I Came To Finish The Race

If you have been following Annette and my posts this week, you know that they have had a central focus. Tomorrow marks ten years that Reed finished “The Race.” While the last ten years have had their share of grieving and pain, lessons learned have, we believe, given us perspective, vision, and hope for what lies ahead for each of us. We each grieve differently…that’s ok, and it's normal. What shouldn’t be normal are the thoughts that life can’t go on. Sometimes the race of life is easier than other times. Sometimes, the race seems all uphill, and our weak legs wonder if they can take one more step. Yesterday, about 60 of Reed’s friends and family participated in a 5k walk in his memory. I would be lying if I called it a race because if so, it would have amounted to the slowest average 5k in the history of racing history.

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Anderson’s have never been known to be fast. But what we have learned in life is the importance of starting and finishing the race. Reed loved to run. Two particular races defined him and his perseverance. And while I have shared this experience before, I thought it appropriate as it was one of his last races before he lost his life four years later (sorry for this story’s length.) Thanks to all those who have sent us pictures of your own races or walks in Reed’s memory yesterday. I have included some of them.

4:52:12
July 24th, 2008 came early yet was filled with anticipated excitement. Up at 3:30 a.m., a quick shower, and breakfast, and off to Salt Lake City for what would prove to be a grueling day of human endurance. This day would ironically be seen later as a day of symbolism and undeniable determination and a day of defining moments for 17-year old Reed Mark Anderson.
Reed had entered the Salt Lake Deseret News Marathon as one of its first participants. A registration packet that included a pin on entry number ‘54’ soon arrived in the mail. This, along with race instructions, participant advice, and a 26.2-mile race map, was soon laid out on the kitchen table to review as if Reed were laying out battle plans. In a sense, this was a battle. Months before the marathon, Reed shared his racing plans with others only to be told that such a race would not only be unwise and impractical but impossible for him to accomplish. These were fighting words to a young man who had been reminded over and over again of his perceived physical limitations.
The race began as the earliest glimpse of a new day began to dawn. The horn blew, and the race had begun. I looked to see how many other fathers at the starting line were watching carefully over his child…I didn’t see any others. Maybe I was too protective. At the time, the thought occurred that maybe I should have just dropped Reed off at the staging place and taken my place at the finish line. I soon recognized that this race was as important for Reed to participate in as I observed.
Run For Reed
At the first observation point, approximately three miles into the race, I watched as a small grouping of experienced Ethiopian runners glided in perfect stride past my position. So
ten minutes later, I saw Reed run past me. His stride was not as smooth, nor was his breathing nearly as paced as the runners I had seen only moments before. I saw Reed, and he saw me. Reed are you doing ok?, I asked. He turned to me and smiled. No words, no complaints, simply a smile, and he was gone.
I noticed the black neoprene sleeve covering his left knee. My mind took me back to the previous September when Reed complained one Saturday afternoon that his recent surgically repaired knee was beginning to feel hot and uncomfortable. A call to Dr. Hugh West gave us a reason to be concerned. Dr. West indicated that he was returning from an out-of-state trip and was at the
Salt Lake Airport. He asked us to meet him at the hospital in an hour. Dr. West diagnosed a serious staph infection, and another knee surgery was soon taking place. It was necessary to remove a four-inch by two-inch portion of flesh just below the knee that was infected.
As part of the treatment, Reed was given instructions to visit the Intermountain Medical Wound Care Clinic three times a week to clean and treat the open wound. It was during his treatments at the clinic that Reed contracted MRSA Staph Infection. The treatment for this new infection proved even more critical than the first. A pick line had been placed into Reed’s vein, and an IV was administered twice a day for six weeks. At the end of the six weeks, the results of new tests showed that the MRSA infection was still in his body. Another six-week round of an even stronger IV was given, and signs of the infection were gone three months after they were found.
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When I next saw Reed, he was approximately ten miles into the marathon near the Hogle Zoo in Emigration Canyon. Reed had found a running buddy. A younger man probably in his early 30’s who, like Reed, had a unique running story. He was pushing another physically challenged man in a running stroller made specifically for that purpose. I believe that Reed saw in himself both men. The unselfish runner pushing the other man, and how he was able to improvise a way to include one who could not run himself. The man in the adult running stroller who could participate even though serious physical limitations would have typically not even been a consideration. Reed
has never been one to be short of friends or new acquaintances.
At this point of the race, Reed was nowhere close to the lead but could still maintain a position midway through the pack of determined racers. The question from the beginning of Reed’s marathon training was not about winning but about finishing. He could have taken the less strenuous route of running the 10k race instead of the marathon. His best friend Trevor Sharp was running the 10k, and it would have been easy for Reed to have run with Trevor.
A couple of days before the race, Reed and I had driven the race route. He made careful observations with pen and paper, discussing aloud where he would need to exert himself and pace himself through difficult terrain.
