Last summer we took our kids to the local High School to support a school fundraising event. The energy was almost electric as kids were running around and laughing - it felt all too familiar to my own childhood experience not many years ago.
My older kids quickly disappeared into the crowd with their friends leaving Mitch and I behind. All around us were physically capable people running, jumping and doing things with their bodies Mitch wished so badly he could do. He pointed to some boys running around the track at cheetah speed and said, “Dad, I wish I could do that.” I kissed his face and told him that one day he wouldn't have Muscular Dystrophy … that one day his body would be made whole; but for now, we needed to be patient. He squeezed my hand, smiled softly and we carried on. I’m not sure I made him feel any better … I’d like to think I did … but I could tell he was chewing my words.
As we crossed the track I took this photo and posted it on Instagram with the caption “Races are Relative”. I showed Mitch the photo and told him what I thought “races are relative” meant … that the only person he needs to compete with was the person he was yesterday. Everybody else is irrelevant. I also told him that his physical skills or material talents were far less important than the kind of person he was. I took that moment to reinforce what I have long taught all my kids: the most important thing you’ll ever do in this life is to be good to people.
It wasn't long before Mitchell’s older brother and cousin came back to get him and together they took turns pushing Mitch in his wheelchair around the track at full-sprint. Mitch smiled and laughed and had so much fun feeling the air rush through his hair and on his face. It was awesome. Mitchell’s smile warmed my heart and soul.
This weekend there will be a run and fundraiser in honor of Mitch and to support my family’s mission to fight DMD. While someone will inevitably cross the finish line first tomorrow morning, being first isn't the point of the 5K. In fact, it seems that tomorrow’s run is (and any run like it) is symbolic of the purpose of life, really. The point of it all isn't to best others, but to better ourselves – and I’m convinced we do this best by loving and serving each other.
It wasn't long ago Mitch attended a Special Olympics/Activity Day hosted by our school district. He was nervous because he knew his limitations and was afraid of being asked to do things that might accidentally hurt him. We assured him that was not the case and he agreed to go.
There was every manner of person and medical condition at that event – some were crippled, others nearly decimated by physical deformity. During one race, one of the most medically complex children finally crossed the finish line lying on her back in her electronic wheelchair, long after everyone else. This young child was met with tears, gratitude and loving pride by her family, supporters and volunteers. She smiled and jolted with excitement. Mitch and I watched this beautiful soul who was so glad to simply participate. She wasn't in a race against others – but in a soul-building effort to do her very best and that was all that mattered. Mitch and I looked at her, and then to each other as our eyes filled with tears. We were so happy for her. She ran, and she won. And so did everybody that loved and supported her.
I was fascinated to see Mitchell's deep empathy for others - that he would become emotionally moved by the triumphs of another person. That experience touched me to the core. Little Mitch also ran races that day in his own wheelchair and we were so proud of him. He did his very best and that was all that mattered. But he loved others, and that mattered even more.
Races are relative. And because of my son, not a day goes by I don’t ask myself how I’m running mine.