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I almost missed the start of the race.

Even though my team was Leary Firefighters Foundation I was really not going to be racing with them. Since I was riding a recumbent trike I was put in the handcycle division, which had an earlier starting time by about an hour. Had everything gone according to schedule the difference in start times wouldn’t have been an issue. But of course things did not go according to plan.

Several emails and phone calls (OK, OK, dozens, is more accurate) had gone back and forth prior to the marathon in attempts to figure out the logistics of what had never been done before, at least by Team LFF—how to get a woman and her trike and her 80lb service dog comfortably and safely transported to the start of the race. Would the trike even fit on the bus? Not to mention, who would care for said service dog while said woman was participating in said race?

Gary would be there to root for me and hopefully get some photos, rushing from place to place for sightings, but the crowds and subway would be potentially dangerous for Luke. Luke and I have trouble navigating around the tourists and citizens of NYC on a good day; marathon day would be prohibitive in the extreme. In large groups of moving people sightlines are usually just that, at eye level. People, in general, aren’t expecting there to be something or someone traveling at knee or waist height. Which means that poor Luke gets bumped into and stepped on by accident. And often that translates into me stumbling or falling as well. NYC folks are fast and focused on their destinations. Many of them are talking on their cell phones or listening to iPods so they don’t hear when I try to warn them about an impending collision with my furry companion. The teeming clusters waiting to get on and off the subway seem in some kind of hypnotic zone, paying even less attention. Guess I don’t have to tell you that a fall on the stairs or the train platform is decidedly more dangerous. Suffice it to say that Luke + NYC Marathon crowds = Not a good idea.

At long last it was determined by Mardi & Sharon (from LFF) that the trike would indeed fit on the bus, a kind firefighter or teammate would help manhandle the trike on and off for me, and a volunteer would take Luke back to the hotel where the after-parties for NYPD & FDNY were being held. I would meet up with Gary after the race near the finish line and he would accompany me back to the hotel. If I were too fatigued to ride any further, then Gary would put me in a cab to the hotel and drag the trike back. If for some reason Gary and I could not find one another after the race in all the crowds and celebration and confusion, I would find an NYPD or FDNY volunteer and someone would radio for another marathon volunteer to help me out.

– That’s Sharon, Mardi & me in the photo, right.

A plan was in place, so on race day morning as we began to board the buses to Staten Island for the start of the race, Mardi Grant introduced me to Lucas, an LFF teammate, who’d be helping me with the trike and then take Luke when I got to my starting area and deliver him back to Mardi or someone else who would get him to her. I was a little concerned—not that Lucas or Mardi wouldn’t take excellent care of my boy—but that perhaps Luke might be anxious. The only people he’s ever been handed over to the care of are Gary or the vet. Luke and I do everything together. So I worried a bit, like a mother dropping her kid off with a sitter, I suppose, that Luke might miss me or be anxious. I worried that he might be worried about me, which he so often seems to do on the few times that we are very rarely apart from one another.

Sitting on the bus next to Lucas was a good thing because it gave us a chance to visit and get to know one another a little; it also gave Luke some time to get used to Lucas’ voice and smell and touch. It gave me the opportunity to witness their interactions, all of which reassured me completely that Luke would be fine. Besides, I figured the name Lucas was a good sign. That just so happens to be one of Luke’s nicknames.

Lucas and I talked about running shoes—Brooks for me, Mizuno for him. (I pretty much live in running shoes for the cushion factor, to mitigate joint pain. And, truth be known, I think running shoe manufacturers should hire me as a test person because my damaged hip & knee joints can discern–with superpower speed & accuracy–what the cushion/comfort factor of any given shoe is. This could be called the gift on the flip-side of the painful joints curse. Or, it would be a gift, if I could actually get a shoe-testing gig!)

Lucas and I discussed why we’d chosen to be a part of LFF & how we’d first come to know of the foundation. He learned about LFF from an annual comedy fundraiser that Denis Leary does with Cam Neely (http://www.camneelyfoundation.org/) of hockey fame. I learned about LFF through following Michael J Fox, who’d been a guest star on Rescue Me. Some media piece about that role linked to Denis Leary and that led me to a benefit that both Fox and Leary had done for LFF.

– Luke & Lucas celebrating post-race in photo, left.

As I’ve mentioned in this blog before, Fox is one of my heroes, the reason I went from feeling victimized by MS to becoming someone convicted of the need to create a fulfilling, joy-infused, juicy-good purposeful life in spite of MS. I was secretly hoping that I might spot him on the sidelines of the marathon. I know that he shows up to cheer for Team Fox and I wanted to catch sight of him, to wave Hello. I wanted, in my heart of hearts, to pretend that he was cheering for me, too. Just for a moment. I wanted to imagine that my hero would see me doing this thing, this wild lark of an adventure. Without his example, I never would’ve even thought to strive toward recapturing a dream that every ounce of common sense said was unlikely, unreasonable, unadvisable.

Our bus full of Team LFF and other FDNY racers was still sitting in front of the hotel. In fact hadn’t budged a foot. A little trickle of sweat edged along my spine, joined by the first niggles of electrified fear that I might not get to my starting area in time if we didn’t depart for Staten Island very soon. Like, now.

