The two little girls looked like any other kids waiting for someone at the race finish line. Bright t-shirts announced their presence and their ponytails blew in the wind as they took in the sights and sounds of runners completing an overnight, 200-mile team relay at Ragnar Tennessee. But as I looked closer, I noticed they were talking to a few guys from a team I’d noticed all along the 32-hour race course. The men were part of a team called Run Free, and while there must be many differences among them, they all have one thing in common: they are all amputees who run using a prosthesis called a blade. They are all determined runners who have made their story one that won’t be defined by excuses, limits, or regrets. These little girls were talking to some of the most inspirational athletes at that finish line.
Let me tell you a little about what these runners had done, just that weekend. I had seen the first one out at 6:30 AM on the north shore in Chattanooga, having just started his first run on the banks of the Tennessee River. He would hand off the team’s baton about six miles west, to runner 2. That runner would take his turn, before handing off to a third runner a little further down the course. And so on, until all 12 had taken three turns each, and the team ended up, on very little sleep, near the honky-tonks and bustle of downtown Nashville. It’s what we all did that weekend, and yet we don’t all have the story of the Blade Runners—not even close.
Early on in the race, I spent some time in a ‘quiet room’ at a middle school that hosted the runners. The quiet room was a school gym where we were welcome to sleep before our next round of running. One of the blade runners was there, both of his prostheses off, sleeping near upright against a large bean bag. When it was time for him to go, he pulled a protective cloth over each of his upper legs, planted each one in the top of a blade, secured it, and hoisted himself up, leaving to find his team. It was a pretty simple process, from my view—a testament to the technology that allows these runners to get going quickly. The blades give the runners the power to accomplish great things, and offer a stark contrast to the vulnerability one must feel when he or she cannot walk without assistance.
And here’s the thing—the blade runners even did it with humor. Among the messages on their van: “Show us your leg!” and “Honk if a leg falls out!” No excuses, no self-pity.
So here’s the question I’ve been turning over and over in my head. What if team Run Free hadn’t shown up last weekend? What if they’d decided that it was too hard? That they didn’t want to sleep, upright, in a school gym? That running three times in 32 hours was too hard, or that the mountains on the course were too much, or that the storms blowing in that Saturday were too unpleasant?
On a basic level, I suppose there wouldn’t be a great fallout. What’s one missing team among 200? Not much. The other runners who didn’t know the team even existed wouldn’t really care. It’s just one less van at the exchanges. Twelve fewer runners using the porta-potties.
But what of those girls at the finish line? If you look closely at the picture below, you’ll see why it was important that team Run Free be at the finish line. Both those little ones are amputees. Both wear blades. And I watched them both jump and bounce around at the finish line because of those blades. And, now, because of what they saw the team accomplish, they are both able to say “Running is completely do-able and normal for amputees like me. No excuses.”
All of that, because 12 guys, one by one, showed up. Even though it was harder than it might be for someone else. Even though, at some point, they probably wanted to quit. Even though they weren’t sure who might be watching.
Next time you want to take the easy way out, or quit altogether, I urge you to consider these guys. Consider those little girls. Do the right thing. Whatever has tried to emotionally, mentally, or spiritually disable you—find a way to silence, tame it, and eventually defeat it. Get help! Pray. Study. Find someone who can counsel you on how to do it. These are all tools we have access to, just like a blade for your race in life. So find them, use them, and get going.
When things are hard, show up.
When you want to quit, show up.
When you have every excuse, show up.
You never know who needs you to be there.
If you’d like to learn more about the Amputee Blade Runners, you can visit their site here, and their Instagram here.
Encouragement Spoken Here
"A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver." Proverbs 25:11