We looked around the starting line at the thousands of other competitors and two things became quite clear: most of them had been training hard for this half-marathon, and we probably could have trained a bit harder. Of course, in some respects, my mother and I had been training for this day my entire life.
I don’t exactly remember our first walks together, but judging by my expression in the pictures, I was clearly having the time of my life. My shiny bald head peeked out of her navy backpack, and my toothless smile lit up the idyllic mountain scene behind us of her beloved Vail.
When I was a bit more stable on my feet, I would run around, enjoying my newfound freedom. At times, I was a young colt, inhaling the soft spray of the Atlantic Ocean, my young legs becoming increasingly sure of themselves with each new step.
Over time, I became a little mountain goat, trotting up the sand dunes of First Landing State Park as fast as my feet would let me.
On the day of the race, roughly a quarter-century and one child later, I was feeling more like a beached whale than a spry gazelle. But that didn’t matter much once the race announcer called our corral to the front of the line. He blew the horn, and we were off.
We didn’t have any grandiose visions of finishing at the front of the pack, or even in the first 10,000 participants, but that didn’t matter much. We were simply mother and daughter, trotting along, and somewhat oblivious to the other racers around us.
While I was striding through the course, I was also running through my years of memories walking with my mother. Most frequently, we would walk along the loop in our Virginia Beach neighborhood, unraveling the problems of our world and admiring the exquisitely manicured lawns along the way.
If I were awkward and upset when I wasn’t invited to a slumber party, we’d keep on walking. When I would be frustrated by schoolwork and not know where I would go to college, we’d keep on walking. Whether I’d struggle with decisions of roommates or housing or boys, we’d keep on walking.
Of course, in the triumphant moments of new romance, dear friendships, successful weight loss, or exciting jobs, we’d keep on walking with an added spring in our step.
In time, each issue would become a shadow of its former self until it ultimately faded into the distance behind us. Moments of joy and sorrow would pass just the same, though we’d often cling to the joyful ones a bit longer.
We walked not only to shed the literal excess pounds, but also burn off the weights of life that are far better off in the hands of God than on our fragile shoulders. Other times our walks were mere dances of joy.
No matter the season in our lives, we walked together. There were times when the dancing was a bit more like limping, and moments when I would have preferred her to scoop me up into the backpack of my childhood so I wouldn’t have to deal with problems like popped blisters on the bottom of my toes.
Mile 10 of the half-marathon was no exception, and my throbbing feet were begging for mercy. But that morning, like so many others, she didn’t let me give up or even slow down. She simply walked beside me, and focused my attention on our ultimate goal.
The past exertion would pale in comparison to the knowledge of our achievement, and when I saw the flashing lights of the end of the race, and smelled the sweet, salty air from the ocean next to me, I felt the same sense of exhilaration as I did when I was a young girl after a successful ascent to the top of a sand dune.
Like so many situations we had walked through over the years, we emerged a little sore, but ultimately stronger.
I looked past the throngs of racers and fans to see my four-month-old sitting contentedly in her stroller waiting for us at the finish line. Her sapphire eyes gleamed more brilliantly than the finisher’s medal around my neck. As her soft thighs melted into my hands, I smiled knowing that our racing days were only beginning.