “The Hard Rock Cafe” in The French Quarter. We stopped in to buy a souvenir and left with a lesson in humanity. In the four minutes it took for my daughter to look at the t-shirt selection, Geo listened to the story of my diagnosis and prognosis. “I’m a marathon runner,” he said proudly. “I’ll run in your name.” We hugged and went on our way. I never expected to hear from Geo again. But a few days later the picture was in my e-mail box with this message: “You inspire me to find strength to run harder.”
New Orleans, St. Louis, Detroit, Savannah, he’s running a marathon a week. In his marathon bag, he always carries the paper with my name on it.
I struggle to understand why a stranger would do this for me. Cancer, I’ve learned, is a bigger cause that connects us all. He is simply one person reaching out to another. Geo also runs because right now, I can’t. The daily radiation treatments are beginning to take their toll. Some days the fatigue settles on my body like an unwelcome house guest. “Time for you to leave now I think, I want my old life back!”
I am only half way through my treatments, it is hard for me to see the finish line. But my support system now stretches across the United States, to a city that knows how to recover from devastation. Alone in the radiation tunnel, I imagine the sweet sounds of a New Orleans jazz trumpet, and Geo’s encouraging words: “When you have conquered this, we will do a marathon together.”
When I finally cross this finish line, I know my loved ones will be there to witness the accomplishment. In a crowd of thousands, I should be easy to find. I’ll be the one running hand in hand with the guy with the red mohawk.