33. Triumph Over Tragedy

33. Triumph Over Tragedy

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Runners

Triumph Over Tragedy

The courage of life is often a less dramatic spectacle than the courage of a final moment; but it is no less a magnificent mixture of triumph and tragedy.
 ~John Fitzgerald Kennedy

Have you ever broken down a word and gotten results that really defined the term at hand? I mean literally broken down a word, phonetically and aesthetically and put the pieces of the term back together and got something that is much more simple to understand and easier to explain?

There are plenty of comedic examples of this practice but this is not the venue for jokes. A serious example of this practice comes from the word “triumph.” Let’s try it and see what we come up with:

First, we have “tri” or try, which means “attempt” or “have a crack at” something. Next, we have “umph”, when you say this with emotion it signifies “hard work.” In my life’s experience, at times as athletes (and non-athletes) we need that little extra “umph,” that push that tells us to “Cowboy Up” (any Red Sox fan circa 2004 will get the reference) and sometimes competitors need family, friends or the support of total strangers to push them a little further.

So let’s break it down in a formal rhetoric:

Triumph — The positive outcome achieved when hard work is implemented.

I first ran the Boston Marathon in 2002 during my freshman year of college with my older brother Michael. It was a long race, taking 4 hours and 15 minutes to finish; I was exhausted at the finish line but not broken. I kept my shirt on for the first few miles and eventually threw it on the side of the road in the ocean of other shirts taking advantage of the nice day for a marathon. On my chest was my name “SCOTT” in big bold magic marker written in my brother’s handwriting for the verbal support of the thousands of spectators and total strangers from Hopkinton to Boston.

I saw my family and a few friends from high school and college along the 26.2-mile path and I got genuinely excited seeing a familiar face, but as the race went on and the adrenaline dissipated, faces got blurry and all I had to push me was self-determination, self-motivation and the screams of the anonymous spectators imploring me to “Keep on truckin’, SCOTT!”

After finishing the marathon, I endured a few weeks of blisters and rashes. I had a good excuse to be late for my classes because I was moving so sluggishly due to tightened muscles and stiff joints. Overall, after the marathon recovery, I was as good as new; I was better than new! I felt such a sense of personal satisfaction that I decided for the rest of my tenure as a college student I’d run the Boston Marathon.

If the praise of friends and family wasn’t enough, if knowing that I was the only student at my college who had even attempted (let alone finished) the marathon wasn’t enough, if being able to walk my campus with my head held high and a glide in my stride wasn’t enough… then mile 13 was enough! Mile 13, you may ask? Mile 13 was Wellesley College, an entire mile that had runners running by an all-women’s college with a gorgeous female population cheering on the athletes pushing them beyond their pain.

That glorious day in 2002 was repeated in 2003 and 2004 and my plan was to complete the cycle and run it for a final time in 2005, but a careless, reckless and self-destructive decision I made in September of 2004 not only threatened to end my career as a distance runner but my life as well.

I was declared legally brain-dead on the night of September 18, 2004 because of a decision I made under the influence of alcohol. Miraculously I made it through that night. After three weeks in a coma, months in the hospital, years of physical therapy and intense physical conditioning with my good friend and personal trainer, Walter Laskey, I made it back. While I was in a coma my father made a promise by my bedside that if I woke up the two of us would run the marathon together, and if I were unable to run he would run for me.

Eventually, I was able to work my way out of a wheelchair and hobble around my house which soon evolved to hobbling around my yard which eventually progressed to going for walks around my neighborhood. In just two short years I was running — not particularly fast or with the best form, but I was running.

Soon after I started running, my father and I decided that we’d run the marathon, only not alone. My brother Jason who was a freshman in college, sister Jen who was a junior at the same school and her boyfriend Josh all decided that they’d run it too.

To most reasonable people, attempting a marathon would not be a feasible task unless they were given years to train for the race, but I already had three marathons under my belt and I’ve never been a reasonable man with a reasonable family. My family had pushed continually, every day and every night asking only for a full recovery. I am forever thankful.

The most agonizing part of my training was dealing with what is known in the medical community as “tone” (basically the constant locking up of a limb, in my case, my right arm). My tone, which only seemed to present itself during periods of exercise, caused me immense mental and physical pain. Eventually, after many frustrating runs and attempts to combat the tone by having my arm duct-taped or ace-bandaged to my chest to keep it from locking, I grew accustomed to the pain where it became more of an annoyance than a reason to stop running. I still battle tone today during periods of light to moderate cardiovascular exercise.

Only a few hundred yards into the race on April 16th, 2007 my arm locked up and stayed that way for most of the day. I can vividly remember “Team Maloney” (as we were called on the local news) arguing that we would stay together, but I knew that my younger brother, who was approaching his physical prime, would not be able to trot at such a slow pace for the duration it would take me; same thing went for Jen and Josh. Not even my father, who was fifty-one, could go at my slow pace. My iPod was attached to my left bicep via an armband and my right arm was locked so I couldn’t adjust the volume for most of the day. I had Aerosmith filtering out the sounds of the cheers, at least that’s what I told myself. The truth of my story is that I was going at such a slow pace on such a cold, windy, and rainy Boston day that most of the fans were gone as I trotted by (I’m pretty sure a glacier passed me!). After the first few miles nobody could brave the elements long enough to see me. For me, 2002 was the year of the hare and 2007 was the year of the tortoise.

Everyone knows the story of the tortoise and the hare but the more realistic conclusion of the story should be “Slow and steady wins nothing… but will always finish.”

My time nearly doubled what it was my first time out in 2002! When I was ambling ever so slowly by Wellesley College I was looking for a single spectator to verbally push me. But there was nobody there, either the weather was too fierce or I was just going too slow for anyone to think that there was still a single runner all that way behind the last herd of athletes… or a combination of the two.

As I crawled down Arlington Street and took a left onto Boylston (approaching the finish line), I could recall live bands playing shows for local radio stations in years past but not this year. This year as I went down Boylston Street marathon workers were already breaking down stages and taking down lights, but I had something waiting for me at the finish line, not a trophy or medal, something so much better, something that would last long after the medals are lost or hidden away in a drawer.

I had my family waiting for me at the finish line. That was all I needed, I knew that Jason, Jen, Josh and my father, mother, and little brother Kyle would be waiting.

My poor decision several years before had pushed me and my entire family into a marathon of a different kind, one they had not volunteered for or deserved. But that day, completing the Boston Marathon marked the end of two marathons and a new beginning.

I had achieved success, I had prevailed… I had triumphed over tragedy.

~Scott Maloney

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