Be An Encourager

Friday, March 25, 2016

More than three years ago, my younger brother embarked on a journey for personal growth. During that journey, he began to ask himself questions like, “What does it mean for me to be wealthy? What makes me happiest?” I have asked myself those same questions in the past and still do an annual check-in around my birthday and the new year to define said things. My journey is different from his, as ours is different from you, the reader. (If you haven’t asked yourself these questions in a while, you totally should.)

Begrudgingly, he accepted a challenge to run a 5K for my 35th birthday and not-so-quietly told me that he wasn’t sure if he would be able to actually run a continuous mile, but he would try. For work, he is required to be on his feet 10+ hours a day. Small movements and walking, but nevertheless, standing. I work in an office. I am grateful to have a convertible desk that allows me to sit and stand. I mention this because if you try to run longer distances, part of what you have to get used to is being on your feet for a longer amount of time than what most people are. I knew he would be able to complete the 5K walking. I wanted to help him set a goal that seemed unrealistic—one that he would never have set for himself. That’s my job as his older sister. He finished that first 5K just under 50 minutes, which is about a 16 minute per mile pace.

Here is where I give you a bit of backstory: He is the youngest of our siblings. He has always done things his way, many times, not the way I would approach it or even understand it for that matter, but it is his way. Our older sister is an accomplished athlete who has had to overcome so many obstacles, the most recent being Rheumatoid Arthritis. In spite of that, she still manages to not only persevere, but achieve victory. She is incredibly driven and ambitious! If you have read my blog, then you know I suffer a myriad of health issues—most of which I quietly dismiss and consider them more of “bonus rounds” in this game of life, much to the dismay and disagreement of my doctors. Our family has a history with obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease, and depression. Those are our predisposed genetics that we have working against us. However, also in our DNA are things that can’t be measured. We are a friendly people who overcome. We can endure, even if we don’t like what we must endure. We are fiercely tenacious and stubborn. We are hardcore and a little crazy because we typically surpass people’s expectations of us. We are adventurous, committed, and loyal to the causes near and dear to our hearts, especially when it comes to familia.

At that time, Brother was incredibly overweight. I must admit, I was both worried and jealous. Worried because I didn’t want to see him struggle with his quality of life like others in our family. Jealous because his body is otherwise perfect and unbroken and he can keep pushing it like I wish I could push mine. <—There I said it. I’ve finally admitted it, ok, so let’s move forward. Remember that initial 5K I mentioned, well, it was less than six months later that he found himself faced with another 5K and this time, he ran it in the high 30s---under 40 minutes---and all he did was commit to moving a little more more each week, as in actually running a mile at least once a week. A year later, he opted to run a 5K in the Fall that worked with my marathon training schedule . I was to do 15+ that day, and the plan was to finish my mileage with the 5K. I finished my race, turned around, and jogged back to find him and encourage him to finish strong! He wasn’t hardly that far behind me. That race, was a sub-30 5K for him—and the tears flowed. By that point, he’d lost 40+ pounds (I think it was actually closer to 60!) and he was more determined to keep going in the right direction. At his pace. In his own way.

Last year, he asked me to run a 5K with him. He’d chosen the Insane Inflatables 5K. It was a mostly flat course on a dead soccer field, cold, and windy, but all was immediately forgotten when we started running. We went with a Super Hero motif and enjoyed ourselves as we bounced around remembering what it was like to be a kid flailing against the bouncy walls of the jump houses from our youth.

Afterwards, with a wry smile, I challenged him to a Half Marathon. He let out an incredulous balk and grumbled, “Never, ever, not ever.” at me. But there it was, I planted the seed. I went on to run the rest of my races for the year and he did a few more themed 5Ks. 

We are fortunate enough to set some time aside each year to gather as a family to make tamales and do our Christmas exchange. We don’t draw names in our family. Our mother doesn’t like to be limited by giving gifts, because that is her love language. So each of us gets gifts for everyone in the family and we have tremendous fun! Like every year, my brother asked me what I wanted for Christmas. I thought long and hard about it. I wanted an experience with my brother. I wanted something fun and challenging. I wanted something that would make us better. “Brother, I want you to run a Half Marathon with me. Rock and Roll is on sale, which makes it incredibly affordable. This gives you more than enough time to train for it! That’s what I want for my gift.—And Texas Tech socks.” He tried to encourage me to have other material items and after failed lobbying attempts, we stopped having the conversation. After our gift exchange, I looked to him and inquired where his receipt was for his entry fee. I didn’t find them in my socks, which were quite amazing, too. “Check your email.” *tears* I was humbled. This was going to be difficult for him. This was going to require commitment and a dramatic change from within. This was going to make us better. I did my best to give tips and suggestions for training. I became an accountability partner. I reminded him that it was coming. I shared inspirational videos and generally did my best to be an encourager.

The weekend arrived and his level of anxiety was the same level the night before he had football try-outs fifteen years earlier. The weather didn’t help to give any comfort, either. A cold front had blown in, so we were likely to have a cool race and wind. Hooray for no rain, I suppose. Luckily, he had planned for this just in case and had packed tights and a long sleeve. That morning, we crossed the starting line holding hands and I said a silent prayer for him. I took off and ran my race with intermittent notifications that he was still going strong. Earlier, I asked his goal. He replied, “I want to finish the race and not die.” “Brother you aren’t gonna die.” “I am hoping to finish in 3:30. I will be really excited if I can finish in 3:20.” “Ok. I’ll see you at the finish line.” Like most recent races, I’d visited the medical tent, but only allowed myself 20 minutes in there so I could be there to welcome the rest of the family who was running.
I forgot to mention this part! My cousin Margie had signed up for the race. This was her second half and after completion, we would celebrate her birthday. She managed to convince her brother Phillip and his wife Sylvia  to run this race—both Navy Chiefs. My brother and I convinced Margie’s son, our cousin Michael to run this race. We were Team Mediocre. Because all of us might be mediocre runners, but in life, I’d like to think we are all far from mediocre.  A couple of weeks ago, our younger cousin Elijah passed away unexpectedly. We were going to make shirts for this race, but we wanted to dedicate this run to him. On each of our right sleeves was por Elijah. He was Phillip & Sylvia’s (and his ex-wife Norma, too) son. It was a devastating and tragic blow to our family, but we wanted to have him with us. As if the run wasn’t difficult enough, my primo Phillip ran most of the race with a cup of coffee in his hand. In it was actual coffee, because water and Gatorade are for punks. (I’m sure he had some of that for himself, but the story is better this way.) Military folks, I tell ya! See, I said our family was hard core.

Michael arrived as I was exiting the medical tent, followed closely by my cousin Phillip, and my speedy sheep friend Meighan, who is my running BFF. Shortly after, I went to say hello to my Beloved and to some of my other friends, as well. (If you are reading this, thank you for helping me when I finished running and for making sure I made it to safety!) While I was chatting, my phone notification went off telling me my Brother had crossed. My heart leapt and I ran towards the finisher area to find him.


He looked at me and I was already sobbing.


You blew your goal out of the water!!!!! He had tears in his eyes, too. I’m not sure if it was because he was in pain, he was happy, or angry. I believe it is the myriad of emotions almost every recreational runner feels after a race—especially one that is incredibly grueling. it is a feeling of disbelief, accomplishment, and pride. Three hours and eleven minutes. Fourteen weeks of training. One incredibly special Christmas gift delivered to me in the only way he could.

Be an encourager of growth and you will receive an infinite amount of indescribable rewards. Thank you Brother (and family & friends—especially those of you who supported us!), this was one of the greatest gifts you’ve ever given me!

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