So what started as a birthday text, quickly turned into a lengthy email, and then morphed into a collection of memories and streams of thought that I’ve had over the last couple years of knowing Kerry. I thought I would share, since one of my favorite commonalities I share with the birthday girl is our love of words.
I met Kerry at a Valentine’s Run at Miami Metro Zoo two years ago. I had been asked to be on her Ragnar team a month before, but I had already committed to my “Wednesday Night Lights” team (Shout out to WNL). When I arrived that abnormally cold morning to the Zoo, with my father and son who had recently turned 4. He immediately started asking a million questions. Half shushing him, half excusing him, I tried to get our run started, only to notice that Kerry had a smile ear to ear with her interaction with Nico. The race started and we were off. Nico biked along us as we rolled through the safaris and jungles of the world. We all started warming up to each other, learning to read Kerry’s signals, and adjusting to running with the trailer so as to not take out other runners. Towards the end of the run, I started to pick it up a little and I remember Kerry saying, “I like going fast”. That’s when I knew we were going to have a great friendship. As we crossed the finish, Nico, who at first had kept his distance and asked why Kerry wouldn’t sit up straight or straighten her head, was now asking to place the finisher medal on her and propping up next to her on the stroller so he could get a picture. He fist pumped Kerry and said he wanted to race with her again. That was enough to melt my heart.
Post race, we walked around and watched Kerry smile and take pictures with participants like if she had done it her whole life. Little did we know, she was a celebrity. At that time I knew nothing about her or why she was in the wheelchair. I only knew that she was a writer...and that was enough for me.
As we waited for her car to pull up, I read her an article that I had written for Valentine's the February before: Loving a Runner is Difficult, but you should do it anyway; She attentively listened and asked me to send it to her and she said she loved my style and hoped I would one day write about her and my experience running with her.
That too filled my heart. I walked away from a morning full of emotions, excitement, quiet reflection, and curiosity. I was curious to know more about the woman behind the thumbs Up and the smile. She was a Harvard grad who has written for the New York Times, Miami Times, and the Boston Phoenix after Dark, an avid sailor, breast cancer survivor, iron(wo)man, and Co-Founder of Thumbs Up International (among many other accomplishments, titles, hats, and endeavours).
Researching her life, I learned that when she was 26 and working as a reporter for the New York Times, she was on her way to Vietnam to cover the war when she crossed paths with a Vietnam war veteran whom she thought would make a interesting interview. Unfortunately, he had a flashback from war and thought she was Vietcong during the interview and strangled her, leaving her for dead. She managed to get to her feet and a cop found her wandering aimlessly. Assuming she was drunk, he took her to the hospital, and unknowingly, saved her life. The doctors didn’t think she would make it. They thought that if she survived the strangulation, the swelling her brain would experience would eventually kill her in the following days. She was too stubborn to die then, has has been too stubborn the rest of her life to let herself be a victim, miss out on living life to it’s fullest, nor let life happen to her.
Life isn’t easy for anyone, but Kerry may take the cake when it comes to facing challenges. From the time she wakes up to the time she wheels out the door to any adventure, it takes work (and lots of it), but that never makes her back down from anything. She has made herself into a YES person, one who struggles to say no, and is always optimistic and creative about possibilities. It’s one of the reasons she co-founded Thumbs Up International. She wanted to change attitudes about disabilities and show people that sometimes our biggest disabilities are the ones that we impose upon ourselves. We live in a time where people are too scared to do, live, act, swim, try, ride,or believe. We live in a world full of choices, and no one ever talks about the fears that come along with choosing to SAY YES to our dreams, choosing to say YES to what scares us, and most of all, choosing to say yes to what is hard.
Meeting and racing with Kerry over the last two years has taught me to embrace my stubbornness. She constantly reminds me that Life's a bitch, but when you are surrounded with people who can wipe your tears, motivate you, and push you to your limits, the obstacle turns into one more course to run through, and one more finish line to cross.
People are impressed by Kerry. Don’t get me wrong, I am too. But I am most impressed by what she has the power to get people to do and believe. She is brave and hardheaded for attempting some of the things she does, but it is amazing the courage she transposes onto those around her. I’d venture to say it’s her superpower.
Talking with my students, one student said “By connecting to everything that is real, we've separated ourselves from reality’ -Silvana Vitali 13. It’s true. We live in this increasingly connected world, only to be further from each other and separated from our emotions and the realities we all live. It made me think of so many conversations I’ve had with Kerry about the importance of making connections with people. She thrives on matching people’s abilities with others’ disabilities and constantly pairs people’s strengths and weaknesses. Kerry has been an invaluable soundboard of reality checks. Life isn’t the “insta-Bubble” that we set forth for the world to see. It is a messy, sweaty, hard, painful, heart-wrenching journey. But when we feel connected, we don’t feel alone, we can laugh off the pain, we can look hopefully towards the future, and we can sit on runs together while talking through the chapters that open and close in our lives. Those reflections allow us to take the lessons, love the memories, and embrace the growth it leaves us.
Kerry reminds us to forbid our disabilities from defining us. Whether we bare those disabilities physically, mentally, or emotionally, we are all works in progress and could benefit from a shift in how we view the obstacles in our path. Facing our fears may bring us closer to those finish lines we yearn to cross.
Little did I know, that our Valentine’s run would be the beginning of a beautiful friendship that has introduced me to a team of people who value life, who live all out, who believe that you can never be surrounded by “too much inspiration”.
So to conclude this message...
Kerry, I love the way you do life as hard as it may be at times or MOST of the time for you. It helps me strive to do my life as awesomely as possible regardless of how hard my life may feel at any given moment. Thank you for everything you have brought to my life and the lives of so many other people.