The Flip Side of my Marathon Medallion

You folks have been real troopers for the past 20 weeks, listening patiently as I’ve yammered on about my LSD addiction, my little problem with speed, my achy arches and let’s not forget my blister named Boris. Me, me, me, me. I’ve been oh-so focused on the uppercase “I”.  Sorry about that. Thanks for loving me through it.  As I tell my daughters, this too should pass.

Truth be told, the pursuit of the unicorn is super-selfish; “me” can be the sum total of the marathoning experience. But we lucky ones have a built-in counterbalance in this admittedly egocentric undertaking: the cause for which we run.

The Boston Marathon has a long and proud history of supporting charitable causes. You might be surprised to learn—I sure was—that a full 20 percent of the field laces up for a cause. Twenty percent! It’s true: every year the BAA gives thousands of bib numbers to 24 different charitable organizations so they in turn can award those coveted numbers to runners who then raise money for the charity; in its 22nd year, the program has raised more than 100 million dollars (nope, that’s not a typo) for everything from skin cancer research to mentoring programs. That’s pretty darn cool, huh?

I wanted to do justice to the flip side of my marathon medallion—my commitment to the kids of Children’s Hospital of Boston. Those kids, of course, are represented by my patient-partner (and fellow Marlborough-ian, not to mention my former cheer chick) Grace Briggs-Neal. So months ago I asked Grace’s mom if I could tag along someday when Grace had an appointment at Children’s. Now, just because Grace agreed to be my patient-partner didn’t mean she had to let me watch her be poked and prodded; asking felt like an uber-invasion of the Briggs-Neal clan’s privacy. I might have even been relieved if Ginny had said no, or if scheduling didn’t pan out. At least, I could have told myself, I tried.

But she didn’t say no. In fact, she said a great big “sure! Come to the next Myelo Clinic with us!” The next Myelo Clinic just so happened to fall perfectly during my taper (I know I’ve defined taper before but I’ll do it again for my non-running friends: taper is the time when your training winds down as the race day nears). Now, you know I’m a big believer in signs, so I naturally took this alignment of taper and appointment as proof-positive that this was meant to be. So off we went yesterday.

I hadn’t been back to Children’s Hospital since Daughter #2 had been pronounced free and clear of her renal reflux some three years ago. Walking through the halls brought back lots of memories. I remembered feeling selfish back then, too, fretting about my daughters’ itsy-bitsy medical dilemma whilst other moms walking the same halls dealt with diagnoses beyond my wildest nightmares.

In emails leading up to this day, Ginny had described the Myelo Clinic as one-stop shopping for the Spina Bifida patient. To this 40-year-old single chick, the experience seemed more like the medical version of speed-dating: Grace was assigned a room and in it we sat as specialists made rapid-fire rounds—the orthopedist, the neurologist, the urologist, the something-else-I-can’t-remember-ol-o-gist—each looking for signs that he or she needed to take further action. (Note to my rightfully worried family: fear not, I have no personal experience with speed dating. Yet.) Grace was a popular girl; the room was at several points so crowded that I retreated to a corner and pressed against the wall to make room for more X–ologists in their clean white coats.

They checked her spine. They checked her feet. They checked her belly. They asked her about school. They asked her about how she was feeling. They watched her walk. They convinced her to try a more supportive brace. (This was a tough sell—the new brace will extend mid-calf as opposed to the current brace’s ankle height. Grace might be a Spina Bifida patient but she’s first and foremost a girl hitting puberty—she just wants to fit in and it’s hard to do that with plastic velcro-ed to your shins.) They mentioned potential surgeries to come. Grace said no; she’s had enough.   Ginny asked question after question after question. I was really proud of her; she kept on asking until she ferreted out answers she needed to spearhead her daughter’s treatment. Grace is a lucky girl.

