Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Marathon Founder Sparked Boom

photo credit Mike Deal Winnipeg Free Press
Every so often, our communities are shaped by someone who creates something out of nothing, with a creative spark and an unbridled passion that can galvanize thousands, or even an entire community.
John Robertson did that in 1978. He ran the Boston Marathon and brought his love of that event back to Winnipeg, combining it with a new-found passion for community living for people with mental illness after a horrific fire at the Manitoba Developmental Centre.
From this came the first Manitoba Marathon in 1979. I was one of 4,500 runners at that first marathon, undertrained but young and stubborn, caught up in his zeal and with a full pledge sheet. Somehow I made it to the finish line in the old Winnipeg Stadium, the first of many for me.
In that small act, John brought the full force of the running boom to Manitoba, and to me personally. Being hugged by a good friend at that 1979 finish line ("It's OK, Allan, you can stop running now"), I found my way into the volunteer world of the running community, and eventually to the position of race director from 1984 to 1989 -- perhaps the best "job" I've ever had.
I got to know John over those years, and even as his health started to fail, he could be counted on as a volunteer at the finish line with his wife, Betty, draping medals over the necks of proud, exhausted and grateful full-marathon finishers.
John loved how the event grew and evolved to reach out into schools and families while keeping in touch with its roots -- the support for community living and the importance of standing up for those who were yet to discover their own voices.
John's legacy, from that small and extraordinary spark, will always live on. We owe him so much.

(Winnipeg Free Press, Letter to the Editor, January 29, 2014)

Sunday, January 26, 2014

A Letter to Jamie McDonald; You're Almost There.

Dear Jamie,

On November 8 I wrote you a letter in which I made a personal vow.  I promised you that I would run to the Canadian Museum of Human Rights and drape a Flash cape over the Mahatma Gandhi statue when you completed your journey.  In my letter to you I made connections between your spirit of overwhelming goodness and that of Mahatma Gandhi's.  You, my friend, create a groundswell of human kindness. Your actions ignite a beacon of hope; hope for sick children, hope for their families, hope for little Samuel. 

Five year old Samuel of Thunder Bay, Ontario who, as we read these words, is facing the end of his beautiful life.  With tremendous courage, eloquence and grace Samuel's mother writes....

Sammy's cancer has returned and he is out of treatment options. For now, we are enjoying every day and he is living a full, joyful life as best he can. It is devastating for us, obviously, but it is also motivating to make sure you know that what you are doing is going to help change the outcome for kids like him in the future! 

As best he can, Samuel lives a full, joyful life. 

The mother's words fill us with such sorrow, such deep unrepentant sorrow. We don't know Samuel, we don't know Samuel's mother and yet we do. We all have a Samuel of a different name in our hearts and in our minds. My Samuel is John, my brother. Samuel's mother is Dee, my mother.  I understand the sorrow and the hopelessness of such loss. Until we experience the loss of a child, a brother, a sister, we don't truly understand sorrow.  It is a sorrow of profound depth and breadth. It is a sorrow that has no bottom, no sides, no top, no end. It is simply emptiness, eternal emptiness.  It is the continual presence of absence (jdf). 

Jamie, you embody the African proverb when you pray, move your feet.  Each and everyone of your footsteps has provided comfort to a sick child, and their family.  Your legacy to us is a galaxy of prayer, a galaxy of hope. You have moved your feet and in doing so you have prayed infinitely. We are in awe of your courage, your spirit, your prayer. For this we have no words of gratitude, for words simply fail to evoke how we feel.  That blessed feel of coming close to graciousness and extreme humbleness. 

A galaxy of prayer. A galaxy of hope. For this we are indebted.

You are almost finished.  I had my doubts as Bridget will attest. I was afraid for your safety.  I almost wrote you to tell you to quit.  I didn't know you then.  Now I know the true Jamie; man of steel, man of Flash, man of hope. 

Now, to the promise.  On Sunday, February 2, 2014 a small delegation of Winnipeg runners will gather at the bust of Terry Fox in gorgeous Assiniboine Park at 9AM.  We will depart on a slow dance towards the Forks via the river trail.  We will assemble at the foot of Mahatma Gandhi in the shadows of the stunning Canadian Museum of Human Rights.  We will pay tribute to you, to Mahatma, to Terry. We will think of beautiful little Samuel and his loving family.  We will think of pain and sorrow. We will think of bravery and courage, of hope, and hopelessness. We will hang our heads and say a prayer of thanks.  We will hug.  We will cry a little cry.  We will drape a Flash Cape, respectfully -ever so respectfully and meaningfully- over the shoulder of Gandhi and watch the cold bronze face glow with pride.  This we do in the name of Jamie McDonald, Flash.

Capes optional.

Donations of cash will be accepted.

All welcome... walkers, wheelers, runners, injured.

It is a good day to be alive.