When I ran across Canada in 2012, my focus wasn't just of brain injury awareness. What started as a goal to raise awareness for this subject, quickly grew to something more. With each passing day, week, month, and eventually season – I was quick to realize those most affected by my actions, were the youth.
Every province I ran through, the functions I attended, families I met, and schools I spoke at – I was left with the feeling of wanting to do more. 2 years later, I can say with confidence that I am doing just that. I know it’s a tough struggle at times, one that consumes most of my spare time – but at the end of each day, I go to sleep knowing I've done all I can in that given day.
This past weekend, I had the great honor of running alongside my 7 year old nephew, Alex. He decided back in late March 2014, that he wanted to run ‘The Watford-Alvinston Road Race’. In its’ 56th year, this run offers an 8km/5mi run on County Roads, or the coveted 16km/10mi run from Alvinston, to Watford, ON.
As a child, I remember so well how much I’d wanted to run the race. My grandfather had posters of the event, from its beginnings and to this day, original road signs for the event hang in his drive-shed. In 2011, one year before Troy’s Run: Marathon for Brain Injury Awareness, I decided I was ready to tackle the challenge. I was successful in completing the 16km/10mi race, and did so in a respectable time. I’ve yet to return to the race however, as the following year, I was a part of a ‘bigger’ task, and last year, I started running Ultra’s. Our first race of the season falls on the weekend after the Watford race, so, it’s out of question.
The plan was to skip this years’ event as well, with the Sulpher Springs race one week apart. When my nephew asked if I’d run the road race with him this year, I couldn't say no, and I committed to do it with him.
At 7 years old, many wonder just how much he needs to prepare for such a race (8km). Truth is, in my opinion, very little. The human body is capable of amazing things, and the reason so many of us ‘can’t’ complete such a task, is because we treat our bodies like crap and our body fat shoots for the sky. This makes our legs and lungs weak, and … well you get the picture. Take a child and tell them to go ‘run around’, and most of them will do so with a smile on their face. I encourage all my clients to follow this model, and realize just how fun ‘running’ really is. If you don’t find it fun, are you really giving yourself a chance?
All that said, he kissed his Mom, said his goodbyes, and we loaded onto the bus – next stop, the starting line. I told him I’d be there along the side of the road running behind if he needed, and that he had no reason to be nervous, he had already made me so proud. Before the sound of the starting horn, I told him the same thing I tell myself before any run of great distance… ‘There’s two ways to get to the finish; walk or run, you’ll get bored of walking, so ya might as well enjoy the run’, and with that – he cracked a smile, perked his ears – the horn sounded and he was gone.
To my surprise, the first half of the race followed this trend. He would stay at least a few strides ahead of me, running alongside his friend from school that was a few years older. At the 2km mark, I shouted ahead that he was flying, and reminded him it’s a far run and it’d be ok to slow down a bit. At 3km, we passed a road sign, he darted to the ditch, jumped as high as he could and slapped that sign – it brought the biggest smile to my face.
As I ran across Canada, I did the same thing, click here to see...
Around the 4km mark, we turned from the County back-road, to the main road and headed into Watford. His Mom, sister, grandparents and my wife were on the side of the road at that point, yelling words of encouragement as I chased down my inspiration. As we reached the water/aid station at 6km we had just one hill to climb to get into town, a main street stretch, and then a run to the school, and a straightaway to the finish. He stopped for a long drink, I knew he was pooped, and my watch told me he was cruising – How in the world was he able to run this fast, this far, and not give up? – Again, I wasn't too surprised, as I believe in the limitless power of our youth, but this pace he was maintaining was something to behold. I grabbed two water cups, and told him I’d chase him the rest of the way, ‘Don’t let your old Uncle Troy catch you now’.
I emptied my two cups on his head and shoulders and let him know we weren’t far from the screaming crowds. They of course would help us reach our finish line. No matter how far back I trailed Alex, I could sense his smile was growing. His cheeks were rosy red, his neon shirt was covered in sweat and water, and I knew that we now had just over a kilometer to go. A top the last hill was a firetruck, lights on – and I raced Alex up that hill too.He beat me by a few steps before I repeated, ‘for every uphill, there’s a downhill, let your legs fly buddy’, and with that – the rest at the top reshaped into a gain of downward momentum.
We were in the town now, a few people lined the streets to shout encouragement, and it was clear they were inspired by my man A-Town. The final water station announced ‘Just one more kilometer’, as I dumped 1 glass of water on his head, allowing him to speed up and get the lead once again on Uncle Troy. I had another glass of water ready in case he wanted to stop. A few hundred meters up the road I knew his Nana and Papa were waiting, and it also happened to be the second last turn. As Alex slowed to catch his breath, I reminded him that Nana and Papa would be snapping a picture of him as he showed them how strong he was.
As we neared the second last corner, I ran alongside Alex – the crowd growing in numbers, and said ‘Remember when I ran across Canada, and you and Addison (sister) ran with me to the school”, “ya” he responded, “I remember that”, I finished, ‘that was a really special day for me Alex, and this one will be just as cool’, We wizzed past Nana and Papa, as Grandpa Bob laid on the horn. We were now just a ‘race to the school, and then a sprint to the finish’ away from completing this race.
I let Alex know that I could beat him to the school, a 400 meter distance, and with that, he was again charging ahead. I knew not to push him too hard, as I wanted to ensure he had just enough to finish. I stayed close, running side by side until we finally saw the stop sign, signaling the final corner. The crowd was big, bigger, and biggest at this point – and for Alex, he was soaking it in, in silence. His feet were doing the speaking now – and I could sense his emotion as he stared down the ‘FINISH’ banner.
“Now for the best part Alex, you know where to go, I’m going to catch ya”
Now less than 200 meters, it was as if it were just me and him, running for the pure joy and excitement of the sport. ‘Here I come’, I shouted as we were now just a few seconds from the finish.
He was smiling so big, he let out a giggle, all this – after 7.9km of pavement pounding.
“Number 3-6-9, ALEX NEMCEK from Watford, ON”, an address on the loud-speakers I won’t soon forget.
As he crossed the finish line, I saw his Mom, Sister and Dad looking with pure excitement at their newly crowned champion. His Aunt, grandparents and I soaked it in too.
Crossing the finish line a few seconds over the 52 minute mark was not enough for an ‘official’ victory, but he did however place 10th in the “10 and Under” division.
A day after watching such a great feat, I’m left with an even bigger smile for my man A-Town. Not only did he show such inspiring commitment, he stayed with his task, and completed it with pride. It’s amazing to see a 7-year old show this force, equally amazing to think of all the other amazing youth who completed this same task during the race. Alex wasn’t alone in running, and ran a lot of the race with ‘friends from school’. I don’t think many were 7, most don’t attempt the race until their 8… but it’s still such an amazing accomplishment.
Can you imagine what we could accomplish, if we started to allow these youth the powers to change our future, starting at a younger age?
I want to thank my nephew for allowing me to run alongside him in this race. Thanks to the event organizers, and to the many volunteers.
It’s events like these, that keep me motivated to do the things I do. Whether it’s brain injury related or not, the goal remains the same.
Educate. Inspire. Empower.
See Troy & Alex after the finish - click here