This past Sunday, Alex’s sister, Kaitlyn, ran her first Flying Pig Half Marathon. She raced as part of Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA’s) Team Momentum to raise funds, create awareness, and support research for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. She ran to help kids like her brother who cannot run for themselves.
After dropping off Kaitlyn among a sea of runners and wishing her well, we parked downtown and worked our way towards the marathon course. Along the way, and per his usual behavior, Alex fist-bumped good-luck wishes to several runners and tossed good-morning nods to many coffee-carrying spectators. We settled near the corner of Seventh and Sycamore where Alex then befriended a man sitting next to us. The man had just moved to Cincinnati a few weeks ago and was sitting alone. The pair talked and cheered while the fastest marathoners sprinted past seemingly without effort and ahead of the endless wave of runners soon passing in all shapes, sizes, and bright-colored shirts/shoes. Alex and his newest friend talked superhero movies and Star Wars while we continually swiveled our heads looking for our daughter.
At one point, I overheard a conversation that warmed my heart. Team Diego (a Dad pushing his 11-year-old son who lives with Duchenne) had just passed in front of us, prompting Alex to share with the man that he, too, had Duchenne just like Diego. I continued to watch the mass of runners, but listened with interest to hear how the man would respond to Alex’s openness.
The man didn’t miss a beat.
“Well, I’m sure that’s no fun,” he said sincerely. The man then added. “But, it looks like you’re doing great! Keep up the good work!”
I turned around enough to see Alex beam with pride that his new friend understood how he felt about Duchenne and welcomed him for whom he was - a kid just like any other.
What struck me is the man didn’t have to say anything. He could have dodged the question or conveniently cheered passing runners in supposed distraction. He could have nodded a simple “oh, really?” and then turn away focused on the race. But, he didn’t. He engaged Alex, gave him his full attention, and pumped him with assurance that he was no different from anyone else. I smiled, equally impressed by the man’s kindness, and then turned fortunately in time to catch a glimpse of Kaitlyn as she raced eastward towards the hills of Mount Adams.
We then wished the kind man well and headed towards the riverfront to find a spot at the Finish Swine (I’m telling you, Cincinnati puts on a great race!). There, we jockeyed for position while Alex roamed the area behind us. Being in a wheelchair, Alex could not see beyond all the standing bodies, but he didn’t let that bother him. From a distance, I watched as Alex nodded hello’s to everyone he could, talked with several new friends, and pet many thirsty dogs. But, when I looked back and saw him talking with a man dressed in black…ALL BLACK…I did a double-take!
Not for fear, but amazement.
The SWAT officer smiled and said Alex is not causing any trouble and then graciously posed for a picture. He shared a fist-bump with Alex before moving on to more official duties.
Not much longer, we watched Kaitlyn finish strong and under her goal time of two hours! We moved to find her in the post-race party zone, where both the bad and the good of humanity soon revealed itself.
The party zone receives runners funneled from the finish line, and includes tents, booths, merchandise, music, and fun! It's also packed with people as exhausted runners stagger about looking for friends, family, food, or drink. Though some lie collapsed in fatigue on the lawn, most runners are euphoric and smiling for completing the race. Family and friends are supportive and full of praise for the incredible efforts. For the most part, the party zone is a festive atmosphere.
But, there’s always that one ignorant person.
“Wheelchairs don’t belong here where the runners are!” A man said with annoyance and directly to Alex as he pushed passed his wheelchair and into the crowd.
Just as fast as the man spewed his hateful words, he was lost in the mass of people.
Fortunately, Alex took the rude comment in stride. This wasn’t the first time he had heard such ignorance, and won’t be the last. But, come on! Does that man honestly believe Alex enjoys gridlock, ever-worried of clipping heals with his foot tray, and equally worried others would bump his extended feet (note: twisted ankles are painfully common in crowds). Did the man think Alex wasn’t equally entitled to enjoy the party zone? Did he even think about his implication? Alex would gladly exchange his limp, still legs for the man's tired, achy legs...any day!
We dismissed the man’s ugly words as we made our way through the crowd and listened to Kaitlyn recount her journey.
That is when Alex received an incredible act of kindness that made our day and quickly restored our faith in humanity. Out of nowhere, a gray-haired man in a navy blue t-shirt, shorts, and running shoes, stopped Alex among the throng of people. He placed a caring hand on his shoulder, smiled warmly, and then gave Alex his race medal.
“Here, buddy. This is for you!”
Alex lurched in surprise, but then gradually beamed with pride. Standing alongside, Kristy and I couldn’t believe what just happened. We looked up in amazement, but the man was already gone, disappearing into the crowd just as quickly as he had appeared.
Alex looked to the medal resting on his chest.
“Dad! Did you see what that man just gave me!?”
I did, but didn’t know what to say. It seemed the man knew what just happened. It seemed the man knew Alex would run if he could. It seemed the man knew Duchenne.
“Whoa, this thing is heavy!” Alex continued with excitement. He then tossed a sideways, teasing, glance towards his sister as if to say…and I didn’t even have to run 13.1 miles to get it!
Kaitlyn responded kindly, “Whoa! That is so cool!”
Kristy and I beamed with happiness for our kids, who were BOTH champions!
Sore legs and all, we eventually made our way through the crowds, back to our van, and then back home. We reflected on the eventful day. Kaitlyn raised Duchenne awareness, challenged herself, and beat her goal time. Alex made friends, avoided arrest, and got a medal. Kristy and I simply enjoyed our time together as a family. We smiled as we remembered the friendly man sitting near Seventh and Sycamore. We laughed thinking of the caring SWAT officer. We smiled with joy and gratitude for the gray-haired man who gave his medal to Alex.
We also thought how the day showed that despite the ignorance of some who believe others only get in their way, simple acts of kindness win…ALWAYS!
Even in a city where pigs fly!