Tuesday, October 17, 2006

(Juli on the left, me on the right)

The second anniversary is approaching. Last year, a group of young women I've worked with gave me a necklace in memory of Thomas--a silver teardrop with a ruby, his birthstone, in the middle and his initials engraved on the side. I don't wear it all the time, just when I need to. I also don't carry his dogtags with me unless it's particularly relevant as it will be on this coming Veteran's Day.

I really think that Thomas would have chosen this day to die if he had been asked. Because it is a day when we in the United States honor all of our veterans, a lot of events are held by many organizations. Last year, two of Thomas's Army friends came, put on their uniforms and went to visit his grave and reminisce (by the end of the weekend, they also made their way to Arlington to visit the grave of Michael Bordelon, who had been Thomas's first sergeant). The next day, a Saturday, I took part in a fun run/kayak race event held by Team River Runner as part of the Wounded Warriors Project. TRR has been teaching amputees and others who are recovering at Walter Reed Army Medical Center how to kayak. For more on them, go to www.teamriverrunner.org And how did I get involved with this event? Go back to the very beginning of this story when I had to call my employer to tell them I would not be in. The receptionist, Juli Werner, took that message and then, for all the months since then, she has been making sure that I'm as all right as I can be. Juli has been a competitive cyclist since I've known her, and she is legally blind. When the race came up, she said "How about it?" She would kayak and I would run, though truth to tell she is a much better kayaker than I am a runner.

I hesitated a bit, not sure how I'd do in a competitive (sort of) environment. I hadn't run a race of any description since college and I was now 50 years old. When I had taken up running again at age 44, I had told myself it was strictly for fitness and that I would never make myself compete again. This seemed a bit different though. By the end of July or beginning of August, I was seeing that it could be a positive goal to work toward instead of simply dreading the anniversary date. As I jogged down my street one very sunny and hot morning, a butterfly landed in front of me, sooty grey with bright blue spots on the edges of the wings. I'd been thinking about Thomas and the race and it just seemed like this butterfly could be a messenger--it kept flying up the street in front of me and pausing to look back. Then it flew towards me, brushing my cheek and disappearing. Thomas would have found the whole episode unbearably corny, but I decided to take it as a sign. I bought a new pair of running shoes and started stretching out my runs.

The story of that day's race, the Blood, Sweat, Toil and Triumph Run-Boat Biathlon, is told very well on the Team River Runner website (though to clarify a bit, Thomas was the only American killed that day in Mosul). It was an incredible day, and I guess I'm going to do it again this year. It's hard to say no to Juli, and to the people who have been helped by this program. So, in something less than four weeks, on Veteran's Day, we'll be out there again paddling and running our little hearts out. I'll be carrying Thomas's dog tags while I run (and walk) and then hand them off to Juli so she can head up the Potomac in her kayak.

I need new shoes.


At October 22, 2006 at 8:26:00 PM PDT , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lee Ann,
I am so glad to see you are going to do the run again! You may just see that butterfly rooting you on. Thomas would be proud. I will be thinking of both of you on Veterans Day.
ps you are doing a great job here on your We Remember blog. We DO remember.


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