Earning a Gold Medal
Article by: Dick MichenerReproduced with permission of the author
A quiet but moving and unexpected awards ceremony took place last Saturday morning, after all the novices had finished their training for one of our club's Turkey Trot races on Thanksgiving morning.
An unexpected but authentic gold medal was awarded at that ceremony. Presenting that medal was a friend of my wife Sandy and myself, a quiet but loving, unassuming but determined, 77 year old triathlete whom I'll call hero. If you saw hero before, during or after a training session or a road race or a triathlon, you would find only one word to describe him: dapper.
Hero had terrible things happen to him during World War II. Only a few friends or medical professionals who took care of him know anything about what happened to him. He got well enough for his first release from a hospital in 1947. What happened to him during the war caused residual problems in a number of physical and mental areas. Sandy had the privilege of caring for him when some of these residual problems flared up.
In spite of those continuing problems, hero became a proud and productive citizen, husband, father, grandfather, and long-time member of our club. Whenever hero was hospitalized during the past 53 years for physical and/or mental problems, he focused on encouraging staff and patients.
On one occasion, he was hospitalized for a physical problem. Once he had recovered enough to get out of bed, he was ordered not to walk without assistance, and otherwise to use a wheelchair.
Hero had an important race coming up and was adamant about not losing any more training time than absolutely necessary. He understood the hospital rules but was determined to bend them to his advantage.
Whenever Sandy and hero meet, they both grin, remembering a unique and shared experience. Picture a large ward of a large nursing home in a large hospital about 4 a.m. Everything is quiet. Several nurses are doing paperwork at a nursing station. Suddenly, down a hallway at the far end of the ward, first there comes a whoosh, and then a momentary glimpse of something moving in the dark.
The nurses blink their eyes, shake their heads, and ask each other an unspoken mutual question: did we really hear or see anything? Shortly thereafter, the answer comes as a louder whoosh returns down that distant and darkened hallway, and two dim and indistinct figures move quickly in and out of sight.
Investigating, the nurses find hero, dressed in a hospital gown and running shoes, moving faster and faster while pushing a wheelchair in front of him up and down that darkened hallway.
What, thunders the nurse in charge, do you think you're doing? This is against all hospital regulations. No, it's not, replies hero. I was told I could move around, either with a wheelchair, or with assistance. I'm using the wheelchair for assistance, pushing it ahead of me in case I have a problem with balance or traction. Why, he is asked, are you up at such an ungodly hour? This is Florida, hero replies. I'm usually up at 4 a.m. to start my training, especially my long runs. And, at this time of the morning, there's no one in the hallway, and I'm moving quietly, so I'm not waking anybody up.
Later that day, and for several days thereafter, conferences are held among the high and the mighty, the elite and the expert, in the nursing home and in the hospital. Lofty and lengthy debates are waged about what to do with hero.
In the meantime, hero continues to train up and down that darkened hallway until he is released. He is released earlier than expected. No official reason ever is given for his early release. However, some people suspect that there was fear of an uprising.
What would happen, in a nursing home in a hospital, if a convoy of patients followed hero's example, arose from the prisons of their beds, shook off their medical shackles, and started training with hero, patients and wheelchairs moving en masse up and down darkened hallways in the wee hours of the morning?
Back to last Saturday's unexpected awards ceremony. Once everyone has finished training and has chatted and hydrated, hero motions a lady over to a table in the park shelter which our club has reserved on Saturday mornings for the ten weeks of Turkey Trot training. He motions her to sit down along with a few of his friends, including Sandy and myself. This lady, a veteran nurse, also has taken care of hero.
This lady, a neighbor and a friend of hero, has resisted his suggestion that she take up running as relief from the physical problems and the personal stress which she has been suffering without complaint for years.
Last Saturday morning, lady tells hero, I have enough guts to come training with you. Last Saturday morning is a first day of walking and running for lady. She does well. She and Sandy bond when they discover that they both are nurses, from the same part of the country, who have taken care of hero on different occasions.
Out of a small paper bag sitting unobtrusively on the table, hero plucks a gold medal and, before lady can react, he places it around her neck. It is a gold medal which he won in a national championship event a couple of years ago. Lady, says hero, on a battlefield or in a race, some medals are awarded for performance.
Most medals, hero continues, on a battlefield or in a race, are given and earned simply for the courage to move forward. You've earned this gold medal, he tells lady, because of the courage which you displayed this morning by coming here and walking and running for 25 minutes. Wear it proudly, hero insists.
Lady, hero concludes, award this medal some day to someone else who also has earned it.
Dick Michener is a runner, a writer, and an entrepreneur in St. Petersburg, Florida (USA). His essays and stories about running and other topics have been published in print and online venues in the USA, Canada, and Australia. Running has helped him to become a recovered heart patient. He intends to become a recovered diabetic. Feel free to contact him at his e-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org.