Lucas and I talked more about LFF and Denis Leary and Michael J Fox and Achilles Foundation and hockey (he was surprised someone from Texas was a hockey fan & knew of Cam Neely, which sent me off on fond memories of Houston Aeroes games and my crushes on Gordie Howe & Wayne Gretzky). Then it seemed a natural segue to go from hockey, to injuries. Both of us had managed to hurt ourselves in the days prior to the marathon. Hearing our  tales, the young woman sitting next to us chimed in with her injury story too. Then, as if on cue, each of us reached for the part of our body that was afflicted!  I bore *three* sore/slightly-maimed bits. So my hand kind of levitated in the direction of my legs, then floated back downward and rested again on Luke’s golden furry head.

A couple days before leaving for NY I was putting my trike into the back of Gary’s SUV and lost my balance as I bumped the front end of the trike against the front seat. The tires bounced and the trike rolled back out and onto me, trapping me there on the asphalt of my street. (a very humbling & embarrassing moment) I finally managed to maneuver from under the trike, but I pulled groin muscles on both sides in the struggle. Uhm, owww. If that wasn’t enough, I followed up the Woman VS Trike wrestling incident with an act of more-than-slight-stupidity.

Once in New York City I took a cab to the office of Leary Firefighters Foundation to pick up my team jersey. From there I planned to walk up to Madison Square Park where a popular dog run is located, give Luke a romp with some other dogs while I drank some hot tea or coffee, then take a bus over to the convention center to get my racing bib & bag, as well as check in with the folks from Achilles Foundation who’d helped me with a lot of things leading up to the race—most especially with advice and encouragement when I was petitioning the race officials of NYRR for permission to use a recumbent trike as reasonable accommodation for a disability.

Meeting in person and visiting with Mardi Grant and Sharon Badal was great fun and I wanted to hang out with them and welcome the other team runners as they came to pick up their jerseys, but I had a big day ahead. The walking and bus-riding and convention center navigation was not going to be a piece of cake by any means. Especially since I was already sore from the airport travel and flight and still-grumbly previous injury. Mardi & Sharon gifted Luke with his own LFF T-shirt which he wore proudly as we walked through the city and up to the park, just a mile and a half. A couple of people even stopped to ask us about the text on the shirt and I was thrilled to have an opportunity to talk up Leary Firefighters Foundation.

All the team members of LFF were given a shopping bag full of goodies donated by sponsors and other donors to the Foundation—swag score! With hindsight, I should’ve asked if I could leave the bag there and pick it up the Monday after the race. But I didn’t even think about that until I was a couple blocks away and juggling the bag from one side to the other, alternating the hand holding onto Luke’s leather harness. The walk wasn’t too great of a distance, not under normal circumstances, anyway. I often walked twice that with Luke around Memorial or Herman Park at home. But neither was I usually carrying a bag with extra weight. And then there were the pulled groin muscles which hadn’t felt too rough earlier, but began to feel warm and tweaked the further I walked carrying that bag.

I’m not sure if it was the distance plus the weight of the bag, or the slightly altered way I’d been walking since straining the groin muscles, or maybe it was all of that put together. And of course the real consequences didn’t manifest until later that afternoon when the muscles and tendons on the outer side of my shins began to tighten, gather heat & throb. I went into immediate R. I. C. E. mode: resting, icing, compressing and elevating. But I could tell from how much it hurt so soon that I’d really managed to mess myself up. Like I said, more-than-slight-stupidity on my part. This was Friday, and the race was early Sunday morning. What had I done?

Finally the bus began to move and get us going to Staten Island. It was pretty heavy traffic and a lot of detours were necessary because of road and bridge closures due to the marathon route. By the time we finally pulled into the long line of busses carrying other teams and racers on the island, I was 15 minutes away from my start time for the handcycle division and I could actually see handcylists warming up, doing some test runs on the bridge. We were far enough away that getting off the bus and trying to trike there wasn’t really an option, especially since I had no idea where to go. The people directing everyone to their start areas were up at the drop-off area—several lengths of busses were ahead of us with other vehicles staggered in between and masses of racers crossing at intervals.

Lucas attempted to calm me down and help problem solve the situation. I tried to reach Mardi—who was riding on another bus with the rest of our group—to ask for her advice, but I didn’t get an answer. Lucas and I decided that as soon as the bus stopped we’d get off with Luke and the trike, stop the first FDNY or NYPD member with a walkie-talkie and beg them to find out from someone where we needed to be and the fastest way to get there. Which is exactly what we did when the door finally hissed open and let us free.

We followed the directions we were given, Lucas dragging the trike and Luke & I trucking alongside. I finally took the lead and starting hollering Pardon me! Excuse me! in my best Southern-girl drawl, hoping to sound less-rude with the Southern twang. I needed people to pay attention and make way–fast–but didn’t want to offend. Between Luke & I walking in tandem and Lucas manhandling the trike, we were definitely a wide-load attempting to move swiftly against the current of feet and bodies—all of them seeming to be headed anywhere but the direction we were aiming. My pulse was pounding in my ears and my nerves were a jangling mess; adrenaline was humming and buzzing and zipping through my bloodstream like racecars at the Indy 500.

We stopped to ask another police officer with a walkie-talkie if we were headed in the right direction, but before I got the words out of my mouth a line of handcyclists began to go by about 20 feet away, headed for the ramp to the bridge. They were going to the starting line. Without me!

PLEASE SUPPORT MY EFFORTS IN THE 2011 NEW YORK CITY MARATHON! WITH TEAM LEARY FIREFIGHTERS FOUNDATION

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