Saturday, April 27, 2013

So much more than a Marathon

A few weeks ago, thousands of runners from around the world geared up for the Boston Marathon.  Millions of family members, friends, and supporters of those runners were ready to cheer on the Marathoners.  For me, and for many other people with dwarfism, the race this year would have more significance than ever before.  Two athletes with dwarfism had qualified to run the Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013.  I know of at least one other dwarf who has run a marathon, a man from Poland who had limb lengthening surgery.  But Juli Windsor and John Young were the first people with dwarfism to qualify for the Boston Marathon.  Enthusiasm for Juli and John within the dwarfism community reached an apex on Sunday, April 14 when a front page article about Juli and John was published in the Boston Globe.   I am not sure at what point something on the internet qualifies as "going viral," but within a few hours the Boston Globe article saturated the news feeds of hundreds of little people with Facebook pages.

Both Juli and John used the Boston Globe opportunity to advocate for awareness.  They both talk about the obstacles they are forced to deal with because of their physical differences. Most of those obstacles relate to the inability of strangers to deal with difference.  Both Juli and John run to deal with the obstacles and send a positive message about dwarfism.  In a section about John, the Boston Globe reporter David Abel wrote, "'The people who support and encourage me are the ones that get me to the starting line, while the ones who doubt or ridicule me are the ones that carry me to the finish line,' he said. 'Whenever I really start to hurt, I think of someone laughing, pointing, and saying, ‘You can’t do that!’ and it seems to give me the strength to carry on.'"
John Young. Photo taken from Boston Globe Article on April 14
Everyone, not just those running  the Marathon and those following the Marathon, knows what happened in Boston on April 15 in the afternoon.  I was at work when I heard about the explosions.  Like so many others, I took to the internet to verify what my office mates had said, and to try to learn more details.  Once it became clear that the horrific explosions had occurred, I went to social media.  I soon learned that in addition to Juli and John, several other members of Little People of America were in Boston, among the thousands of spectators cheering on the runners. Though many events surrounding the Marathon were tragedies that continued to unfold days after April 15, I found a small piece of what happened within the dwarfism community on April 15 to be uplifting and encouraging. Scores of people with dwarfism rallied around Facebook.  First, people posted questions, asking about the safety of John, Juli and the spectators.  Then, people shared what information they knew, posting 'Juli is safe,' and 'John is safe.' With the runners accounted for, everyone focused on the spectators, soon learning that they too were safe. 

I didn't know many of the people posting messages over social media, but it felt good to have a connection with the community during such a frightening time.  A post Juli later made underscored just how important that connection is.  Juli was just a half mile from the finish line when the first bomb exploded.  Officials immediately closed down the course.  Juli couldn't get to where her husband, mother, and mother-in-law waited at the finish line.  They were safe, but cut off from Juli.  Unable to reach her family, Juli turned around and ran back along the course.  She wrote, "When all this happened, I ran back to John Young who I knew was less than a mile behind me. John Young, I really am so thankful you were there and it provided so much comfort to be with someone I knew. We may not have crossed the finish line, but we achieved something today."  

I hurt for all the families that were impacted by the events of April 15.  I hurt for John and Juli.  They were both so close to finishing what they had worked so hard to achieve.   But I am also grateful to John and Juli.  As Juli wrote, they did achieve something.  They brought a community together on April 15, and they made me realize how lucky I am to be part of that community. 

No comments:

Post a Comment