“I am Grateful. And Happy. And on my way to becoming a full-fledged runner.” (Jessica, 9.27.17)

Jessica had just successfully run 1 mile without stopping or walking. In all of her 41 years, she had never run a mile. Fast forward 10 weeks, and Jessica ran 13.1 miles; not only without walking, but she had set a goal time for her first half marathon. Much to her surprise (written all over her face the entire race), she exceeded that goal by 8 minutes. Jess was just one of many success stories that unfolded on December 10, 2017 at the Dallas marathon;  the second installment of Project 13.

What is Project 13? It is a vision and a movement to give opportunity to those living with MS a chance to achieve things they may think impossible. A year ago, Jim Casey (whom I’ve coached for about 5 years) had an idea. His sister Alice is the founder of Meatfight, a barbeque competition held in Dallas every November to raise money for Multiple Sclerosis. While much of this money goes to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, she has also used funds to provide a bike for those in Texas living with MS. Jim wanted grow this concept; provide more opportunity, create new challenges for people. So he came up with Project 13. The name comes from the concept that when you enter a bike race, you don’t always get to pick your number. There’s a tradition in cycling that if you’re unfortunate enough to receive the number 13, you turn it upside down to knock out all the bad luck. Taking a philosophical view of this, your life isn’t about things that happen to you that are beyond your control. Your life is defined by what you choose to do about those things. Getting an MS diagnosis sucks. But what matters is what you choose to do about it. Project 13 provides opportunity for up to 13 people living with MS to do a challenge beyond the ordinary; a way for them to give a little extra “FU” to “FUMS”. And so, Project 13 was born.

The Dallas Marathon was our second challenge, with the first being Texas 70.3 (half ironman) last April. In Dallas, we had 11 individuals toe the start line, and we saw 11 cross the finish. Of these, 4 ran the full marathon while 7 ran 13.1 miles. We had 2 first-time marathoners, and 5 who had never run a half. I think this recap is better told if I dive into a few of the stories; as the stories are what it’s truly about.

Patrick completed his 125th marathon. Yes, you read that correctly. He was told by his doctor that he may never walk again, but he decided to prove her wrong. He began running, and he’s not stopping anytime soon. It is just ‘what he does’; it’s what makes him happy and through running, he has created an amazing community of friends and followers. While he clearly enjoys the running, he also seems to thrive off of encouraging others just as much. (Additionally, he has run a marathon in every one of the 50 states; as well as all 10 Canadian provinces).

Jennifer ran her first marathon. The goal was 6 hours, and she snuck in at 5:58. While she was recently diagnosed just this year, MS isn’t slowing her down. I had to strongly encourage Jennifer to dial down her tennis tournaments so that she could fit in her long weekend runs (ranging from 3 to 4+ hours) in her training for the race. What is even more awesome about these two is, Patrick and Jennifer ran 10 miles of their 26.2 together. While there is individual accomplishment through the process and from the end goal, there is also huge community and team support during their endeavors.

Ashley wanted to run the full, but ‘life’ and those pesky unexpected annoyances got in the way. A twisted ankle, tendonitis, a back injury; things happened, but she pushed on; taking breaks when needed but keeping her sights set on racing with the others. Despite being forced to take 2 weeks off entirely the final month before the race, Ashley stayed positive and focused. Despite fear of ‘not finishing’ and having to toss aside her goal time, she took it one mile at a time and saw the finish; but even better, she and Michelle found one another mid-race and stuck together through the end. Each one with their own story coming in, and each had their own respective goals; but they were able to help one another make it to the finish line on race day.

The final person I want to touch on is Stacey. She came to us having not been running at all, as her MS causes considerable fatigue and she carries a very busy schedule. She wanted to get back to running for herself but also to set a good example for her two young daughters. The unique thing about Stacey was, her last ½ marathon she completed was this same event, 13 years ago, right before she was diagnosed. Halfway into the training, I suggested we bump down to the 10k as I was a bit concerned with pacing we may have a tough time hitting the 4-hour cutoff. Her response to this suggestion changed my mind immediately and told me a lot about her. She really wanted to finish the half marathon again; to prove to herself that she could despite all of the obstacles. I loved her attitude and her drive. When she came down the finish chute, I’m not sure there was a dry eye in our group; while a lot of the race she mixed walk/run, she ran the final stretch and across the line. If this isn’t the definition of inspiring, I’m not sure what is.

But the really unique thing about Project 13 and Meatfight is, it isn’t only about those participating. The group support is unparalleled. Stacy is the self-designated “champagne sherpa”. She not only shows up to the events with a bottle of champagne in tow personalized for each competitor (literally, she walks around pulling a cooler all day) but she stands along the side and cheers for every person. Jim’s parents Mike and Celeste do non-stop work behinds the scenes to make ends meet. Throw into the mix team members barbequing on course, setting up aid stations, dressing up as cows, pigs and bacon, cheering all day long. It’s pretty awesome to see so many people passionate about a cause to jump in, lend a hand but most of all offer a smile, encouragement, a positive attitude and an endless sense of humor along the way. I’m just thankful they allow me to get to be a small part of it. As one of our marathoners put it, “It’s a disease; I’m gonna do my best to conquer it. And even though they say there’s no cure, I’m going to fight. And I’ll keep moving forward.”

On this note, we’re keeping things rolling and seeking people to join us for Texas 70.3 in April. If you are living with MS or you know someone who is and may be up for this challenge, find more information here.