I finished the US run a different person. I knew the run would present me with a decent amount of challenges, and because of that I knew I’d learn a lot. But I could never have guessed how much I would grow and how wholly that would change me – I was left with a new level of expectations for myself and the world, and a redefined sense of time and priority.
The exact details are hard to put down in a blog post, but here’s the story I never told. The day before I finished in Charleston, I cried all day. I was a mopey, embarrassing wreck. Here was a dream I had lived so intensely and so personally for the past four months, coming to a close. Someone was pulling the rug out from under my feet and I sure as heck was not ready for it. It was great to accomplish the goal of finishing a transcontinental run but I had long since realized that the goal was not the point, nor the dream. The journey was the dream, the feet touching pavement for 30 miles a day was the dream. The destination, Charleston, was just a spot on a map where that dream came to its inevitable close.
Seeing my family at the end was the best part – if they hadn’t been there I’m sure I would’ve remained in Charleston in some sort of confused state, caught between the uncompromising focus required of the run and the sweeping opportunities of an open future. But the Romano clan was there and they celebrated with me and took me back to Maine where I relaxed, ran in my first official ultra-marathon, and reassembled my personal life.
A month later I flew to Germany where I visited Alex while he worked as a videographer for a special corporate event tour of Germany – during which we traveled by van to 30 different German cities in six weeks, together with the Samba band and dancers performing at the events. The dancers spoke Brazilian in the back, Alex and his employers spoke German in the front, and I drifted in and out, mostly out, almost forgetting the art of communicating. I went to Italy for a month afterwards, where I taught English to little bambini, played a lot of soccer, and drank my share of vino. The job jolted me right out of my hibernation, literally overnight. The newness of being in a tiny Italian village, meeting my co-counselors from all over the world, and working with them to try and create order in a room of twenty 6-year-olds who only spoke Italian was like being at my own childhood summer camp where every minute was full of possibility and life and noise. When I finally flew back to Maine I calculated that I had slept in over 150 different towns in the past 7 months.
For the next 8 months I stayed in Maine with my parents, applying for grad schools, waiting tables, and discovering it was actually hard to think about the US run because it was such a stark contrast to what I was accomplishing at the moment. I know there is a time for everything, for doing and for reflecting and planning and processing, but for a while I felt pretty stuck. There I was with this awesome adventure in my very recent past, and a hungry spirit, but no new challenge to look forward to. So I decided in the spring to try to finally write a book about the US run, and the next few months were perfectly amazing. I ran in the mornings, wrote about all the best and worst parts of the run during the day, and enjoyed a cold beer with my parents at night. I got to see Gabe and Margaret for beach trips and dance parties every weekend. Life was good.
But the more I wrote the more I wanted to stop writing and get out there and do something again. It’s hard to write about all these things that have already happened! So that’s when Alex and I decided we had to do another adventure, and when the brainstorming for this concept all started. I thought that maybe, just maybe that dream of running across the USA didn’t have to end, it just had to modified for longevity.
I so firmly believe that we all can achieve extraordinary things if we put our minds to it, and the more I run, the more I understand sports as a means to encourage this philosophy. In high school, soccer helped me build character, taught me the values of goal-setting and teamwork and how to lose productively. Afterwards, running taught me how to be disciplined – how to set daily goals and persevere through the runs where you just want to sit down on the side of the road and sleep. It showed me, very objectively, through race times and personal records, that sunrise tempo runs really do pay off. It also showed me trails and towns and places I had never seen before, and introduced me to fellow runners and new friends.
Alex and I have likely annoyed many of our friends, spending so many hours talking about this run in France, and the US run, and all the plans we have for future projects, but the more we talk about it the more I understand why we’re driven to these journeys of discovery. I like sports for the physical aspect, but more so for the dreams they encourage and the obstacles they challenge us to overcome. We cannot grow, cannot discover anything new without challenges, and sports provide us those challenges on a daily basis.
And so the dream I have is to use endurance athletics as a means to see how far we can all go, individually and together; to see where our feet may take us and what we might learn about ourselves and the communities we visit along the way. And Alex’s dream is to document human inspiration and need, and to share it in a compelling way in order to engage our communities in a conversation about what we’ve learned. I’m biased, but I think we make a good team.
We’re so glad to have found World Pediatric, because what we’ve witnessed is that they are also using their passions to discover and identify the challenges of children in their partner countries, and to then engage the Richmond community in helping them deliver the services necessary to enable these kids to overcome the obstacles and go on to do great things.
Dream big folks, dream big.