In between the medical-speed-dating action, a nurse named Rebecca checked in and chatted with Ginny about All Things Spina Bifida.  When Rebecca asked Grace how she had liked something called BLIN’G Camp, Grace’s eyes lit up. “When are we going to do it again?” Grace asked. Once Rebecca had left, Ginny told me she couldn’t remember what BLIN’G stood for (so I looked it up on, what else, Facebook; According to the Myelodysplasia Program at Children’s Hospital Boston’s page, it’s Better Living N’ Girls), but it was basically a great big slumber party for a gaggle of teen and pre-teen girls who live with Spina Bifida. Funded via grant money Rebecca exuberantly secured, BLIN’G meant an overnight stay at the fancy schmancy (and haunted) Omni Parker House. They bonded, got girly-girl makeovers and heard spooky stories courtesy of the hotel manager. In between, the Children’s staff blended in a healthy dose of nutrition awareness. (Ginny later explained this is sorely needed, as kids with Spina Bifida often become overweight adults with Spina Bifida; mobility issues combine with unhealthy food choices to pack on the pounds.)

Nurse Rebecca, Grace and me at Childrens Hospital, April 13th 2011

I loved imagining Grace at BLIN’G, feeling pampered, loved and comfortable in her own skin. It contrasted starkly in my mind with a not-so-pretty-scene from our shared cheerleading past. During one particular practice Grace was, well, let’s just say not being the most diligent and attentive cheer chick on the squad. I was approached by a mom who spat, “isn’t there a ‘special’ team for girls like Grace? The rest of the squad wants to compete and win—she’s holding them back.”

Now, I am not usually prone to violence, but I confess I did want to give that mom a great big old attitude-adjusting smack across the face. (Duly noted the school may politely decline my next offer to chaperone a field trip after that confession.) Sure, Grace was having a bad night, but we all have them from time to time. She belonged on that team, darn it, cheering alongside her peers. She wanted to be there. (Most days). I wanted her to be there. (All days.) These were eight-year-olds, for crying out loud. Couldn’t we just have some fun, learn something new, and not let dreams of silly trophies ruin it?

Now, don’t get me wrong; I still want Grace on that team (figuratively if not literally—Grace has outgrown the Wildcats, and I was long ago put out of my coaching misery). But I also love-love-love knowing that Grace has a community to call her own, where all the girls tussle with the same demons and celebrate the same successes. Perfect counterbalance, yes?

I left Children’s after sharing a snack with Grace and Ginny (they had yummy-looking pastries while I, still on my uber-strict marathoning diet, was the party-pooper who sipped Perrier—I know, loser with a capital L). As I walked to the parking garage, I couldn’t help but hope that maybe, just maybe, some of the monies you super-generous folks have donated to Children’s via my fundraising page would go towards programs like BLIN’G. Preparing for this run has been such a huge confidence boost to little old me; it would be such perfect symmetry if some of the funds raised by it went to buoy the confidence of girls like Grace.  (NB: I have zero input as to how the funds raised through my run are allocated. You will be happy to know that those decisions are in much more capable hands.)

What a great way to prepare for Marathon Monday. Ginny and Grace, thank you so very much for letting me tag along. Supporters, thank you so very much for sponsoring this run. I hope you enjoy this little peek into a little part of the great big awesome cause you’ve supported. I sure enjoyed visiting Children’s and writing about it for you.

As always, thanks for stopping by and go enjoy the day,


PS: Sounds like Grace will be at the Children’s Cheering section St. Paul’s Church in Wellesley—that’s just past the 13-mile mark—on Monday. That makes me really happy. 🙂

PPS: Speaking of Boris, I actually have a scar where that blister once was. Just thought you might want to know. 😉 I don’t think I ever shared with you what he looked like back in January. If that’s TMI, don’t scroll down any further–spare yourself!

Boris the Blister, circa January 16th 2011

About garmin_girl

I'm a 40-something single mother of three--two great human girls and one four-legged Dalmatian banshee--who is hellbent on swimming, biking and running straight through my midlife crisis. Care to tag along? Crazy loves company! ;)
This entry was posted in Boston Marathon 2011, Racing for Charities. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to The Flip Side of my Marathon Medallion

