Epic Weekend! A Car Accident And A Boston Marathoner #UsFatGirls

In 2009 the nephew of one of my best friends was in a horrific car accident.  Prior to the accident he liked to run.  There are several of us that committed to pray and run in events for Josh until he could run again.  The accident happened in 2009.  This weekend, Josh ran the Surgical Artistry Modesto Half Marathon and I got to run with him.

Miracles do Happen.

I’ve posted about Josh and his accident before and his awesome Aunt, Dee, who is my dear friend.  Please watch this video about his accident to learn more (warning: be ready for tears):  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QThA4lu2Znk

When I first heard about Josh, his story gripped my heart.  I have a nephew that died.  My nephew’s name is also Josh.  My friend’s nephew needed help and prayer.  I can’t help my nephew, but I can pray and help my friend’s nephew.  So I committed to run and pray until he could run again.

Josh’s accident broke his brain and his body.  He experienced a traumatic brain injury as well as many bone breaks.  He was in a coma and experienced cardiac arrest multiple times.  No one knew if he would wake up again, and if he did what kind of shape he would be in.  He did wake up, but had to start over.  He had to learn how to walk again, speak, eat, feed himself, etc.  It’s been a long haul for he and his family.  I couldn’t help with his rehab or recovery, but I can pray and I can run.

I received word in January that he was ready to attempt his first half marathon and was invited to be in attendance for the event.  How could I miss this epic moment – years in the making?  His story is the best kind.  It’s a story of perseverance, prayer, and overcoming.  Josh’s example teaches us that life might land us in circumstances unexpected but can still be amazing.

Jen KT Tape Booth

This is me working the KT Tape Booth at the Surgical Artistry Modesto Marathon Expo

David Taping a Runner

Josh family members taping other runners at the Expo.

Dee, my dear friend, and Josh's Aunt, taping other runners.  #KTTape

Dee, my dear friend, and Josh’s Aunt, taping other runners. #KTTape

On Friday I flew to California to join Josh and his family for Race Weekend.  On Saturday I assisted the family in working at the Surgical Artistry Modesto Marathon Race Expo in the KT Tape booth.  The family taped approximately 150 runners for free.  It was their way to give back to the running community and help every runner cross the finish line.  I met so many amazing people.  Most runners also have a story of overcoming.  I was in awe to be in attendance.  As folks waited to be taped, I got to tell them about Josh.  All of us were on pins and needles to watch Josh run!

Josh’s Aunt Dee had asked me to pace Josh.  Frankly, I was crazy-nervous.  My shortest half-marathon to date is 2:01.  I’m not very fast.  And I’m currently training with the goal to bust under the 2 hour mark.  No one had an estimated time-range to know how Josh might do.  Would I have to go slow and long?  Would my legs make it?  Would he go super fast?  How am I gonna keep up?  It’s one thing to get myself across a finish line, but what if he needs me to physically or mentally get him to the finish?  Was I up for the task?  Again, more prayers.  Prayers calmed my anxious heart.

I asked Josh how his training prior to this weekend looked like to try to get an idea of how fast we would be running.  He said he had not gone beyond 8 miles and was unsure.  Josh’s dad predicted a 2:30-3hour half and was concerned what would happen after mile 8.  No one really knew. But I also heard he might have 9-10 minute mile averages.  All of us were guessing, even Josh.  My nerves sent me to more prayers.  It was surreal.  He was walking, standing, talking, expressive, able, strong, and about to run a huge race – and I get to run it with him.  I was stoked, scared, and overwhelmed by it all.

Some of the "Pray & Run for Josh" group at the Start Line.

Some of the “Pray & Run for Josh” group at the Start Line. (Josh in blue in the middle)

Josh & Me at the Start Line.

Josh & Me at the Start Line.

As we got to the start line, there were 20-30 of us in our “Josh Shirts” celebrating and pumped.  The National Anthem sung and the startline began.  At the start line I discovered there would be one other person running with Josh and me:  Vickie.  Vickie ran the Boston Marathon last year, but didn’t get to finish due to the bomb.  She’s running it again this year to finish.  If you are not familiar with running or races, the Boston Marathon is IT in the running world (unless you are into Ultras, but that’s a post for another day).  To get to run Boston, a person has to run a marathon fast enough to qualify (Boston Qualifier or BQ).  To be a Boston Marathoner means you have not only solidly finished marathons, but enough of them fast enough to even qualify to be in that race.  This is the other person I was going to be running with.  Not only is she a stellar runner, she is also a prayer warrior.  I was seeing the bigger picture now.  Josh was going to run with 2 people who pray constantly!  Got it!  I had a job to do = pray us to the finish!

As the race started all I could do was cry with joy.  I think it took the first 2 miles to shake the tears over what was happening.  It was surreal.  I was running WITH Josh and a Boston Marathoner.  I felt honored, humbled, and thankful to God for this opportunity.  And then I got scared because turns out . . . . Josh is FAST!!!!  Yikes!

