When I was younger, I was a swimmer. I swam in summer leagues and then eventually for my high school team. Not much of a sprinter, I was always the one they signed up for the long distance swims. The worst one was the 500 meter swim and it was literally 10 Olympic pool laps long. It was definitely a test of endurance but the part I always found especially challenging was that the coaches wanted me to “kick it up a notch” for the last lap. After enduring 500 exhausting meters, it seemed insane to expect someone to start swimming harder and faster. And yet that’s exactly what we did. Somewhere in the dark recesses of our tired minds was the ability to summon our bodies to go just a little further and just a little faster and races were literally won in those final few meters.
There’s a group of us participating in a virtual challenge to raise funds for Lily’s Pad and the idea was to choose a challenge that pushed you personally. We have some crazy folks trying to hit 150 miles in 30 days and others who are stretching to get to 100. As for me, 60 is the magic number. Two miles a day Monday through Friday, four on Saturday and a rest on Sunday. Perhaps if I had only set out to walk those miles, I’d be fine. But I wanted to push myself so I added the challenge of running some of them as well. In all honesty, I kind of hate running. It’s monotonous, I’m very slow and it hurts so many of my joints I resemble a tin man when I get started. I’m 50 miles into my challenge and I’ve ran almost 10 of them. It’s a big deal for me.
So as I set off this morning on my walk, I started to think about the tasks ahead of me for Lily’s Pad and how I was going to get them done. If I’m being truthful, yesterday was a bit of a rut for me. The fundraising goal I had set for October seems miles away and I haven’t seen a new donation towards it in several days. Every idea I could come up with seemed to have already been done or to now be impossible due to COVID-19 restrictions. I left work yesterday feeling a little bruised and a little battered and I can’t say I woke up feeling any less beaten. But I strapped on my tennis shoes and my knee braces and headed out the door for two miles of exercise I was mentally unprepared for and definitely not in the mood for.
It was a tough morning, I’m not going to lie. I told myself it was okay just to walk the whole thing. Forget the running. I could have a pass. As long as I put one foot in front of the other, I got credit for getting it done. But as I continued on, a random memory came to mind. It was about a year and a half ago. I was watching my niece so my brother and his wife could have a lunch date. Lily was at my house and she was having a rough day. She was exhausted. And when I say exhausted, I mean the kind that I doubt I’ve ever personally experienced. She was very deep into her cancer treatments and she probably should have been fast asleep on the couch. Her legs ached but she really wanted to go upstairs and play. I offered to carry her up the stairs. She refused. Apparently just getting up there wasn’t enough. She wanted to do it herself. And so she did. Slowly, I’m guessing painfully, she climbed all 15 steps by herself and made it across the landing to play. In fact, she pretty much ran those last few steps. This memory popped up for me just when I was ready to give myself a pass for not pushing towards my goals. My little niece had the gumption to climb those stairs herself when no one would have blamed her for getting a ride up and she had even dug deep enough to quicken her pace when the goal was near. As I thought more about this, that tin man in me slowly came to life and I began to run. I ran past the park even though I had told myself I could stop there. I ran past the street that marked halfway, even though I promised my aching legs they could stop there. And when I came to the final part of my run, I ran faster and harder and ten yards farther than I had planned.
This morning reminded me that inside each of us is the ability to pour out a little more. To get to a goal and then surpass it. To run further, harder, faster. To climb the stairs when no one expects us to. Building Lily’s Pad has not been a sprint. It’s been a slow and steady race with a goal that sometimes seems to keep moving further away from me. But that’s okay because inside of me, just like inside of you, is what it takes to weather the storm. I think of all these kids who head to treatments they don’t want to all the while showering us with smiles instead of tears. I think of their ability to keep going and to dig deeper. That’s what I’m going to focus on as I move towards my goals of building Lily’s Pad. Not how long the race is or how far we have to go, but on our ability to do more than we think we can and to weather storms longer than we believe possible. To all of my fellow Virtual Challengers who are pushing past sore muscles and tired spirits, I salute you. And to all of the dreamers out there, longing to make a difference, I remind you of this. You don’t have to be a sprinter to matter. You just have to be the one willing to tie on those tennis shoes one last time, to climb the stairs when you’re legs are aching, to run when you’d rather be walking. And when you reach that moment where you can see the end is getting near, don’t slow down. Dig deep and kick it up a notch. The magic is in those final meters.
–Written by Dawn Garza
Director of Operations at Lily’s Pad and Captain of the Cheering Squad for Those Who Dig Deep and Kick it up a Notch