Wednesday, December 24, 2014

A Christmas Miracle

A little boy and his grandmother came to see Santa at The Mayfair Mall in Wisconsin. The child climbed up on santa’s lap, holding a picture of a little girl.
“Who is this?” – asked Santa, smiling. “Your friend? Your sister?”
“Yes, Santa.” – he replied.
“My sister, Sarah, who is very sick.” – he said sadly.
Santa glanced over at the grandmother who was waiting nearby and saw her dabbing her eyes with a tissue.
“She wanted to come with me to see you, oh, so very much, Santa!” – the child exclaimed.
“She misses you.” – he added softly.
Santa tried to be cheerful and encouraged a smile to the boy’s face, asking him what he wanted Santa to bring him for Christmas.
When they finished their visit, the grandmother came over to help the child off his lap, and started to say something to Santa, but halted.
“What is it?” – Santa asked warmly.
“Well, I know it’s really too much to ask you, Santa, but ..” – the old woman began, shooing her grandson over to one of Santa’s elves to collect the little gift which Santa gave all his young visitors.
“The girl in the photograph… my granddaughter well, you see … she has leukemia and isn’t expected to make it even through the holidays.” – she said through tear-filled eyes.
“Is there anyway, Santa, any possible way that you could come see Sarah? That’s all she’s asked for, for Christmas, is to see Santa.”
Santa blinked and swallowed hard and told the woman to leave information with his elves as to where Sarah was, and he would see what he could do. Santa thought of little else the rest of that afternoon. He knew what he had to do.
“What if it were MY child lying in that hospital bed, dying?” – he thought with a sinking heart, “This is the least I can do.”
When Santa finished visiting with all the boys and girls that evening, he retrieved from his helper the name of the hospital where Sarah was staying. He asked Rick, the assistant location manager how to get to Children’s Hospital.
“Why?” – Rick asked, with a puzzled look on his face.
Santa relayed to him the conversation with Sarah’s grandmother earlier that day.
“Common….I’ll take you there.” – Rick said softly. Rick drove them to the hospital and came inside with Santa. They found out which room Sarah was in. A pale Rick said he would wait out in the hall.
Santa quietly peeked into the room through the half-closed door and saw little Sarah on the bed.
The room was full of what appeared to be her family; there was the grandmother and the girl’s brother he had met earlier that day. A woman whom he guessed was Sarah’s mother stood by the bed, gently pushing Sarah’s thin hair off her forehead.
And another woman who he discovered later was Sarah’s aunt, sat in a chair near the bed with a weary, sad look on her face. They were talking quietly, and Santa could sense the warmth and closeness of the family, and their love and concern for Sarah.
Taking a deep breath, and forcing a smile on his face, Santa entered the room, bellowing a hearty, “Ho, ho, ho!”
“Santa!” – shrieked little Sarah weakly, as she tried to escape her bed to run to him.
Santa rushed to her side and gave her a warm hug. A child the tender age of his own son — 9 years old — gazed up at him with wonder and excitement.
Her skin was pale and her short tresses bore telltale bald patches from the effects of chemotherapy. But all he saw when he looked at her was a pair of huge, blue eyes. His heart melted, and he had to force himself to choke back tears.
Though his eyes were riveted upon Sarah’s face, he could hear the gasps and quiet sobbing of the women in the room.
