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No more fears

I was afraid to run.

Ever since I was young, I loathed physical activities because of two traumatic events which happened to me when I was in grade school.

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The first happened when I was running to catch my school bus. The only thing I remember is that I was in a hurry, and then a schoolmate pushed me. This caused me to fall face down on the asphalt road. My two front teeth cracked and broke. Blood dripped on my uniform. It was the most humiliating and terrifying event in my whole life until then. I had never seen so much blood even in the massacre movies I watched. From then on, I promised myself that I would never run again.

The other harrowing event happened while I was playing 10-20 with my neighborhood friends. With my team winning, one of our playmates tried to cheat by adjusting the garter, and I lost my balance. I was an expert in 10-20 but after the bones on my legs and arms got dislocated, I stopped playing. My parents had to accompany me to school for a month or so.

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When I stopped frolicking under the sun like a normal child, books became my best friends. They couldn’t do me any harm. I think my love for reading was one of the reasons I landed my dream job a decade later.

After my first school year as a teacher, one of my colleagues invited me to a 5-kilometer run. I was hesitant. My blood-spattered Grade 6 face flashed on my mind. What if it happened again?

However, my partner teacher, Sir Ron, was persistent. He told me he would be with me all the way. Plus it would be for the benefit of people who cannot walk. So I gave in and got my first ever technical shirt for running with bold red words “I MADE A DIFFERENCE” printed on it. With the small amount I paid for the registration, I was probably able to make only a small difference in the life of a crippled person. But my decision made a difference in my life and in my well-being. That “Miracle Run” indeed wrought a miracle in my life because it became the start of so many races that made me a different person. It is never too late to change the course of things.

“Let’s run a half marathon!” Kuya Irone, another colleague and running buddy, challenged Sir Ron and me. I wasn’t sure if I could finish it. When all the 21K slots were taken, I thought it would give me an excuse not to join.

When I visited the site of the race, I saw an announcement saying slots for 21K which that had not been paid at the cutoff time would be given to other interested runners. A few minutes before closing, I asked for a half-marathon kit. I told myself that if no slot was available, then it was not for me. But if one is still open, then it’s destiny. I got one of the last half-marathon kits.

I prepared for the 21K by jogging regularly on campus, sometimes with my running buddies who became my coaches. Dra. Macabulos, our infirmary doctor, also started a running club and I was running with Ms Paula, Ms Yvonne, Ms Vannie, etc. At times I would go to sleep in my jogging attire so when I woke up, I would be ready to jumpstart the day with a healthy dose of running.

One month before the race, my chronic cough caused by allergies returned. I wanted to be well and healthy for my first half marathon, so instead of practicing I slept a lot.

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But a week before the race, my cough got worse. I was coughing while teaching. My students, colleagues and supervisors gave me fruits, cookies, throat coats, messages and even a movie ticket to help me recover.

Two days before the race, some of my colleagues advised me not to run. I knew they were concerned about my health. My boss, Ma’am Maricar, told me to go if I felt well enough but to observe my body carefully so that I would know when to stop.

On the day of the race, I knew I was not physically prepared for the run. I considered exchanging my kit for a shorter distance. Fred, a veteran runner, wanted to run the 21K but had not made the cut. If we traded slots, it would be a win-win for both of us.

Fred texted me a few hours before the race and asked me where we could meet. I knew my coaches would be disappointed if I gave up my slot. So ready or not, I made up my mind that I would finish the half marathon. I might not be well prepared physically, but I was ready emotionally and spiritually. I kept praying for God’s help.

At the starting line, I felt like a turtle surrounded not just by rabbits but cheetahs.

When the race began, Sir Ron and I started with a slow walk while everyone else sprinted ahead of us. We were both not feeling well so we just enjoyed the sights of Makati and shared stories about life and teaching.

At the 8K mark, I began to have cramps. We stopped by a medic station and a Pasig City barangay councilor gave me a free reflexology and a nurse gave two Salonpas plasters.

When Kuya Irone texted to say he had already crossed the finish line, I had mixed feelings. I was elated by his success but felt pain in my calves, shins and hamstrings. We stopped at another medic station and ointment was applied on my legs to relieve the pain.

With 5 km left, my muscles ached even more and the cramps returned. At a banana station, the medical team placed an ice compress on my legs.

At the 20-km marker, a muscular, blonde lady cheered and clapped for us. “Go, guys. You can do it!” she urged us. Then more and more people were cheering for us. They were complete strangers, but their support truly helped.

With only 500 meters left, Sir Ron told me that we should sprint to the finish line. I thought I couldn’t do it, but I trusted God and my angels to help me. Miraculously, all the aches and pain were gone and I was able to sprint to the finish line!

Kuya Irone asked me how it felt to finish my first half-marathon. I said I was truly delighted and I thanked them for motivating me. My parents and brother who ran the 5K congratulated me. My mom adored the 21K medal I got for finishing the race. But my real victory was not finishing the race but facing my fears.

After the race, I went to Mass and gave thanks to God. I sang the closing song like it was my victory song:  “Glory and praise to our God/ who alone gives light to our days./ Many are the blessings He bears/ to those who trust in His ways.”

It was one of my favorite songs when I was a member of our grade school parish choir and I imagined God cleansing my bloody face. There are no more tears and no more fears. I am now a stronger person because I trust in God’s ways.

Mara Melanie D. Perez, 25, teaches at the Ateneo de Manila University.

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