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Running Relay for Life and for GEMS inspires marathon runner

By: Tony Overbay Special to The News Messenger
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Recently, I took to the track to run a few laps. I was surrounded by very enthusiastic, supportive people that made the run truly an experience of a lifetime. Now, you may be assuming that I’m talking about my 446-lap trek around the Glen Edwards Middle School (GEMS) track, my attempt to try and raise money to save the sports program at the school a couple of weeks ago. When I first sat down to write this column, that was exactly what I was planning on writing about. But just two Saturdays ago, a mere week after my GEMS experience, and trust me, it was an amazing experience, I spent time at the Lincoln High track and participated in my first ever Relay for Life. I can’t lie; part of my motivation for participating in Relay for Life was to be able to say to myself that just a week after running 111 miles (and two laps to be exact), I could get back on the track and do it again, well, not another 446 laps, but at least another 30 or 40. I also wanted to run around a non-dirt track as for several days after the GEMS run I found myself “giving back” some of the track that I had inhaled via sneezes into Kleenex after Kleenex. So two Saturday mornings ago, I found a team, the Cancer Kickers, that would take me last minute, and by 4 p.m. Saturday, I was back in the pattern of running circles. From the first step, my legs both praised the rubbery track surface and cursed the rest of my body for once again doing my best NASCAR impression. But what my body truly didn’t expect were the emotions that would quickly take over for the next hour while I ran. Gone was the pressure to down yet another banana or drink another gallon of sports drink to keep the body going. All thoughts about body were replaced by thoughts of gratitude and sacrifice going on that day around the Lincoln track. Volunteers were placing the luminaria around the track for a special 8 to 10 p.m. walk, and each one had a message of love, or support, for those who were surviving cancer, or who had passed, due to this horrible disease. There were pictures, names, drawings, sayings written on the bags. I discovered more than sweat running down my cheeks as I truly felt the emotional impact of the event. I started to look around me, and while I was one of the only ones running the track, it was filled with people of all ages, shapes and sizes walking, wearing shirts that celebrated the life, or lives, of those who they were there in support of. There were people wearing shirts that said, “I beat cancer!” or “I’m celebrating another birthday!” I felt somewhat inadequate as I ran, feeling like these people were running with a purpose that was much greater than my desire to see how the legs felt a week after my event. And then I reflected on just a week earlier, as I ran around the GEMS track, especially during the school day. Kids ran laps with me, miles with me, who had never run before. Several GEMS students stayed with me for multiple class periods, pushing themselves harder than they have ever pushed, even coming back to run with me later that evening. Parents and teachers came up to me in the days after the run and told me amazing stories about students and family who were inspired to do more, thanks to the run. And here were people on the Lincoln High track doing the same, walking for hours and hours and hours for a cause much larger than just their own. In the span of seven days, on two tracks just a couple of miles away, I witnessed people doing amazing things, both young and old. The younger ones trying their best to save their sports program, to do something collectively that would benefit them all. And then to be a part of what was going on at Lincoln High, again, watching individuals gather together for a cause, to support those fighting cancer now, to honor those who succumbed to the fight, and to hopefully raise awareness and funds to someday find a cure. I was asked a lot of questions leading up to my 24-hour run, such as where will I go to the bathroom, what will I eat and why? Possibly more than any question I was asked was why run 24 hours? Partially it was because it was something that I could do to make a difference. Ask me to help build a stage for a school play and you’ll get a Charlie Brown Christmas-tree like structure. But when I heard that my kid’s school was in danger of losing sports, well, Run Forest Run! But I felt like, despite the dozens and dozens of races, and thousands and thousands of miles that went into training my body (and mind, note to self, let’s get a little scenery on the track before next year’s run, possibly a hill, maybe some trees, a stream and maybe a deer), I learned a little bit more of why I run. In the span of seven days, I was truly a changed man. Thanks to spending some time, OK, a lot of time running around a track or two, I was able to see first-hand what groups of youth and adults in a community can do when they join together. And for that, I’ll run 446 laps around a track anytime! Tony Overbay is a Lincoln resident and father of four. You can read more about his run at www.tonyoverbay.com, and donations for the GEMS sports program are still being taken at www.supportgemssports.com.