As he and Sarah began talking, the family crept quietly to the bedside one by one, squeezing Santa’s shoulder or his hand gratefully, whispering “Thank you” as they gazed sincerely at him with shining eyes.
Santa and Sarah talked and talked, and she told him excitedly all the toys she wanted for Christmas, assuring him she’d been a very good girl that year.
As their time together dwindled, Santa felt led in his spirit to pray for Sarah, and asked for permission from the girl’s mother. She nodded in agreement and the entire family circled around Sarah’s bed, holding hands.
Santa looked intensely at Sarah and asked her if she believed in angels, “Oh, yes, Santa… I do!” – she exclaimed.
“Well, I’m going to ask that angels watch over you.” – he said.
Laying one hand on the child’s head, Santa closed his eyes and prayed. He asked that God touch little Sarah, and heal her body from this disease.
He asked that angels minister to her, watch and keep her. And when he finished praying, still with eyes closed, he started singing, softly, “Silent Night, Holy Night…. all is calm, all is bright…”
The family joined in, still holding hands, smiling at Sarah, and crying tears of hope, tears of joy for this moment, as Sarah beamed at them all.
When the song ended, Santa sat on the side of the bed again and held Sarah’s frail, small hands in his own.
“Now, Sarah,” – he said authoritatively, “you have a job to do, and that is to concentrate on getting well. I want you to have fun playing with your friends this summer, and I expect to see you at my house at Mayfair Mall this time next year!”
He knew it was risky proclaiming that to this little girl who had terminal cancer, but he ‘had’ to. He had to give her the greatest gift he could — not dolls or games or toys — but the gift of HOPE.
“Yes, Santa!” – Sarah exclaimed, her eyes bright. He leaned down and kissed her on the forehead and left the room.
Out in the hall, the minute Santa’s eyes met Rick’s, a look passed between them and they wept unashamed.
Sarah’s mother and grandmother slipped out of the room quickly and rushed to Santa’s side to thank him.
“My only child is the same age as Sarah.” – he explained quietly. “This is the least I could do.”
They nodded with understanding and hugged him.
One year later, Santa Mark was again back on the set in Milwaukee for his six-week, seasonal job which he so loves to do. Several weeks went by and then one day a child came up to sit on his lap.
“Hi, Santa! Remember me?!”
“Of course, I do.” – Santa proclaimed (as he always does), smiling down at her. After all, the secret to being a ‘good’ Santa is to always make each child feel as if they are the ‘only’ child in the world at that moment.
“You came to see me in the hospital last year!”
Santa’s jaw dropped. Tears immediately sprang in his eyes, and he grabbed this little miracle and held her to his chest.
“Sarah!” – he exclaimed. He scarcely recognized her, for her hair was long and silky and her cheeks were rosy — much different from the little girl he had visited just a year before.
He looked over and saw Sarah’s mother and grandmother in the sidelines smiling and waving and wiping their eyes.
That was the best Christmas ever for Santa Claus.
He had witnessed –and been blessed to be instrumental in bringing about — this miracle of hope. This precious little child was healed. Cancer-free. Alive and well. He silently looked up to Heaven and humbly whispered, “Thank you, Father. ‘Tis a very, Merry Christmas!”
By Susan Morton Leonard, Santa’s wife
Santa’s name: Mark Leonard or Santa Mark