When I run distance races, I run the same sustainable boring pace over time.  I lock it in and rest in it for the duration.  Josh runs very different.  (More like a fartlek, for you runners).   He sprints it out, then resting pace, sprint, rest, sprint, rest.  It was awesome to watch.  His cadence was consistent – which is a miracle in itself with the extensive reconstruction and screws and plates in his pelvis alone.  He wore 5 fingers (you know, those frog looking shoes with the toes cut out).    Panting, I gave a desperate look to Vickie saying, “If I can’t keep up, can you stay with him?”.  She nodded in the affirmative.

Josh, Vickie, and Me during the race.

Josh, Vickie, and Me during the race.

For much of the race it was the 3 of us with Josh in the middle.  I ran, panted, sweated and prayed for most of it.  If we chatted it was about God sustaining us.  Josh would quote a scripture then take off into a quick sprint, like the words from the bible energized him like a stinger.  We ran through palm trees, orange groves, and cherry blossoms.  Vickie and I took turns ensuring he was consuming electrolytes, s-caps, mustard, and liquids to stay hydrated.  Honestly, that was for my own reassurance that he was cared for – he was totally rocking every bit of this race and more than capable to manage his own race-fuel.

We made it to mile 8.  Josh had never gone this far before, even before the accident.  I was pumped.  I was ready to celebrate.  Every step from mile 8 forward was an all-time personal record.  I told him I was ready to celebrate and started to do a jig jiggity jig as we ran and hooted and hollered.  He said that I was more than welcome to celebrate, but he wasn’t gonna celebrate until he saw the finish line, and once he figured out we only had 5 miles left, he took off in a sprint.  I had to stop my jig jiggity-ing to catch up.  Whew!  And he said he wasn’t gonna let someone in a tutu get ahead of him – ha!  (yes, I run in a tutu, and so did his mom).

Mile 10 water stop.  It was just after this pit stop that Josh left me in his dust.  Yay!

Mile 10 water stop. It was just after this pit stop that Josh left me in his dust. Yay!

At mile 10, Josh walked about the length of a football field.  As I caught up to him and got hydrated he said, “Walking makes me more tired.”  I said, “Yes, I can totally understand!  Beware of walking because it’s hard to start again.”  And with those words, he took off.  I tossed my water cup to catch up, until we hit the bridge.  Josh had decided that the faster he would go, the quicker it would be over.  I believe we clocked him going 8.33 on mile 11!  He sprinted uphill, ran downhill and never looked back.  Josh ran to the finish, but I missed him crossing the finish line.  After 10+ miles of matching his sprints that I had not trained for, I had nothing left in the tank.  And I loved it.  I was tanking, I was missing his finish, and I was elated.  He beat me.  God is able.  Josh is strong.  He beat me!  (And I totally gave him bragging rights to tell anyone he wants that he beat a personal trainer on his first attempt at a half marathon).  I was able to cross the finish line 3 minutes behind him, but this finish wasn’t for me.  I still got the medal, but that’s not why I ran this race.

All of Josh’s family ran:  His mom, aunt, sister, and his dad and brother ran the full marathon.  It was moving, touching, and memorable.  It was Epic.  I was so thankful to get to be an honorary family member.  Every family member also successfully crossed the finish line.  They have sustained this long-haul together in every sense of the word.  Total Awesomeness.

Going into the weekend I was apprehensive.  Josh was going to be the center of attention.  I didn’t want him to feel weird or awkward.  Knowing it might be a bit overwhelming, I wrote a letter to him to explain why it’s my honor to get to pray for him and run for him and any others who are not able to run.  I wondered if he felt weird with so many people wearing shirts with his face on them.

I’ve included my letter to him here.

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Dear Josh,                                                                                                                                                                              3/20/2014
You’ve never met me prior to this weekend, but I heard the story of your car crash and recovery in 2012 and I’ve been following your progress since.  I can’t imagine all you have been through, but I wanted to explain why I pray for you and why I run with you on my shirt.
 
I know your Aunt, Dee.  We met through a mutual friend and discovered we graduated from the same college, both love Jesus, and like to reach huge goals.  We have many other commonalities that landed us as fast friends. I totally get why Dee runs. I’ve had harm come to family members and know the feeling of helplessness to DO something.  Running lets her keep alive something you love, even if she can’t stand it.  Running gives her the ability to DO something while you recover.  Running helps her pray and ask others to pray, because she feels helpless to do more. She promised to run until you can run.  It is epic that you can run now! 
I run, wear your face on my shirt, and pray for you for different reasons than those of Dee. 
 
God has used your story to inspire me to overcome obstacles and persevere. Watching your anniversary videos reminds me that life can be wonderful even if it’s not what we planned or expected. They share a significant message that perseverance and determination in adversity allows us to overcome. You didn’t choose it, but you keep moving forward.  Your story encourages me not to give up.  God has used your story to give me hope when I want to give up.
 
