Finishing Is The Reward

Last month, I reported on my then-upcoming adventure at the Marathon Des Sables Peru in a post called Crunch Time. If you were unable to follow along with the race, I’m happy to report that I did complete the 155-mile, six-stage event, ranked in the top 100 competitors—which was my stated goal in an even earlier post, All About The Goal—and as the top ranked American in the field. Finishing this footrace was no easy accomplishment, but always with the end in mind, I did manage to work through challenges during the race and come away happy with my results.

Just as rewarding has been the amazing success of our fundraising campaign, called Polio’s Last Mile. This campaign, a partnership with the Rotary Club of Middletown, California, has already raised over $70,000 in a final push to completely eradicate polio from our planet. These dollars are matched two-for-one by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. That means enough money to vaccinate half a million children and keep the necessary infrastructure in place long enough to declare a final victory in a few short years.


Please join us: donate at End Polio Now. #polioslastmile

I remember the brainstorming session we had at a local brew pub when we came up with the title to this campaign, Polio’s Last Mile. The name comes from my view that the campaign against polio is much like running in an ultra-endurance event—the first mile and the last mile are the most difficult. The final push to eradicate polio will be difficult, like finishing that last mile of a long and difficult race on foot. But finishing is the reward, and we will finish it—we’re this close.

Along the way, I have met some awe-inspiring people. There was a young Italian man who finished the MDS Peru with a rank of 25. He had not even trained for the race and only found out he was going to Peru five days before we were all to meet up in Lima. And there was a man of about my age from Florida that had never entered such an event. He finished well down in the ranks, not being a runner, but was completely happy with his results each and every day.

Brien, Edward and Francesco of Camp #36.

Before the race, and while on tour at speaking engagements for our Polio’s Last Mile fundraising effort, I met a young woman from Nepal that had polio during her childhood and walked with the use of crutches and leg braces. She was the most inspiring; a woman that had met those challenges head on and had come to the States to study for an advanced degree. Article about Sharda Parjauli.

Dr. Pate Thomson (left) and Sharda Parjauli.

During my running of the Marathon Des Sables, challenges arose. They always do. How we meet those challenges is the measure of our mettle, but sometimes it just isn’t your day. Some stages were more difficult than expected, like day one. The course took us down mile after mile of the dry Rio Nazca. It was hot in that riverbed and many runners suffered heat stroke and severe dehydration. Many managed it, others didn’t. Some dropped from the race or were disqualified for not making the required cutoff time limits.

The single most difficult hurdle for most runners was the supplied water, a mineral-ladened fizzy spring water from the local Andes mountains. A liter or two of that water might be delightful on occasion, but consuming eight to twelve liters per day was incredibly difficult—and seriously hard on one’s kidneys.

Wind was another of those challenges to meet head on—quite literally. During the long stage, the 43 mile stage four, we made best progress possible into a 25-mph headwind, and every day, while setting up—or trying to set up—our single-person tents, the afternoon winds added to the challenge. It certainly tested my mental endurance.

But life goes on. We met the challenges and enjoyed the blessings: friendly volunteers, an idyllic beach camp, a cold Coke on our one rest day, and the final finish line. That last mile was difficult. Not so much from physical effort or exhaustion, but from the emotional wave of gratitude and sense of accomplishment in completing the race and being part of something bigger than one’s self, helping to end polio.

Please join us: donate at End Polio Now. #polioslastmile

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