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Mt. Banahaw 100 K, Philippines

In my quest to continue to run ultra marathons in "exotic" locations, I chose this one in the Philippines.  I was originally focusing on Australia, but was unable to use mileage and the cost was too high to pay for my tastes.  So then I started looking at Asia.  At first I focused on Korea, Japan, and China but didn't find what I wanted there.  Then I stumbled upon this race.  Once I found it, I discovered they had a Facebook page.  So I read details there, and after some procrastination, I decided to do this one.
The premise of this race is a 360° run around Mt. Banahaw, an active volcano about 60 miles from Manila Philippines.
To get to Manila, I took a 45 minute flight from Oklahoma City to Dallas, then a 13 hour flight to Tokyo Japan, and a 4 hour flight from there to Manila.  I left OKC at 9:00 am, Wednesday November 5, arriving in Manila 10 pm, Thursday November 6.
The race started Saturday night, 10 pm.  I can only assume this was to avoid the heat of the day.
On Saturday I took a bus to the start and was dropped off within a block.  The start was actually at the guard house of the resort.  There was one bathroom and it was a mess.  I noticed two guys coming in with some of bottles of Gatorade.  I asked where they got it, and they said there was a 7-11 and a McDonald's about a kilometer  up the highway.  So I walked up there to get something to drink and use the bathroom.  All of which was a very wise decision.
At 10 pm a horn blows and we're off.  Most of the first few hours were on a very busy highway and the cars, trucks, and buses didn't know and didn't care that we were part of a race.  Parts of the road had a shoulder but at times we had to jump into the grass.  Also, you're breathing a lot of exhaust fumes.  There were aid stations about every 6 miles in the first half of the race.  I was carrying one water bottle and figured that would get me to an aid station.  I was running what I considered to be well within myself making sure not to get carried away when people passed me.  I knew it was going to take a lot for me to finish this race.  Did I mention that I hadn't run more than a marathon for over a year?  Every time I would plan to run at least 31 miles something would come up.  But still I felt like I could finish this race since it had a 22 hour cutoff.  I just knew that once I was done physically I would have to dig deep mentally.  After a few hours it started raining.  I was glad actually, because I felt that would help keep the heat down.  We left the main highway and entered more rural areas.  I hit the 50k point still feeling pretty good.  I was also finally getting over my fear that I wouldn't finish the race.  The  rain continued off and on and my feet started getting wet.  I did worry a little bit about that, but there was nothing I could do about it.  As we went through the different small towns, it was interesting to see the way people looked at us.  There are a lot of small school bus taxis, and small motorcycle taxis with side cars.  They would look at us, slow down, then realize we weren't looking for a ride.  As I got into the 40 plus mile range, my watch quit around 34 miles, I was getting fatigued.  I knew it was going to be a hard slough from here on in.  I was walking more than running, but this was a very hilly course, and walk or run, it was tough going up these hills.
It started raining harder and was less pleasing to me.  But again, there was nothing I could do but keep going.  I was still mostly walking, but able to run from time to time.  I was reading the signs, and saw that we were only two towns away from San Pablo City.  While this was the last city to run through, I knew from the bus ride the day before that the start point at Villa Escudero was several miles past that.  Slowly but surely I made my way close to the city.  But I felt like I had missed an aid station.  I was out of water and getting very tired.  The one good thing about passing through all these towns was that there are plenty of small stores, basically front porches of people homes.  I stopped at one and bought a bottle of coke.  I sat down, drank it and after about 10 minutes I felt much better and started running again.  It was around noon then, so I had been running/walking for over 14 hours.  I finally made it into San Pablo City and I perked up at the thought that this was almost over.  I was running well down the main street when I heard someone yelling at me.  I turned around, and he started pointing down the street I had just passed.  I went back to him, and it turned out he was an aid station.  I thought to myself I would have been really upset to have continued down the wrong street for a long time.  I continued down the correct path and was soon outside the city.  I started seeing signs for a McDonald's that I had gone to the night before to have a comfortable time in a rest room.  The signs gave the distance of 6km, which in my mind meant that I had 5km to go.  Each new sign gave the distance and I was getting happy that I would finish in a very short time.  I got to the guard house and nothing was there.  The guard said I still had a mile to go, disappointment.  But oh well, I continued on and when I finally made it to the resort, I saw the finish line and got my medal, trophy and shirt.
I finished in 16 hours and 12 minutes, 27th of 118 finishers.
I knew because of my feet getting wet that I would have blisters.  After taking off my socks, I saw both my little toes had small blisters.  Also, I had a blister on one foot between my big and second toe.
After the finish, I took a shower, ate a little and then started preparing to head back to Manila.  I was told you could flag down a bus from the highway.  There was another runner who had finished before me that was heading back at the same time.  "Wil" became my guardian back to Manila and my hotel.  He made sure I was there before heading home himself.
Everyone associated with the race treated me well and made me feel like a star.
My trip back to Oklahoma City was mostly uneventful, and I am home safe and sound.
I am again thankful to have the energy and ability to complete a race like this.  To have completed the race with no apparent injuries.  To have traveled such a long distance and return home safely.   

