So, I didn’t set a personal record in the Monument Avenue 10K. In fact, my time this year was nearly three minutes slower than it was just a couple of years ago. But I have excuses: 1) I wasn’t trying to set a personal record, 2) I really haven’t trained for the 10K, and 3) I’m older and slower than I was just a couple of years ago. But that’s not the story I want to tell.
The story I want to tell is this one: the one about Cheryl and Lu.
Lu Treadwell is my mother-in-law. She had asked if she could come over and sit on my front porch to watch the runners go by and I said yes, of course (I live on Monument Avenue but, as my daughter used to tell her friends at school, “not in one of the mansions”). So she came early, brought a thermos of coffee, and invited a friend to sit and watch with her. They cheered me on when I came running by around 9:15 and they were still there after I finished the race and walked home around 10:30.
Eventually Lu’s friend left (I think she had an appointment at 11:00). And I went inside to work on the sermon, but when I went out to check on Lu around 11:30 she was still there, looking up the street.
“Are you waiting for the end of the race?” I asked.
“No, I’m waiting for Cheryl.”
Ah, Cheryl. I’ve written about her before. Cheryl is the one the second graders had the bake sale for, so they could buy her some orthopedic shoes that would help her walk without pain. Inspired by their effort she decided to do the Monument Avenue 10K—on a walker.
Cheryl was there at the pre-race dinner we had at Robin Inn the night before. She sat right across the table from me and told me how she thought she would be able to move faster during the race because she wouldn’t have to wait for the light at intersections or lift her walker up and down over the curbs (she’d been practicing). I admired her enthusiasm, but if I had been her coach instead of her pastor I probably would have tried to talk her out of it.
It just seemed like too much.
But Lu had encouraged her. She admired Cheryl’s gumption and told her to go for it. But now the race had been going on for more than two hours and Cheryl still hadn’t come by. Lu stood on the sidewalk, glancing up the street with a worried look on her face.
“Do you think she’s OK?”
We waited together for a while and then, in the distance, I saw the flashing blue lights of the police cars bringing up the end of the race. There was almost nobody on Monument Avenue at this point. What had been a big, happy parade of runners, joggers, and walkers had turned into an empty street littered with crushed paper cups. And then, coming over a rise in the distance, we saw Cheryl’s orange T-shirt.
“There she is!” I said, and Lu and I walked up the street together to meet her. I stood on the sidewalk taking pictures as Lu went out to give Cheryl a hug, and then we walked with her for a few blocks. There were only about four walkers behind Cheryl, and then the police cars. I told her at one point she needed to speed up a little bit: those others were gaining on her. She grinned and picked up her pace and soon left us behind, waving from my front porch.
Lu and I talked about how good it was to see Cheryl, and to think that she was going to finish the race. I said, “Thanks for waiting for her. That says a whole lot about you.”
And it does. Lu didn’t have to wait for Cheryl. She could have packed up her thermos and gone home. But she did wait. She wanted to cheer Cheryl on. She wanted her to know there was somebody in that huge crowd of onlookers who was thinking especially of her.
Don’t you think that made Cheryl feel special? And don’t you think that encouraging someone—especially someone who needs it—is one of the best ways there is of bringing heaven to earth? I do. Thanks, Lu.
And congratulations, Cheryl!
First Name CHERYL
Last Name CUMMINS
Finish Time Net 02:53:44
Division WOMEN — 55 THROUGH 59
Div Place 1,161
Gender Place 19,341