  1. Karen Hopkins says:

    Yes, the Marlborough grapevine is alive, well and far-reaching, making it all the way to Spanish wine country (and, no, it was not my mother).
    So, I must admit I’ve been poking around your blog in a selfish, one-sided sort of MHS reunion (by the way, you look great!). Nevertheless, after more than 20 years, I was reluctant and undecided as whether to write you a note or just drop an anonymous line of encouragement.
    But if you believe in signs, as I know you do, then you of all people will understand how I changed my mind when I saw that you’re running the Boston Marathon on the same day we are slated to reach our own finish line: our move to the home we’ve designed and built (hey- it’s taken 7 years, that has to be a marathon in building terms). And then I saw your Marlborough map, with “my street” marked in green, my favorite color. And let’s not forget that the marathon begins in HOPKINton. And then I read that you’ve named your Cannondale (had to Google that one!) “Maverick”, like the Saab we crashed together down on the Cape. And I saw all those ’88 donations to Children’s, the one most catching my eye, of course, being Eileen’s in memory of Mark Nims. I happen to work in respiratory disease research and think of Mark on a daily basis.
    So, that decided it for me, and now here I am writing you a very un-anonymous message in the hopes it will boost your confidence to do what many aspire to and few can ever accomplish. Grace is a very lucky little girl to have you on her side. Please accept my heartfelt wishes and know that I, personally, have always liked you hair (mine doesn’t do that bounce thing).
    Sending you all the positive energy I can muster,
    Karen Hopkins

    • KAREN HOPKINS!!!! Ok so this is DEFINITELY on the list of absolute best outcomes of this crazy endeavor of mine–you’ve come back! I mean, in a very virtual way, but you are found once again! Hurrah! Yeah! OMG! I am incredibly excited about this!

      Whenever I get the little “comment notification” email from WordPress, I always smile; it is usually Marathon George telling me to relax I’ll do great, or it’s one .5 or the other of C-Squared (fellow charity runners who are bossom buddies and both named Christine). Occasionally it’s Daughter #1 poking fun at her mom. Whatever it is, a comment notification is always the harbinger of goodness and fun. I love to get them. But THIS one delivered something super-special. Girlfriend, do you have ANY IDEA how many times I’ve wondered where in the world you disappeared to? How many times I’ve asked fellow Class of ’88ers “anybody hear from Karen?” How many times I’ve run that green line past 151 Framingham and thought heck, I should just run right up to that driveway, knock on that front door and solve this mystery once and for all? (Hint: the roads in green are my go-to routes, so while I’ve run, say, the purples or pinks just once just because I “have” to for my admittedly nutty collection, I’ve run the green ones over and over and over again alla Forrest Gump–so I’ve had many opportunities to consider that knock).

      Yes, Maverick is actually Maverick the Second–so named because the Cannondale is the most fun form of transportation I’ve owned since that most awesome Saab we crashed together (whilst listening to David Bowie’s “Young American” a little too loudly, if my memory serves me correctly. Whoops, my father reads this blog…maybe I shouldn’t say that 😉 ). True to *both* of his namesakes, Mav II most definitely feels the need for speed (much more so than my very unsexy and very unfun minivan, aka the Mom Mobile). Like the original, I’ve even crashed him once or twice. (OK, way more than twice. But the good news is, these crashes don’t get reported to my father’s insurance company.) Fortunately, like that ’88 fender bender, no irreparable damage has been done thusfar and Maverick is oh-so-good for my soul.

      This is really-truly awesome and I am soooo glad that you decided to not do that whole anonymous thing because I officially love thinking of you living in Spain, happily partnered for a gazillion years (it’s more than seven, since you’ve been building the house that long–and seven = a gazillion to me in relationship terms; I can’t seem to manage that myself), working in a field that makes a difference in the world and ready to move into your dream house. Yeah! This is an awesome gift and I am gonna smile about it all the way from HOPKINton to Boston, yes I am. It will be a total treat knowing I have someone cheering me on from SPAIN! 🙂

      One request, no, make that two: 1). Please don’t evereverEVER disappear again and 2). If you ever venture stateside, would you pleasepleaseplease let me know? I will meet you for coffee anywhere, woman! (I know this may not ever happen as stateside can be scary, so I will do the same if ever I get to stamp my passport in Spain, which I’ve yet to do…but since I’ve decided to run all five of the World Majors (, I’ll be within spitting distance come 2013 and 2014 (that’s when I plan to hit London and Berlin).

