(from Saturday, September 28, 2002)
I have always been a lousy spectator.
I’m in San Diego while my husband attends a conference here, when we see a flier at Marine Corps Air Station MiraMar advertising the Boot Camp Challenge: a 3-mile race with a series of obstacles interspersed and drill instructors (DIs) out there yelling at you throughout the course. I immediately want to sign up, but the race is in just 3 days. Steve says it’s probably too late to enter, and besides, it’s the obstacle course at the Recruit Depot for crying out loud (not for the faint-hearted). I make plans to go watch the race while he is otherwise occupied at the conference.
Saturday morning I get dressed to go to MCRD, pulling on my jeans and a T-shirt, then I re-consider and quickly change into my running shorts and running shoes. After all, I think, maybe I’ll get to MCRD and there will be a team who has a person who couldn’t make it, and they need one person to step in and race with them and save the day! That could be me! (I really do think this way.) So I go to the race prepared to participate.
Carrying my camera bag and purse, I make my way to the staging area where the race will begin, and I see all sorts of people, men and women, old and young, walking around with race numbers on. I am taken aback. I’ve seen the obstacle course at MCRD up close. It’s brutal. But there are people —OK, women— walking around with race numbers on who don’t really look so tough. Are they going to do this obstacle course race too? I make a bee-line for the information booth.
“Are there only teams doing this race or can individuals do it too?” I ask, somewhat surprised to even see what looks like a race-day sign-up booth.
“Both individuals and teams.”
“Do you have race-day sign-ups?”
“Yes, do you want to sign up?” the cheery young woman asks me.
“Well, I… I mean, I’ve seen the course. It’s pretty tough. Do you think I could do it?” I ask hopefully. She gives me a blank stare.
“Well, I don’t know, can you?” she asks.
“Um… the other women I see with race numbers, they don’t seem much tougher than me… I mean, if they can do it, I think I can,” I say.
“Do you have thirty dollars?”
“Then you can do it,” she smiles and hands me a race entry form.
Cool. I quickly fill it out, pay my thirty bucks, and get my race number and race T-shirt. I run back to the car and deposit my camera bag and purse, taking only my keys, a Power bar, and a bottle of water with me.
The race starts with the first wave of men taking off in a swarm of muscle and attitude. I join the women who are lined up waiting for the start of our wave as I down the Power bar and chat with the woman next to me. I have placed myself near the back of the pack, because I run a rather slow pace and don’t want to get trampled.
The whistle sounds and we’re off. We round the corner and about 150 yards down and I notice a small grey-haired woman struggling with a long thin white cane that is stuck in a drainage grate and another woman helping her to free it. I’m momentarily confused by the unusual scene in the middle of a race, and then realize that the woman with the cane (who has a race number pined to her T-shirt identifying her as a racer) is blind to some degree. She must have been running with her cane when it got stuck in the grate.
Wait a minute – there’s a blind woman running an obstacle course race. Not only that, she’s faster than me! I stop to help just as her cane is freed from the grate. I tell her I would run with her, but I fear she’s too fast for me. She protests that we are about the same speed and would like it if I ran with her. I think she’s probably slowing down for me. The woman’s name is Aroura; she’s been running since she was 55. She just turned 60. I will continue to be amazed by her throughout the race.
We approach the first obstacle: a stack of hay bales. So it won’t be the hard-core USMC Boot Camp obstacle course after all, but a modified course. What a relief. I describe the obstacle and ask if she wants to go over it or around it. She asks what I think. I tell her it is her choice. She wants to go over it. So I hold her hand to guide her and we go over the stack of hay bales.
The next obstacle is the water hazard. We are to run through a shallow pool of water (too large to be a puddle, too small to be a pond) so that we can... do the rest of the run with wet feet and I guess that means something. Marines do these things. I have learned not to ask why. We run through the water.
As we come upon the obstacles, I describe them to her and tell her what she needs to do to get through them. She goes through the crawl-tunnel and over the low horizontal logs. The only obstacle she doesn’t do is the high log you have to jump up onto in order to get over. She has no depth perception and does not want to risk it. Fine with me.
We near the 2-mile point and Aroura says she has to stop a moment. She pulls out a single serving packet of sugar. With shaking hands she rips it open and empties the contents into her mouth. This woman is diabetic. She came out to do this race with no support, no running partner, no one to look after her, just a stubborn will, a determination to finish, and a mission to make it easier for the next blind person who comes after her. Foolhardy? Probably. Gutsy? No doubt about it. She says she feels a duty to others in the blind community to do as much as she can to show them that just because you’re blind doesn’t mean you shouldn’t challenge yourself. That no matter who you are, you can do anything you put your mind to. Wow. I have no excuse.
As we run, I notice the looks on the faces of some of the DIs as Aroura approaches them. Part incredulity (is that a blind woman?), perhaps part irritation (what’s a blind woman doing here?), but mostly admiration (wow, there’s a blind woman here!). Today is not about being a Marine in the sense that only the best make it and the rest should be content to stay out of the way. Today is about digging deep within yourself, rising to the challenge, and doing more than you thought you could do. And Aroura epitomizes that sense of personal achievement.
As we near the finish line, a DI notices Aroura, smiles and nods to himself as he turns and calls to those behind us, “OK you slugs, you know you’re getting beat by a blind woman! Let’s get a move on! Move it! Move it! Move it!”
We cross the finish line together and she gives me a big hug and thanks me for running with her. The privilege was mine. I go to get us something to drink and we wait for the awards ceremony to begin.
As the General calls out the age group winners, sure enough, Aroura takes 1st place in her age group. She goes up to receive her medal and has her picture taken with the General. What an amazing woman. I will never forget her.
I left the race that day really glad I wore my running shoes.
Race report by Laura Drexler.
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