Life is a marathon but not a race. Stop to enjoy the glorious moments because in the end, you will have done right by the world.
How To Run a Marathon in Italy
In 2006, I was wondering the City one day with my good friend, Matt Peake. It was a glorious, sunny Winter day, matching our moods. As we turned a corner in the Theater District, we saw the doors open to “Ruby Skye”, a popular nightclub in our younger years. Being the ever so curious female, I walked inside to see if there was any “fun” starting early.
Instead of the typical audio equipment and band setting up, there were tables of pamphlets with running gear and representatives chatting with customers. Definitely not what we had in mind. As we turned to leave, I saw the logo for the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and paused.
The memories of the AIDS (Auto Immune Deficiency Syndrome) epidemic came rushing back to me and a pang of sadness took over. In 1985, I landed my first job out of school in the structural engineering industry. At 21, I was dealing with the severity of being the only female in a company of 40 men. Although the men were professional and kind, my rascally side wanted more humor in my days.
Thankfully, the architects that I worked with in multiple firms were my real sunshine. There was something about their personalities that fed the side of me left unanswered in an engineering office. We became the type of friends I always longed for growing up; friends that were brilliant, chatty, hilarious and visionary.
Then one day, a workday conversation turned serious. “I’m devastated”, my friend relayed. “He’s gone.” That was my cold introduction to the pandemic that was sweeping through San Francisco, unanswered. Considered a “gay disease”, AIDS was given free rein by the community, with little resources to discover its cause let alone its cure.
When You Don’t Know What to Do, Just Start
I was shocked that governing professionals could act so callously to the far reaching devastation of human lives. It was innocence broken and trust shattered. My family wouldn’t visit me in the City out of fear of contamination. Without any organized assistance to join, I could only listen to the stories from my friends and offer sympathy.
Flash forward 21 years and I knew in an instant what to do. The event at Ruby Skye was in support of volunteers offering to run the Florence Marathon in Italy, raising funds to donate to the Foundation. I loved running but never thought of a marathon from sheer fear of exhaustive pain. Enduring that pain and raising funds was the best answer to my question back then: What can I do?
Even with 4 months of training, I wasn’t sure I could actually finish, especially after tearing a calf muscle. But the lure of Italy was too great and I was determined to at least start. Life would tell me what would happen next.
Even after a spectacular Thanksgiving feast at a local restaurant, I had full blown jitters on start day. I was so grateful that my daughters would be in the crowd to cheer me on. Our small group of 4, me and 3 guys (Yup!, still the only female), made a day of it. We lingered at the pit stops where the elderly Italian women offered cappuccinos and cookies. We took every picture possible along the route and kept ourselves laughing as best we could.
I crossed the finished line, heard my name called out and began sobbing. All the pain from 20 years prior, coupled with the intensity of raising my daughters alone, came pouring out. Finishing the marathon was my homage to my friends and family and my plea for understanding: “I’m trying my best. I won’t give up.”
Today, I look back and think this was one of my craziest ideas. (here’s Matt’s video of our adventure!) Thinking I could run a marathon at 43 definitely did not involve my brain. My soul was yearning to do something to make things right in the world. AIDS is no longer a death threat or associated with shame. Society has come a long way to support and care for people who were shunned in the past. Institutions like the SF AIDS Foundation have been the core of the progress.
When life seems so unfair and hopeless, pause and tell yourself, “Life is a marathon but not a race. Stop to enjoy the glorious moments because in the end, you will have done right by the world.”