Looking at the journey of a runner is a little bit like looking at the rings of a tree. When you cut into the trunk, you can see the progression of seasons and the effect it’s had on the growth of the organism. In times of drought, fire, plague, and other pollutants the tree is forced to conserve, to change, and to grow a thicker skin on the outside in order to endure a long lifetime of a constantly changing external environment.
As a runner you’re more than aware of similar changing conditions on the road and – even harder – in life. I’ve learned not to question the intentions of this unique community. Instead, I’m only able to absorb the stories in utter admiration for what the human body is capable of, but even more so what the drives a human soul.
Below is the story of a beautiful soul, a bit of his running journey, and a small peak into his heart story.
Runspiration: John Fiore
John ran his first marathon in 2004. He began his journey somewhat out of shape, and certainly undertrained. Yet in November 2004, having spent the better part of the day completing his race, he crossed the finish line at 6:02, a marathon within a marathon. He questioned how he was going to drag himself back to the Port Authority to catch the bus home to New Jersey, but it didn’t matter. What an accomplishment.
A year later, John’s dad was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer, and John was forced to watch this incredibly brave man battle a disease that took hold and would not let go. After fighting cancer’s attack John’s dad passed away at home with the family in June 2005.
The experience re-ignited a fire in John, setting his mind to run the 2006 NYC marathon again, this time with Fred’s Team. Supported by the friends that become family, for an organization that runs to Imagine a world without cancer, John met others exposed to the harsh realities of cancer. He also met doctors, nurses, and the staff of Memorial Sloan Kettering cancer center and was able to train while raising money for ground-breaking research in the field. In November 2006, John completed his second marathon.
That was 11 years and 11 marathons ago.
Today John is a multi-marathoner, mentor, and Fred’s Team family. Each year he recaps his marathon memories. In 2015, the defining moment came at mile 17:
…First major milestone is coming at mile 17, 1st Avenue and 63rd Street. Yes we have trained for 26.2 miles, but everyone knows mile 17. Mile 17 is home of MSKCC and our primary Fred’s Team cheer zone is probably the most emotional moment of the day.
We are coming out of Queens via the 59th Street Bridge feeling ok. This is a long and steep bridge that can mentally break you down.
My strategy was to take my time and think what lies ahead at Mile 17. As I come off the bridge and make the right up 1st avenue you can literally hear the roar from the millions of spectators. You probably have heard commentators try to describe but you need to be there!
As I draw closer to MSKCC I can feel all the emotion beginning to build and then I can see our team photographers snapping pictures of every Fred’s Team runner passing by. They give me the thumbs up, and there they were. To my right there it is MSKCC - a block long with hundreds of screaming fans giving me high fives and screaming, “GO DOODLE DAD, WE LOVE YOU, THANK YOU, YOUR ROCK.”
For the first time in 11 years I walked that block. Instead of running, giving high fives, hugging, the staff I have come to know and seeing at least 2 kids from the pediatric ward with their big foam fingers yelling “GOOOO….” I waited to pass the block and quite literally fell apart. Behind me was fellow mentor Margaret Hodges who stopped, hugged me and wanted to make sure everything was ok…
Running for time, running for a PR, running for the sake of running is awesome but running for charity is at a different level. Cheers to all those charity runners YOU ROCK.
Whatever brings you out to the road, let it shape your story. Let it thicken your skin like the rings on a tree. Be humbled by the hard times – the drought, pollution, loss, and challenge that the world present. But don’t stop growing, don’t stop loving, don’t stop moving. Let the stories inspire you to be a part of this community. Take one step, then another, feel the road and the wind.
Let it heal your soul.