Has it been 10 years since that devastating day, September 11, 2001? I’m sure, like me, you remember where you were the exact moment when you first heard about the attacks. I would guess that you also went through a period of denial in which you did not want to believe what was happening.
It all became too real too soon and we were all glued to our televisions and computers, trying to find out more as to what happened and also questioning why and how this could have ever happened.
That day touched the lives of especially those who live and work in New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C. Their lives were touched in a way they could have never imagined. Not only did it touch but also changed their lives”¦perhaps making them more aware and more cautious every time they walk out the door.
Perhaps that day ensures that before they start their day they remind their loved ones how much they care for them and love them and not take for granted any time they spend with friends and families.
Although that day touched me in a certain way, I had no idea how it would indirectly motivate me towards running long distances for a cause…for a purpose.
I had been running for 35 years but in that time the farthest I had run was maybe seven miles. In 1981 I had suffered a serious knee injury and was strongly urged not to run more than six miles a day no more than three times per week.
Entrenched in my mind was that not only should I keep to that plan but that even if I wanted to go beyond it I couldn’t. So I did just that”¦until January 2005.
On that day, one of my virtual sons was taken from me. You see, as all jocks, there was a time in my life when I decided to coach”¦and coach I did”¦you name the sport and I coached it. All my players”¦I estimate I coached at least 2500 boys and girls”¦became my extended family.
However, there is one particular player who will always have a special place in my heart and has played a vital part in my need to run and help others.
His name is Tim Gibson.
Tim first walked into my life in 1988 as a 6-year old blonde haired, blue-eyed little boy who looked like he had just stepped out of a Norman Rockwell masterpiece. Tim was the youngest and smallest player on my Little League team”¦but he had the biggest heart and a no quit attitude.
My relationship with Tim and his family grew through the years and Tim and I enjoyed several baseball and basketball championships as player and coach. I coached for almost ten years with Tim’s dad Tom.
I last coached Tim just before 2000. He became a star for the high school baseball team and also, using that amazing heart of a lion, became quarterback for the football team, even though he was about 5′ 9″ and maybe 140 pounds soaking wet.
It made sense to me when I heard Tim had decided to join the United States Marine Corps in April 2001. He was one of the most courageous athletes I had ever coached. Tim was assigned to 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division, III Marine Expeditionary Force, and Marine Corps Base Hawaii.
Once the events of 9/11 occurred all focus was turned to the Middle East”¦eventually Tim’s outfit was called to make the trip and that meant he was heading for Iraq. It was on January 26, 2005 that 23-year-old Tim was killed when his CH-53E helicopter crashed near Ar Rutbah, Iraq in a sandstorm.
Tim touched so many people’s lives with his personality, charm, huge heart, and humor that it was inevitable that his death was to impact so many people in the town that he grew up in.
I often found myself, after Tim’s death, running many times and thinking about his life and how he had touched me. At times I often thought he was coaching me about life and to never, ever quit. He always went above and beyond anything I asked him to do on the playing field and I felt I needed to pay tribute to him.
It was in late February 2005 that I decided to train for the 2006 Walt Disney World Half Marathon and Tim would be with me. Every time I went out to train I would look up and say, “Let’s go Tim!”
I had many fond memories of Tim and always remembered him as someone who never backed down from a challenge. I decided I needed a challenge.
So I trained for 11 months. I lost 45 pounds. Got up every day at 5 a.m. and ran and trained hard for this thing.
In October I traveled to Walt Disney World to run in the Race for the Taste 10K. Two days before the race I went to pick up my race packet and noticed another race was being held. It was the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation 5K Race for the Cure. I decided to sign up for that race, it was only a 5K distance and for a good cause. Little did I know that particular race would contribute to my association with Deb Wills and her Avon Walk for Breast Cancer.
When January came I was ready. I used a safety pin to attach a photo of Tim to my running shirt. Tim and I would start, run, and finish together.
That was a cold January morning and most of us had layers on. We would peel these layers off as the temperature rose and we heated up. My heart was racing that morning and I found myself running the first five miles at an unexpectedly fast pace.
Something else unexpectedly happened during the race.
Between the Contemporary Resort and the Magic Kingdom guard shack I stepped on a sweatshirt that had a plastic bottle under it. I almost went down but managed to stay up. I immediately thought I had twisted the ankle.
All I remember thinking and saying out loud was, “I’m not going to stop!” My thought was, “Tim would keep going!” and so I continued, with eight miles to go.
After running through The Magic Kingdom and making my way out to Floridian Way, I kept wondering how long I would last and if the pain would do me in.
My 10-minute pace had turned into a 14-minute pace and I felt I was running on one leg…but I continued”¦Tim would not want me to stop. It was pretty apparent to me by now that extensive damage had been down to my ankle”¦I knew it had to be a bad sprain”¦I kept going. Knowing that Tim would not quit in a situation like this, as I took each stride I found myself whispering, “We can do this Tim! We can do this!”
Just after the nine-mile mark, I saw one of the race officials with a bottle labeled “Bio-Freeze” and I asked him to give me a shot. I was thinking I could numb the pain so I could finish strong.
That plan was dashed when he asked me to remove my sneaker. I thought better than to risk not getting it back on and continued to run, albeit very slow, with pain shooting up my left leg”¦the same leg that had suffered an exploded ACL a few decades back. Was I crazy? Was I stubborn? Perhaps, but Tim never let me down and I was not going to let him down. I knew somewhere he was cheering me on.
As much as I wanted to continue running as fast as I could, I succumbed to the pain at Mile 10 and went into a slow jog/fast walk.
When I caught my first glimpse of Spaceship Earth and EPCOT my pride”¦or was it Tim’s virtual encouragement”¦got me running again.
I was happy to see Mile 12 and said in a breath, “Let’s take it home Tim!” Each stride offered me new insight into the world of pain, but my ego was battling the pain and as we hit Epcot and the side of Spaceship Earth my ego was winning that contest.
I ran up to World Showcase Plaza and turned around for the last leg. At one point, I passed a chorale in gold robes and felt inspired from their singing. When I turned the final corner I saw a huge crowd waiting at the finish. I held back from the group I was running with so that maybe, just maybe, I would be running by myself and maybe the PA announcer would mention my name.
He did”¦but I wanted him to say”¦”Here comes Tim Gibson and Mike Scopa from Merrimack, New Hampshire.
It was a few days later that, while at home, I decided to see my doctor. Ankle continued to give me enough pain that I found it difficult to sleep. My foot was also discolored.
My visit to the doctor was a revelation. I was told I had suffered a singular fracture of the ankle”¦oops. I probably should have stopped running”¦oops.
Why did I continue to run? You could call it stubbornness or you can call it ego or even pride. I have to believe that part of it was that little Norman Rockwell baseball player with the baggy pants who laid down that perfect bunt on a 0-2 count that ended up winning a baseball championship that was slipping away prior to that beautiful bunt.
Tim would not let that game slip away”¦and he would not let my dream of running my first half marathon slip away either.
So as many of us look back at the events of 9/11/01 and think about how it has touched our lives I look back and see how it has indirectly motivated me to take running to another level, to honor a fallen soldier’s legacy of helping others, and to keep on going until I cannot go any further.
I run for all those battling a horrible disease”¦I run for those who are yet to be born, in the hope they will not have to face this monster, and I am reminded this month that I run in memory of my “son” Tim, who would do the same”¦to run with purpose.
God bless all those who were touched by the events of September 11, 2001.