      Karen, you’ve made my day. No, you’ve made more than my day. YEAAAAHHHHH!!!!!!!


      • Karen Hopkins says:

        (Note to Mr. Johansen: David Bowie had nothing to do with it. We simply hydroplaned – honest!)

        Well, I guess it does seem like a gazillion years. Oscar and I have just celebrated 20 years together. We have two boys, Daniel (nearly 11) and Nicholas (just 8), and we also did the Madrid version of the whole Children’s Hospital thing when Nicky was a newborn. He had a very scary brush with SIDS, which led to hospitalizations and heart/respiratory-rate monitoring for over a year.

        But, now all is well and we left Madrid 5 years ago to move out into the country to a village of 300 (now 304!) in the hills outside of medieval-city-extraordinaire Toledo. Yes, just call me the Lady of La Mancha. When we first moved here, the boys went to school in a 2-room schoolhouse, which has now been upgraded to four. Believe it or not, there are just 2 boys in Danny’s 5th-grade class, but they love it out here with the fresh air, space and animals. My English rose garden runs rampant with rabbits, partridges and lovely bright-green-with-red-and-blue-polka-dot lizards, one of whom, named Larry, loves honey and melons.

        But, you can still catch me every summer recharging my batteries on Framingham Road, or someplace between there and our cottage in Maine. If there’s one thing I miss about New England, it’s the lush greenness, trees and shade, and I just have to get out of Spain in the summer. I had no idea, though, that you were living in Marlborough. Actually, I was the one that thought that YOU had flown the Marlborough coop! So, we’ll just pencil each other in for coffee in July.

        Before I go, I do have to say I find it curious that we both make a living by running off at the mouth, virtually speaking. I am confident that Dr. Tsoukaris would be proud.

        Über-excited, (I studied German in college – did you?)

        P.S. The wildest fate-twister: I just got back from a meeting with my carpenter at the house. He’s all bruised and banged-up, with a nasty gash above his left knee. I of course inquired as to what wall he had done battle with, and he nonchalantly answered, “Did you know that you Americans make the best bikes ever?” When I asked what brand, and he answered “Cannondale”, I nearly fell down my still-unbanistered stairs. Unbelievable! I had never heard of them in my life, and now I have three times in the past 12 hours. In my world, that means something!

  2. Pingback: Entirely Unexpected Outcome of My Marathon Run | CJ's Marathon Countdown: 3 days!

  3. Eileen Davis says:

    This reunion has given me chills!! I have yet to have my coffee this morning so the brain isn’t entirely awake to write anything much beyond that…. It certainly did make me smile to see my name mentioned, especially when it is connected to Mark’s 🙂 I will be thinking of you on Monday, Christine… so very proud of you!! And ummm, Karen…one word girl… FACEBOOK 😉 ❤ to all!! ~Eileen

  4. Yep, I’m in full agreement with Eileen on this one: FACEBOOK! They obviously have Internet in that teeny tinsy village, so we know you are capable!

    If July is when you’re going to be here in town (which, btw, you were partially right–I did indeed escape for a decade, to CT, VT then CA…but then back here as being a single parent is tough without family around!), then do mark the Marlborough Tri on your calendar. You can see not only Mav but many other Cannondales in action then (not to mention some darn fine ones made by the Italians and Canadians and…it’s just a smorgasbord of gorgeous bikes. And some of the riders are pretty cute, too 😉

    Such such fun! 🙂 So glad you surfaced woman!

  5. Karen Hopkins says:

    I sent the link to your blog to my computer un-savvy mother (who had read about your run in the newspaper and had saved me the clipping). The quintessential physical education teacher, she is excited about your run, but the whole blog thing is a bit out of her grasp. Instead, she e-mailed me:

    “Thanks for sending the blog as I really enjoyed hearing the news, and tell Christine good luck! She is welcome to drop in at the house at any time.”

    There ya go! Official invitation.

  6. Pingback: What *ARE* You? | CJ's Marathon Countdown: JUST ONE DAY!

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