The morning of Sunday, June 26th, I experienced the happiest moment of my life. Here is the story.
I reached out to an old running friend of mine on a cold day back in December 2015. I was in the Milwaukee area for some training for work and I wanted to run a few miles with a familiar face. I hadn’t seen David in years and was thankful there was a Badgerland Striders event that he invited me to run with him.
As we ran loops around the Milwaukee Zoo we caught up on each other’s lives, laughed, and talked about what races we had planned for the next calendar year. Just days prior David found out his name was pulled in the lottery for the Western States 100 – this was a big deal! Western States is essentially the Super Bowl of ultra running, and he was going to have the opportunity to fulfill that running dream of his the following June.
Much to my surprise, he then asked me if I would go with and pace him for some of the miles. I instantly accepted his offer.
The next six months seemingly dragged on as we both could hardly contain our excitement to experience the ultimate in distance running. We’d frequently message back and forth to count down the days, talk about what we were most excited for, and devise our game plan of how I could be the most useful to him on the trail.
As David toed the line at 5am, June 25th in Squaw Valley, California, the sun was starting to hint at its arrival, the path up the Escarpment was lit up, and I felt the impending exhilaration of the day. This was IT – it was time to help my friend achieve a dream!
I was able to see David, along with the rest of his crew at miles 30 and 55.7. It wasn’t what I expected. He is the most tenacious, consistent runner I know, and he looked rough. He looked thin, ashen, and was barely speaking. I was scheduled to start running with him at mile 62… and I was worried.
As the sun set and the anxiety began to build among the crew, I knew I had to keep a calm head. I wanted to balance easing his wife’s fears for his health, with pushing my friend through the dark hours to realize his goal. His dream. His whole reasoning for us to be out there.
Our first miles were in the dark along winding single track that was almost all down hill. We would alternate slow jogging with walking, consistently trying to find something that would calm his stomach and refuel his body. When someone has already run 60+ miles and feels that sick, all you can do is be patient and wait for the body to respond.
I like to think I appeared calm, confident, and decisive while I was helping David. In all reality I felt freaked out, unprepared for anything medically that could happen, and desperate to get him across the finish line.
Multiple times during these dark miles (both literally and figuratively) I’d tell him ‘just make it to the river crossing – that will be the jolt you need to reset your system and it will feel like a completely different run after that.’ The Rucky Chucky river crossing was at mile 78. He started to rebound a bit by mile 72, but he was still not himself.
As we approached the river crossing his crew was there, and I was grateful that he was feeling a little better – I knew his family was concerned, and I can’t blame them. This course had been kicking his ass.
Crossing the river was exactly what I had hoped for – deep and cold. It came up to my chest and was wide enough that we were in the water for a decent amount of time. Hiking up the 1.8 mile climb on the opposite side showed me that David was perking up. He was talking more, developing an appetite for things, and was able to reflect on how amazing it was that we just experienced an iconic moment on the course.
From here is when things got magical.
As soon as we got to some flat or downhill sections of trail I stopped asking him if he was ready to run – I would just go, and he’d follow. My hearing was tuned in like a parent with a new born baby – I was listening for any change in his cadence or breathing, knowing that would tell me if his wheels were falling off again.
I have no concept of how long we had this effortless rhythm going, but it must have been hours. He perked up more and more, and then I started to notice the sun peeking up from behind the mountains. This provided both of us with a surge of excitement – the beauty of seeing a new day appear in a remote section of the Sierra Nevada’s was incredible.
As we made a turn in the woods I began to hear the music of the next aid station. I prompted David to be thinking about what he wanted to eat next, and kept pushing the pace subtly, as I knew we were making up a lot of time.
About a mile later we got to the aid station. The sun was now almost over the peaks, music was playing loudly, bacon was frying, and the volunteers greeted us like we were old friends they’d been anxiously awaiting. I stood back and observed David – the way he was interacting with the volunteers, what he was eating and drinking, his facial expressions- and I knew. I knew he was fine. He had completely bounced back, the spark was in his eye again, he could laugh, and he was himself. I knew he’d make it to the finish well before the cutoff. I knew he was going to live his dream in just a few short hours.
I quietly made my way to the end of the aid station so I could just watch and feel the power of the moment. A song started to play loudly on the speakers – one I’d never heard before, but WOW did it hit me. The song was ‘Hard Sun‘ by Eddie Vedder, and it made up the soundtrack to the most amazing experience I had ever felt.
Time slowed down and I was extremely aware of everything. The sun filtering through the tall pines, the smell of bacon cooking, the sensation of my blood moving quickly while feeling like I could easily run another 30 miles, the fire in David’s eyes, the crescendo of the last 8 hours culminating in this moment I wanted to hold on to forever.
I was witnessing the resilience of the human spirit, the warmth and love from the volunteers, and the mesmerizing beauty of the mountains around us. I tried to hold back the tears that were welling up. I turned away to get myself together and quickly realized it was futile. I wanted to embrace this fully – the tears fell, I had the most genuine smile I’ve ever had, and my heart was overflowing. Pure magic.
For me, there is nothing more powerful or beautiful than helping someone else achieve a dream. Witnessing this powerful turning point and feeling so much joy that it was pouring out of me was something I’ll always hold on to.
That driving force to help people achieve their dreams is evident in everything I invest myself in. My friendships, the athletes I coach, the wonderful people that work for me, even strangers that I happen to strike up a conversation with at the store. I’m floored at the magnitude of dreams that people have, and to see them come true is so much more meaningful that any achievement I could ever have personally.
Thank you for taking the time to share in this amazing moment I had. It was way too impactful to keep for myself.
It is more personal than most things I see on LinkedIn, but to be human is to be personal. To share dreams is to be personal. And a life fully lived requires being personal.