Your story is like a modern-day bible story playing out in real life today.
I realize you didn’t ask for the accident.  I can imagine your dreams and goals pre-crash did not include or imagine post-accident difficulties.  All of the characters in the bible that struggled were just like you. They also experienced insurmountable circumstances that God used to create a giant purpose. You are not a mistake. God has a plan for you and hasn’t forgotten you.  You are still alive, still being used, your story isn’t over yet and I am inspired to be a spectator to His work through you.  Thank you for letting us, as strangers, watch, observe, and pray.  It’s my honor to get to.  But I also want to make clear I do not expect anything from you. You have enough pressure on you without thinking all of us “looking in” on your progress want or need something. Nope!  It pleases me to merely get to watch and pray! And gives me goosebumps to see God sustain you and answer prayers.
I’m sure none of the bible characters thought they were anything special or worthy of God making them public and famous forever through the bible. Isn’t is astounding that through all of history God has used regular people in difficult circumstances to change the world and show who HE is??!!  I see HIS hand in your story too!
 
I’m proud to get to pray for you and I believe in the power of prayer. Some people wear concert T-shirts with their favorite bands on their shirts.  They are a fan or supporter of that band.  I wear shirts with things that matter to me.  I wear a shirt with your face on it when I do hard things. Praying for you helps me remember I’m stronger than I thought I could be.  Your story matters.  If you can, maybe I can too.  It also gives me an opportunity, when people see you on the shirt, to tell them that “hard times exist, don’t give up”.
  
It’s so funny – praying for you is “Mile 6” for me.  I can’t get through mile 6 without praying for you. For whatever reason my body hates mile 6. It’s always brutal and ugly. I don’t exactly remember when I started, but I committed my hardest mile to pray for you.  I figured that overcoming one ugly mile was no feat compared to all of the difficulties you have overcome.  When the pain and the pukies hit me, I begin to pray for your future: future wife, school, employment, ministry, anger, emotions, acceptance, seizures, doctor bills, and many other things.  I spend other miles praying for other family and friends that are struggling too. It takes my thoughts off of my pain and turns it into something useful.  My prayer is that your future exceeds your biggest dreams.  Praying for you always gets me to mile 7.
 
I also pray for you because I love your Aunt Dee.  My nephew died.  Her nephew almost died. I can’t do anything for my nephew. I can pray for the nephew of my dear friend.  I love her and care about what she cares about.
I also believe you saved her life. As you know, she was living very unhealthy prior to your accident.  Your life-changing event also changed her life.  And for that, I’m thankful.  Heroes never view themselves as heroes, but anyone who saves a life is a hero by my definition of the word. 
 
I also pray and run because I can and I know others can’t.  All I had to do to prepare to run was suck it up, pull up my big girl panties, get off the couch, and train.  You had to heal, go through physical therapy, learn how to do everything again, let alone learn how to walk again and now run! It is noteworthy for you to have recovered to the point where you can run.  I wouldn’t miss it for anything.  Thanks for letting me invade your race and get to see you run!  And I will be hooting and hollering tons because I like to celebrate everything – ha!
 
I have been so excited to get to come run with you. It’s been an honor to run and pray for your recovery, it’s another level of exuberance to get to run with you and see for myself prayers answered as well as the personal hard fight you and your family fought to get where you are.   I’ve prayed that one day your body will be redeemed put back together enough for you to do all you can dream.  To get to be there for one event is a huge honor.  God is able. You are strong and overcoming day by day. Seeing you cross, or attempt to cross, a finish line (no pressure) makes me excited for you, and thankful to God. I hope I can keep up! He has a purpose for you. He’s not done with you. Knowing that you are running reminds me that God is still at work in all of our broken parts. God provides.  Whenever we don’t give up it impacts us and others. Thank you for not giving up.
 
I’m still praying for you.  I’m praying your passion and legs carry you across the finish line. I’m praying all of us crazy Josh & Dee fans don’t overwhelm you or make you feel awkward. God is at work and we’re honored to get to be audience members of His work in your body and through your life.
 
Thank you for letting us broadcast your story.  It’s a story worth telling. 
AND I get to run and wear a tutu – ha!
Thank you for letting me run & pray for you.  Your story isn’t over yet.  And I can’t wait for the rest . . . . .
Kazaaaah!   Let’s do this!
 
Jenny Billman
One of Your Biggest Fans
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The 3 of us at the finish.  Medals!!!

Josh, me & Vickie after the finish. Medals!!!

Josh, Me & Dee (my dear friend and how I know Josh).

Josh, Me & Dee (my dear friend and how I know Josh) after the race!!  We did it!!!  Woot!

I’m so proud of him.  I’m so thankful to be healthy and free.  I’m thankful for the funds spent on my behalf to allow me to attend this moment.  And in true God-sized irony, this weekend marks the anniversary date of the death of my own nephew, also named Josh.  God is near and loves us, even if life is hard.

What has devastated you?  Are you down and out?  Just like Josh, your story isn’t over yet.  The future may look different than you expect, but it can still be awesome.  Don’t give up.  Please don’t quit.  Persevere.  Overcome.  Pray.  God is able even if we can’t see the results yet.

Thank you to all of the people that provided food, housing, space, support, encouragement and brand new friendships this weekend!  I will cherish it always!

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