This week marked the 2nd anniversary of the Southern Caiifornia Valor Run 161 miler – in which I along with two amazing runners, a logistics/support driver, and a 198? RV, went from the VA hospital in Los Angeles to the top of Mt Soledad Veterans’ Memorial in San Diego, 161 miles for 161 women killed supporting combat operations since 9/11. Considering how impactful this event was in my life, it’s hard to believe that it sort of happened by chance.
I heard about Valor Run, and the amazing women who completed this memorial run before me, by random. I was heading up to the Pacific Northwest to run the Jack and Jill Downhill marathon. Something in Facebook’s algorithm must have picked up on that and showed me a post from Bridgett, a Marine who was completing the run. Chance had it that we were in town for the event and my friends and I got to share a few miles with her.
I was heading up to the PNW because the Pathman family told me about this sweet race. I had met Jim and Riley years before as they flew by me during the first 1.5 miles of the Marine Corps Marathon (another example of doing something on a whim). Jim actually picked me up from the airport when I first moved to San Diego. He lent me his car, which I dinged up, and then lent me his RV for this adventure, which I also dinged up, but so did Becca!
I met Becca a year or so prior to the Valor Run, in the Philippines. We were both assigned to an exercise that demanded very little of either of our talents. So we mostly passed the time eating Samosas and doing a wine mile in the sauna that is Manila in May. Becca got out of the Marine Corps shortly after that meeting (I swear she was leaving before she met me), but we stayed in touch and she graciously agreed to take a pause on her world-wide travelling to drive me and my two friends down the coast – as well as make our sandwiches, answer our phones, restock our groceries, take our pictures, map our course, refill our camelbacks, tell us jokes, and keep our spirits as high as possible. Becs shows her love through service, and man she must have really loved us.
She did have some help though. Sam’s wonderful family came out in spades to support. I had met Sam a year or so prior to Valor Run. I was heading out to AZ to help crew for a friend’s 100 miler and decided to look at the entry list to see if anyone was travelling from San Diego. I found Sam. I creepily looked her up on social media, decided she didn’t look like a total weirdo or dangerous criminal and we carpooled to the desert. Our friendship grew with every 4am hike and impassioned conversation about feminism or various other social injustices. Sam is one of the most impressive, badass ultra-athletes I know the fourth side to our little trapezoid – Michelle.
Of all the folks on the run, I knew Michelle the longest, so it’s no surprise that she was one of the first people to jump in, running shows first, for this adventure. Michelle is hands down the best ultra-runner I know. Not just because she crushes races – winning her first ever 100-miler (only a few minutes off the women’s record), and not just because she trains at 3am in order to her intense surgical residency program (I won’t even tell you where she went to school), but because after meeting her at a race (that she won while I dropped out at 50 miles), she got my number from a friend a few days later and reached out to check on me. She doesn’t have an athlete profile on Facebook, she doesn’t even have sponsors any more (although she could have both), she’s just not that kind of person. She’s the kind of person who calls a stranger after she fails to ask her how she’s feeling.
I could write a whole blog post about how awesome my friends are, but that’s not what this is about. This is about how lucky I am that I met all these folks – that the winds of chance brought them all into my life.
Looking back, it seems like it was pure luck, meeting these folks at those times, but then again, maybe not. Maybe it was choice over chance. I often say that I make all my major life decisions on a whim – but I still make the decisions. After all, I had chosen to be a runner so many years ago. I had chosen to go to San Diego (with some urging from the Marine Corps0. I had chosen to run that first Marine Corps Marathon when my friend dared me I couldn’t. I had chosen to try (and fail) at my first 100. I had chosen to risk being the weirdo on the internet and reach out to Sam before a race, and I had chosen to go to the Philippines for an exercise. Of all the bad choices I’ve made in my life, I’ve made some pretty amazing ones too.
And mostly I chose to try and befriend these folks, or maybe they chose me? I don’t really believe in a design maybe it is just chance….or maybe I have more control then I think. I know it’s a mix – of chance and choice, but I’m not sure the balance. I’m not so arrogant as to think that all of my good fortune is a direct and complete result of good choices. Nor am I so naïve or fatalist as to think that my choices don’t matter. Maybe I’ll never know the ratio. Maybe the best I can do is recognize the chance when it comes – for love, for growth, for friendship and, then choose it. And choose it hard.