When I saw Fishhook Lake there through the woods, I was beyond wasted–I was ready to give up on this 50 miler. Problem is, I was at of the most remote points of the run, so to quit just meant I had to get my self out.
And I was NOT going to quit anyway.
It was at about mile 35. I ached, I was breathing hard even when I walked, and that little voice in my brain was muttering “you idiot” or some such satanic drivel.
And as I stumbled up to the little stream with the lake is full view, there he was.
John Maxwell taught us years ago, “You never know when the next person you meet is going to change your life forever”.
And once again it happens.
This guy is standing there on the rocks by the lake taking a photo with his phone. The same guy I had been trying to avoid all day…talking to himself, dressed in a button down plaid shirt (for an ultra?), always seeming to be in my way. The same guy who sat too close to me at the prerace session – he bothered me. Scruffy, ill dressed for the grueling day, disconnected from other runners–was he even registered for this thing?
So I said hi and proceeded to pass by him and try to distance myself when he asked something like “How you doin’, man?”. I was honest and said “I’m dyin’ here.”
And so he proceeded to ask me about 10 questions as we walked onward–mostly about exactly–I man exactly- how far it was to the finish (18 miles or so), and how long exactly it would take (I told him I wasn’t sure… but just keep going and he would make it). Then he asked about my family–and I was knowing that this was no time for small talk.
“So you want to run together for awhile?”
No–I thought. We aren’t running here anyway–I thought. We are just surviving this thing.
But he just stayed behind me chattering away and he seemed to have a tick–like a severe, going off kind of tick. He also was having problems keeping his balance.
And he just kept chattering–which kept both of us moving.
The he told me,” I have Tourette’s, I’m pretty OCD, and my balance is terrible”. He continued saying that he had been a college student years ago when he developed a brain tumor. The surgery at M. D. Anderson in Houston to remove it had left him as he is. Pretty majorly debilitated.
So soon he knows all our kids names and ages and location–along with many other things. He has a sharp mind and caress about people.
We laugh as he tells me I am like an old bear following him and he is the rabbit. And now we have nicknames.
Then we come to an aid station at Long Lake and I force some food on him–he dines on noodle soup with Gatorade–I tell him don’t think about it, just swill it because you need it.
I also tell him this is the toughest section to come–6.8 miles uphill mostly with 13 plus miles total to the end.And I get him by his hard, sinewy shoulders and tell him we are going to make it. He nods with a smile and we are off.
“You back there, Bear?”
“I’m here Rabbit”
In moments I hear him chuckle between ticks and mutter, “6 miles up, 6 miles down. Piece of cake.” I’m starting to love this guy.
This brutal undulating trail is sucking every bit of energy, water, and hope out of us step by step and this Rabbit is keeping me alive.
Then as we struggle up across the back of the ridge above Steamboat, he starts telling me more about his condition:
- “When we get to the bottom, I need to sit in the corner when we get something to eat–can’t have people behind me. But I am behind you! Yes but you are like an old bear, remember?”
- “I never can sneak up on a bear–I go off and they know I am coming.”
- Never could play hide and seek either as a kid–never could hide.
So we laugh and encourage each other as the trail eats away at any energy and breath we have left.
Then he proceeds to tell me that he has run some Iron Man deals–like 18 of them. And he can hardly stay on the trail his balance is so poor! He said the problem with the Iron Man competition is that he would fall of the bike when his tick acted up–and that he went bonkers with all those people around him in the water.
I realize what a walking–running miracle this guy is. And I thank God for the gift of being enriched and encouraged and helped by this “rabbit”.
At last we get to the last aid station. It is cold, windy, late and we are iffy on making it to the bottom before the cutoff. So I tell him, “Michael go ahead without me”. And he insists “No Way!’—but I prevail and he shuffles off ahead as I try to get some warm-ups on with frozen hands–and head down the hill in the dark. Alone.
So my new friend is Michael Conway: The Iron Man.
And my life has been changed forever.
Click that link to the Houston Chronicle article and yours may be too.
Debbie Hensleigh, Speaker