Team MJ gathered once again yesterday for the 2015 Race for Hope. The 5K is a fundraiser for the Capital Region Special Surgery. This medical group, based near Albany, NY, organized the Race for Hope Fund to raise money to support programs and services for patients who are in treatment for brain, head and neck cancer. Last year I wrote about my family’s involvement with this race and why we choose to support this worthy cause.
My niece Karen created Team MJ in honor of her mother, my sister Mary Jane, who was diagnosed with glioblastoma, an aggressive brain cancer. Karen first ran the Race for Hope, along with her brother and brother-in-law, in 2011. Mary Jane and her husband, Zip, cheered from the sidelines. Sadly, it was the only time Mary Jane and Zip would see their family run the race as they both passed away from their respective terminal cancer diagnoses prior to the 2012 Race for Hope.
Yesterday was a beautiful autumn day in upstate New York. The sunshine chased the chill from the morning air and the mood was festive as race participants gathered. Team MJ’s bright yellow shirts made our team stand out in the crowd. The team shirts feature music notes in honor of Mary Jane’s talent and love of music, as well as the ribbons for brain cancer and melanoma in memory of Mary Jane and Zip. Once again, the oldest race participant was a member of Team MJ. Grandpa H finished the 5K in just over one hour and 20 minutes. Not bad for a man who will be 90 in December! Team MJ also won the medal for best team colors thanks to those bright yellow shirts.
Team MJ is not the only team to participate in Race for Hope in memory of someone. Susan’s Busy Bees and Linda’s No Taste Bakers were there as well. Every year, part of me wants to go up to them and the other teams and give them hugs of support. We all know what is it like to be racing in memory of a loved one taken from us too soon.
Everyone wearing a team shirt has been touched by loss. Yet, we all find a way to keep running year after year, mile after mile.
Isn’t that what the real race called life is about?
We all face obstacles and unexpected loss. When these events occur, we can choose how to respond. We can become mired in grief or sadness, bemoaning our misfortune. Or we can find a new normal, a way to continue to engage with the world around us while recognizing things have changed.
Mary Jane and Zip wanted us to continue to live. They wanted us to keep racing, to keep gathering in support of one another.
The advantage of being honorary ‘team finish line photographer’ is I can sit and have a cry by myself while the team is out on the course. I cry because I miss my sister and brother-in-law, even though I know their spirit remains among us. I cry because I am sad they are not present in person to share in the joy and laughter created by their grandchildren. I also cry because I am incredibly proud of my nieces and nephews, and their husbands and wives. These young adults continue Mary Jane and Zip’s legacy of charity and love towards others, as their parents would have wanted.
And so we race. We cheer for participants of all ages and abilities – those who run their hearts out and those who walk the course. We offer congratulations for their accomplishments and encouragement when they need a boost. We celebrate the milestones and mourn for those who are no longer with us in person.
In doing so, we are all winners – just like Team MJ.