At this point, Reed was approximately ten miles into the race and was feeling “ok.” He stopped for a brief moment to talk with me and to catch his breath. He indicated that his knees were hurting but that he would be alright. He took a drink of water and was on his way once again.
Reed’s route would take him along Foothill Blvd, and then down third South and eventually finishing in Liberty Park. I took my place along the racing route and waited. My wait saw many others that I had recognized that were far behind Reed near the Zoo, but was now in front of him…or was they? Could I have missed Reed as he ran past me? I couldn’t imagine what was taking him so long. Finally, in the distance, I saw Reed running towards my position with a noticeable limp. His face was much more intent. His stride was poor, his color was off, and it appeared that if his body could have talked, it would have said, “I’m done. I’m finished. Why did I even think I could finish this race?” One thing that I had learned over the years was that Reed's body and his sense of self-preservation were often in conflict with one another.
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Reed had no intention of stopping. By the time Reed had gotten to this point, the rest of his family had joined with me and began to cheer enthusiastically. Reed’s brother and two sisters and mother, along with numerous cousins, were there to encourage him on. One of Reed’s cousins, Allie, made an impromptu decision that she would run with Reed and try to keep him moving. That proved to be the pure inspiration on her part. She was dressed in running attire and gave Reed the strength to continue to move.
With approximately four miles left to the finish, Reed was emotionally and physically spent. At this point, a few of us began to walk with Reed as he slowed down considerably. There was no talk of quitting at this point. He knew that the finish line was not far off. At this point, he told me that he could feel the skin that had since rubbed off of his feet throb with every step. He begs
a to cadence his jog with the throbbing motion of each heart-beat.
At this point, Reed had long ago stopped checking the progress on his running watch. This was not about personal bests or achieving a time. He told me that his feet were on fire and that he couldn’t even feel his knee which only months before was a sight for only the strong of heart. I began to wonder what kind of a father I was in allowing my son to complete in such a race. My justification was simply that he would have run the race regardless of what his mother or I had encouraged him to do.
Often, when Reed decided that he would do something, all I could do was step aside and observe. Both Annette and I had tried to help him see the foolishness in competing in the race. Quite honestly, my involvement in following Reed throughout the grueling race was more for having a convenient car nearby when Reed decided that he had had enough.
Towards the end of the race, with perhaps a half-mile to the finish line, Reed once again started to run as if the race had only started a few
miles ago. At this point, Trevor Sharp Reed's friend had been waiting for Reed at the finish line for some time. He had started to jog in the opposite direction of the finish line in an attempt to find Reed. As the two of them began running together towards the finish, Reed’s countenance turned from pain and anguish to an “I can do this” disposition. He found a smile and an extra step. As Reed ran across the finish line, it was as if he had finished in the first place. Cheers from family and a few friends were numerous. Reed had finished a significant chapter in his life. One of endurance and physical will, but most importantly, achievement. As Reed ran across the finish line, the digital numbers above his head showed the time…Runner 54 finishes at 4:52:12.
The winner, Joseph Chirlee, won the race with a time of 2:18:16…less than half the time it took Reed to finish. The final tally showed that out of 530 finishers, Reed finished 385. What made him feel better about his time because he finished number 5 in the 15-18-year-old category out of ten boys in that grouping.
One More Mile
Upon completing the race, Reed immediately took his shoes and socks off and placed his feet in an ice pool. This gave him the relief that he had sought and that was needed to regain his physical composure. While he was resting under a tree, he saw his “running buddy” pushing his disabled friend throughout the race in the crowd. Reed asked me to take his picture with the two of them. The man pushing his friend had turned out to be a great inspiration for Reed when he had, for a brief moment, considered stopping.
In Reed’s bedroom, a picture hangs on the wall of a workhorse that appears to have given all it had. The inscription on the bottom,
written by Ross Taylor, is a true reflection of not only this workhorse but also of Reed:
“This photograph was taken about 1917 in an underground mineshaft. The horse was totally blind, as were all such horses due to a lifetime in total darkness. It is the most impressive image I have ever seen. It depicts the American way of life and the effort it took our forefathers to build this great country. Often, when I have been discouraged and despondent beyond words, I have looked at this picture and said to myself, ‘I will pull it one more mile.’ With that attitude in mind and with an average amount of intelligence, any person can certainly make a success of their life in this land of free enterprise.”
This race was one of many that helped define Reed’s ability and propensity to find ways of finishing the often challenging race of his life.
Let’s all recognize that life is not just about starting but finishing. You don’t have to be the best, but know that finishing will define you when your race is complete.

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Annette Anderson of Cairn The Load

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