I woke up this morning to a loud, BOOM.
I vaguely remember that I was supposed to leave my house at 5:30am for the race.
Not a great sign. I had several missed calls and texts asking where I was. I quickly jumped out of bed and laughed at my hair in the mirror as I brushed my teeth. Well, this is just as good as it gets.
Today would be a good day, no matter what. Today was the day that I would honor the legacy of one of my dearest friends by running 4.11 miles to raise awareness for the eradication of human trafficking across the globe.
I grabbed my #lizzystrong arm band and ran out the door.
I would be running today, rain or shine. Maybe it's better that it was raining. That just means less people would be judging my disheveled, just-rolled-out-of-bed (literally) appearance. Also, a little rain is a nice change of pace from the faithful high-90 degree weather this South Indian summer has been providing.
When I arrived at the beginning of the race to meet the 7 friends I had talked into running with me, I was--stunned.
120 kids had shown up, wearing matching jerseys--ready to run alongside me.
These are the kids that I moved here for. The kids that I teach piano to. The kids I (try to) teach basketball. The kids we help with tutoring and leadership courses. The kids I train in Pilates (oh, I'm an international Pilates instructor here..).
The kids I came to India for, were now here... for me.
I am often humbled and grateful (especially this year) by the kindness and generosity of the people that are in my life. But today was something different. Today, these kids gave me something that I could never return. They were with me when it mattered most.
Liz would have loved that. She probably would have been the one to organize that kind of surprise for me. But instead, it was Coach Linson who took on the persona of a Liz Shepherd that day.
Coach Linson is the athletic director at a beautiful school, just south of the city, in a small fishing village called, Chellanam. I've watched Coach pour his heart and soul into that school and into those kids for a year now. I don't know anyone that works as hard as he does, or dreams as big as he does for the people of that city. They're lucky to have him, and I'm lucky to know him.
My boss, James Mathews, told Coach about the #lizzystrong race several months ago--and with that, he and the kids began planning and preparing--organizing a wonderful race, to honor my friend. To honor me.
To say I'm humbled would be an understatement. I'm not sure I have the words to describe how incredibly full my heart felt the moment I saw 120 kids run up to me in matching jerseys, smiling--ready to run. I'll never forget that moment.
Coach gathered the kids around, and with tears in my eyes, I began explaining to them why we were running.
I explained to them about the kind of person that Liz was - how she was the greatest friend you could ever have, how she was a faithful wife and an incredible mother - about how she loved to serve people (and that she was the best at it). I told the kids about how she was diagnosed with cervical cancer when she found out she was 18 weeks pregnant. I told them that she and her husband decided to keep the baby, and that now, a beautiful 1 year old girl named Sophie is living out her mother's legacy. I told them about how she never stopped smiling and encouraging others through the greatest battle of her life. I told them that she was my hero - and that today, they were doing exactly what she would have done. They were standing with someone who needed them.
Liz was always there, always available. Always willing to lay down whatever she was busy with to help someone else. The needs of others were ALWAYS more important than her own. Their comfort was always prioritized over hers.
These kids, my boss, my co-workers and Coach Linson showed me that Liz's spirit of serving others is still very much alive.
Over a thousand people from all over the globe ran 4.11 miles today to prove just that.
128 of those were from India.
Falling asleep tonight, grateful.
Grateful for those kids.
Grateful for my thoughtful boss.
Grateful for Coach.
Grateful that I don't need to set an alarm for tomorrow.
All photos taken by: Anoop Jacob George