Friday, October 17, 2014

Chicago Marathon 2014

I entered the lottery for the Chicago Marathon and got in.  I was registered two years ago, but didn't run because of an injury.
I have a lot of connections to Chicago, my mother was born and raised there, our family travelled there every summer to see my grandparents, I had many cousins in Chicago, my company exhibited in one or two trade shows there every year.
Because of all my connections, I decided to go on Thursday to give myself time to see my godmother.  I'm glad I did that because she is in a nursing home and not in good shape.  She and so many of my mother's friends in Chicago had a lot to do with shaping my life.  
My flight to Chicago went without a hitch.  I saw some running friends and we all sat together and talked the entire trip.
The first two nights I stayed out by Midway, Chicago's smaller airport.  I ran one day while out there but it was an uneventful run.  Saturday and Sunday nights I stayed downtown close to the start.
Bill, a friend from Oklahoma had run a marathon near Chicago Saturday, and came into the city to meet me for dinner.  This was pretty much perfect because we ate near the hotel and I was in bed early.  I laid my clothes out and had everything ready for the next morning.  
I got up put my clothes on and walked outside to check the weather.  It was chilly, but I decided to go with a short sleeve shirt and not wear a throw away top.  I walked to the park and found my corral.  I entered and began the 30 minute wait until the start.  My goals for this race were to run within myself, hopefully run a Boston Qualifying time, and just enjoy the day. 
 The gun goes off, but it takes awhile for my corral to make it to the starting line.  We start and even though this is one of the largest marathons in the world, over 40,000 runners, things move pretty well.  My first mile was my slowest and that was because it was a little congested.  But things open up soon and I'm able to fall into my pace.  The 4:00 pace group was right in front of me so I decided to hang with them for a few miles before hopefully speeding up.  I left them about mile 5 and started holding around 8:55 to 9:00 minute miles.  My plan was to go through the first half slightly slower than the second half.  While that was my plan, I'm seldom able to do that.  I passed through the first half around 1:57.  I felt good and started running a little faster.  When I got to mile 20 I was still feeling good, and felt like I could pick it up even more.   
It was a perfect day to run a marathon and every thing went as planned.  Something that almost never happens for me in the marathon.  I finished in 3:52.22 which is a 2016 Boston Qualifying time for me.   I'm already in the 2015 Boston Marathon.
I writing this on the Friday after running the marathon.  I feel good, I've done three very easy runs and almost all my minor aches and pains have subsided.
Up next, maybe a 6 hour run and a 100k ultra in the Philippines, stay tuned. 


Friday, July 11, 2014

Boston, Windemere & More

So, I'm like a lot of people and have almost abandoned my blog.  Life seems to get in the way of writing here.  But we know that's not true.  I have plenty of down time, I just don't choose to use it to write.
I ran Boston in April, it wasn't a great run, around 4:18, but it was just a case of running out of energy.  It was unseasonably warm and I ran out of gas around mile 16.  But I can't complain, I didn't hurt and finished healthy.
Later, in May I ran the Windemere marathon in Spokane WA.  This was the annual meeting of the National Black Marathoner's Association.  It was a good meeting, and a great marathon.  I did a little better here, but still it was warmer than expected, and I ran around 4:08, good enough for second in my age group.
I've run two 5k's and one 10k which have all been good times but nothing spectacular.  All in all my running is going well.  I have at least two more marathons scheduled and might run an international ultra marathon.  The two marathons are Eugene OR and Chicago.  Eugene in a couple of weeks and Chicago in early October.  Until I next get off my behind and write, hasta luego.

Monday, March 31, 2014

A2A Half Marathon

Our running club sponsored another bus trip to the A2A (Arbuckles to Ardmore) marathon, half marathon, and 5 k.  This is my 3rd year to run the half.  The bus left at 5:15 for the ride to the start.  First we dropped off the marathoners then to the start of the half.  It was cool but just about perfect for running.  We were able to stay on the bus until about 15 before the start.
My goal was to run as well as I could, but not push things.  The race starts downhill and is down or level for about 9 miles.  There are rolling hills throughout the latter part of the course.
The gun signals the start and we're off.  I start at around an 8 minute pace and try to stay under control for the first few down hill miles.  After that I drop into the mid to high 7's.  Things are going well for most of the race.  While it was in the mid 40's at the start it began to warm up as the race progressed.  Also, the winds were calm at the start things started picking up around mile 9.  Mile 9 was also where I started fading.  My pace dropped into the low 8's and I was doing my best to try to hang on.  I started walking the aid stations trying to get my 2nd wind.  I never did get back to 7's but did start to feel better and finished just over 1:45.  I won 1st in my age group and the prize was a choice of hats.  All in all I was satisfied with my time and feel like I'm on the right track to finish Boston in just under a month.
I ran an 8k on the Saturday before St. Patrick's Day and finished around 36:30.  I've done better but that was my first race since November.  I injured myself preparing for a marathon in January, I didn't run it, and was trying to make sure I was ok before racing again.

Sunday, March 23, 2014