42: Whatever It Takes

42: Whatever It Takes

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Think Possible

Whatever It Takes

He conquers who endures.


How long does it take to fulfill a lifelong dream? For me it was eleven hours fifty-seven minutes and twenty-nine seconds.

It started when I was a little kid, back when I was a fan of Charlie’s Angels and TV dinners were a treat. One day I was in our family room, spending a lazy afternoon watching television. They were showing the wheelchair division of the Boston Marathon. People in wheelchairs were pushing their bodies to the limit. That image stayed with me.

Physical therapy was a huge part of my life back then, and I had never considered what came after perfecting my ability to walk with my feet flat instead of on my tiptoes. Outside of the confines of basic function, that might have been the first time I wondered what I was physically capable of doing. Without telling anyone, I always kept my desire to complete a marathon in the back of my mind.

Five years later I joined a sports team for people with cerebral palsy. For the first time I was around people with disabilities who were older than I was and had disabilities similar to mine. Mentors and coaches pushed me beyond the limits of what I thought I could do. Nobody focused on my limitations, and during grueling workouts several people randomly called out “whatever it takes!” It became my mantra.

My passion was track. Training for hours became part of my routine. Over time, and with the help of the head football coach at my high school, I could bench press more than my body weight, went to various competitions, made the Paralympic team and challenged the world record in the 400-meter dash. Still, I wanted more. I wanted to know if I could literally go the distance.

After practice one day I was talking to Kerry, one of my coaches. Just like others on that team, she was more focused on what I could do than what I couldn’t. Because I was preparing to go to college, she asked me if I had thought about what I wanted to do. My mind wasn’t on academics when I blurted out that I wanted to compete in a marathon. I had rarely said that out loud before and for a split second I thought she might laugh. I was wrong.

Within weeks she found the Woodlands Marathon. The relative flatness of the course and the fact that it was in a community that was half an hour away from where we lived made it perfect. But because of my limited upper body strength, I knew completing this race would take me a very long time. I wondered if people would be willing to accommodate that.

Kerry made an appointment with Doug, who was organizing the race. He instantly put me at ease. Not only was he willing to have me participate, but he designed an alternate course to keep me off the main roads until daylight. He also made sure that the last part of the course was the same as everyone else’s so that I could finish with the other runners. The plan was to start at midnight and finish at noon.

When Doug asked me why I wanted to “run” this particular race, the answer was easy. “So many people look at me and make assumptions about what I can’t do,” I said. “I want to prove to myself that they are wrong, that it is only my expectations of myself that are important.”

The first few miles of the race were easy. Kerry and her boyfriend had volunteered to walk with me the entire way for security and encouragement, and my parents followed in the car with supplies and food.

About ten miles in, my excitement started to give way to fatigue and I didn’t know if I would finish. I had finally reached the wall I had heard others talk about and I wasn’t sure I could climb over it. More friends showed up at about 4:30 a.m. when I was finishing mile 14. They encouraged me to just keep doing what I did for hours every day of my life — PUSH!

At mile 20, I thought I would finish. I had done several 10Ks in the past, so I thought I could go that distance again. At mile 25 I questioned whether it was possible for me to push another stroke. I was exhausted. Physically my strength was gone. Emotionally it seemed like every good feeling I ever had seeped away with my energy. Blisters covered my hands, my arms were aching and I was having severe spasms.

At that point my dad drove the car about 500 feet in front of me. He stopped and got out and said, “Just come to me, Lorraine.” When I was about ten feet away from him he got back in the car and did the same thing over and over, until I entered the stadium and completed two-tenths of the last mile around the track.

“Whatever it takes,” echoed in my head, reminding me of all the grueling workouts I had finished in the past and the self-doubts I had overcome on the journey.

Doug saw me coming close to the finish. Looking at my face, he knew I needed some encouragement. He stood before the crowd and told my story. Then he said, “Lorraine has been here since midnight folks, and she looks pretty tired right now. Let’s all show her we think she can accomplish her goal.”

The roar of encouragement from hundreds of people gave me the lift I needed to cross the finish line. I set out to complete the Woodlands Marathon in less than twelve hours. I succeeded with barely two and a half minutes to spare. As people took my picture and shook my hand, I thought back to that Boston Marathon I watched on television so many years before. As an awkward kid, I didn’t know what was possible. But a dream was born, and I never lost sight of it. In the minutes after the race, I hoped I had come full circle. Maybe my completing this race could motivate other people to question what was possible and realize their dreams, just as the athletes in the Boston Marathon had for me.

A seed of confidence sprouted in me that day. For the rest of my life, I know I can do anything.

With the support of the right people and a belief in myself I now understand that anything is possible. Lifelong dreams can be accomplished in less than half a day.

As long as you are willing to do whatever it takes.

~Lorraine Cannistra

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