In 2016, while in Oklahoma City for their Memorial Marathon, I was invited to "run" in the Joplin Memorial Marathon. As many of you know, the OKC Marathon is in memory of the 168 people killed in the 1995 Alfred P. Murrah Building bombing. (I have done that marathon 12 times.)
What many people do not know is that in 2011, Joplin suffered through a terrible tragedy of their own; a tornado which destroyed much of their city and killed 161 of their citizens. The great city of Joplin took it upon themselves to start a 1/2 marathon to help fund both the rebuilding of the city and to create their own memorial to those who perished.
After several years, the city decided to do a 26.2 mile marathon to offer "full marathoners" a chance to run in their beloved city. This increased race participation considerably as well as offered runners the opportunity to see not just this beautiful hamlet of 50,000 people, but to also witness the remarkable progress of their rebuilding efforts in just 5 short years.
At the OKC Marathon Expo, I met the race organizers and was asked to be a "runner" in the inaugural marathon. Although I was honored at the offer, at the time not knowing the "cause" behind the race, (As my "Story" testifies, I only do races for charities and worthy causes.) I was leery of signing up.
When I discovered the cause, I was honored to be asked but was left with a conundrum. This marathon is only 2 weeks after the OKC Marathon. Whew! Two marathons - 52.4 miles - in two weeks?! A daunting task for a "casual" marathoner. (I had done just 35 marathons to that point.) Unlike "marathon maniacs," 4 marathons - And 20 much shorter races. (See the tab, "Races and Reasons.") - was just about the limit I've accustomed myself to over the past dozen years.
However, given the very worthy cause and, as I was, in fact, honoring the victims of the OKC tragedy, how could I refuse. Two weeks after the OKC marathon, I found myself n Joplin, prepared - Not fully rested, but prepared! - to participate in this very worthy event and cause.
You could not find a more hospitable city! They invited me to attend their pre-race pasta dinner where I met the Mayor and many other dignitaries. (The greatest of the dignitaries - with apologies to the Mayor - wore a number of the first responders following the tornado; which kept the mortality rate much lower than it would otherwise have been.) In addition, I was not only honored to attend their 161 banner, "Walk of Silence," I was asked to join the dignitaries in leading the walk. What hospitality!
Finally, I was humbled to not only be in the inaugural marathon, as the sole wheelchair athlete in the race, with wheelchairs starting 2 minutes before the ambulatory runners, it was a distinct honor to be the very first person off the Start line; the "inaugural runner," if you will.
Joplin, a wonderful city, a hospitable people, some of the most encouraging of the nearly 4 million people I've met in the past 12 years! Finally, they "made me" promise to come back the next year. In actuality, they wanted to confirm that I would come back and run their race. I could not possibly have known why they wanted to ensure I'd be back.
Why did they? See below: