As we neared our destination I could see friends jumping up and down, clapping and cheering us on. For the very first time, I wasn’t on the outside looking in, I was actually in the race. My husband Trevor, running next to me, squeezed my hand and I knew I could do anything. When we passed the line, friends were there with open arms, where I had no problem collapsing in my best friends hug, tears streaming down out of pure exhaustion and only the complete joy a dream accomplished could bring.
For years I’ve been on the sidelines, jumping up and down with the crowd at Boundary Bay, hands above my head shouting “You got this!” I watch my friends run through the finish line, excited to see them finish. Here, in the outdoor sanctuary of Bellingham, we seem to be surrounded by athletes, or just a highly active population, taking advantage of all the area has to offer. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve aspired to hike mountains, be a snow bird, bike to the top of Galbraith and paddle board across Lake Padden. However, when I became ill with a serious digestive disorder in 2008, my dreams, along with my spirit were crushed. I was quickly forced to leave a masters program, quit my job, live on a strict diet (if you think gluten free or Paleo is hard, you have no idea!) and survive multiple procedures with feeding tubes to keep me alive.
This was the year I refused to let anything get in my way. After signing up the last 2 times and having to back out, I was determined to make something happen. Back in January, I had what is called a central line placed in my chest to provide my body with with IV nutrition to add weight I could not gain on my own and build up the strength to live. As terrifying as this journey has been over the years, it has also provided the energy to have a more active and fulfilling life.
My best friend Stephanie competes in the Traverse each year and has been by my side through thick and thin. Always encouraging me along, she asked me with a hesitant yet hopeful voice, if I would like to sign up. “YES!”, I replied without a second thought. I still can’t run long distance and the bike rides are a little too much, so kayaking would be my best bet. My husband Trevor is in great shape and enjoys mountain biking, competing in that part last year. Because I wanted this so very badly, he agreed to partner with me on the kayak, to be the extra strength I would need to make it through.
The summer flew by and we only had the chance to practice a few times with rentals from Padden or the Fairhaven boating center. Suddenly race day arrived and all I could think about was pinning on my number. Something so small and insignificant to most, yet I had always imagined, like a young girl imagines her first wedding dress, what it would feel like to wear my own.
The previous night I infused with the IV nutrition (we call her Ivey), ate a small and simple breakfast upon waking, and after a trip to our favorite store, REI, Trevor and I made way down to Marine Park. Though the sun was shining and summer weather at it’s best, the moment my eyes got a peek at the water my heart sank. I saw the white caps and the bay looked choppy enough to make even my husband nervous. “Okay,” I thought to myself, “if everyone else can do this we will obviously be okay right?” Luckily, it was decided to move to the Fairhaven boat launch, a calmer area to take off from. Instead of focusing on the waves I thought about where I was 2 years ago, lying on the hospital bed being told I would probably die, to the present, gazing at the beautiful bay that I would soon cross just as I had crossed what felt like oceans before.
Our runner rounded the corner, smiling despite the exhaustion, and it was time. We jumped in the double kayak and began paddling. I should first let you know that we had not once practiced in an ocean kayak, only the flat ones from the boating center. But we had no choice but to just go with it. The trek across the bay was probably one of the most physically defining moments of my life. I wanted to burst in to tears when we passed someone who flipped over, though due to our lack of steering capabilities we were too far out to really see. When my right arm began to hurt and my stomach turned upside down I just kept smiling and encouraging us to get to the other side.
What felt like hours later, we slid up to shore and with nervous jelly legs, hopped out to meet the rest of the team, anxiously awaiting. Lots of high fives and hugs later, we began the fun to the finish line. Well, I mostly walked but my team kept me going with words of encouragement and sips of water, knowing the end was near.
Once we arrived, surrounded by those who understood how much this meant to me, it was unreal. No matter how hard life gets, I can now say I’ve completed a race and never again will I forget how I felt the moment I crossed the line. Priceless.
Thank you to everyone who encouraged and had faith in me.
April is a co-founder and former co-Executive Director for Recreation Northwest. She has a passion for place and loves exploring, experiencing and sharing the beauty of the pacific northwest. She is currently working with Ocean Conservancy to protect our oceans, specifically the Arctic.