In 2010, my younger brother Bruce decided to run the Geist half marathon. I had run in the Indy 500 Mini with him in 1979, but had not run more than a 5k since 1983. I decided to enter the Geist race as well, for old time's sake. That could easily have been my story, but fortunately it is not.
June 18th, 2004. I was diagnosed in the early stage of aggressive prostate cancer. Later that year I was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. In the following years I had double hernia repair, back surgery, and, ironically, sinus and neck surgeries performed by Dr. Isenberg but that is not my story, either.
The story I want to share is one of the hope and fulfillment that was to follow my diagnosis of Parkinson's disease. Five years ago I wandered into the Rock Steady Boxing gym and began a training program for people with Parkinson's that would change my life. As a result of this training I am in the best physical (and spiritual) condition of my life. In the process, I learned that many personal limits are self-imposed and only serve as an excuse not to push farther. I found the joy of discovering and appreciating the talents and blessings that God has given to me, and of using those gifts as a way of honoring them.
Bruce & Steve Gilbert
It was with this newfound fitness level that I decided to run again. I planned to donate my 2010 medal to Medals4Mettle, but I was disappointed in my performance and kept it as a reminder to myself to keep trying. I ran again in 2011, feeling nearly as strong at the finish as I did at the start, and cutting twenty-five minutes off my previous time. Now I knew that anything was possible. Why not go for that mystical Marathon finish line?
I called my brother for advice. He had run over 60 marathons, most under 3:30. He was thrilled, and said not only did he believe I could do it, but that he would come and run with me step for step for the entire race. We chose the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon as our event.
I took this new challenge seriously. I had a plan and a goal. For the first time in my life I would train for running, and I would have three medals to donate to Medals4Mettle. I joined the Blue Mile Running Company training program, and Bruce was mentoring and encouraging me from Kansas City. My two trainers and a fellow boxer from the gym became inspired to run as well. It had now evolved into the first race for the Rock Steady Road Team.
From mid-June to October 1st of 2011, I became progressively stronger and faster. The encouragement and support I was receiving from my wife Donna, my family, my mentor brother, my trainers and fellow boxers at Rock Steady, the trainers at the Blue Mile, my church family, and friends old and new, was inspiring and unwavering. The challenge was to avoid overtraining. I dropped back a bit on my general training routine at Rock Steady. I got a little more sleep and tried to increase my nutrition focus.
Rock Steady Boxing Team
Race morning was clear and cold, around freezing, as the Rock Steady team gathered well before dawn. With pre-race festivities complete, we began our twenty-six mile, three hundred eighty-five yard challenge. Some of the race is a blur in my mind, but the support I had from my family, friends, and teammates remains vividly clear. We ticked off the miles slowly as my knee function declined. When we turned onto Senate Avenue and saw the 26-mile marker, six hours and twenty minutes after we began, the feeling of fulfillment it inspired washed away any frustrations encountered along the way. When I turned the corner and approached the finish line the theme from "Rocky" filled the air, a special gift carefully orchestrated by my wife who had been waiting there for hours. Waiting there as well were my sister-in-law, the rest of our teammates, and the race officials.
I wanted to run this race because I believed I could, and I wanted to celebrate and honor that potential with which I had been blessed. I wanted to give back in a small way to Rock Steady Boxing by showing the empowerment and the improvements to the quality of life that program can bring to people with Parkinson's. I wanted to demonstrate the power of belief and persistence in achieving difficult goals. I wanted to share my joy of life with those who have made that joy possible.
I ran a little throughout the summer of 2012, mostly 2-3 miles. I have often reflected on my conditioning in 2011 and speculated whether I can regain that level and attempt to set a personal best half-marathon time (sub 1:57, set in 1982 ).
In October the excitement started to build for the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon. I knew I was not in shape to go for the marathon, but what about the half? I feel attached to this event. I decided to go for it, and trainer Chris from Rock Steady was also running. I talked over the game plan with my brother and decided to go out with the 10 minute pace group.
It was a beautiful morning, cold and still dark pending the 8:17 AM sunrise. Following an easy stretch, "natural break", and light warm-up we entered the starting chute just before 8:00 AM. We spoke briefly of the many who we bring with us in spirit -- though we do not carry them, rather, they lift us up. The blessing that I have been granted to be able to do this wonderful thing can be best honored by using it. As we started out, we found ourselves moving comfortably with the 9:30 pacers. We turned north on Delaware just in time to catch the sunrise, with the rich early-morning light gilding the top of the Indianapolis skyline. In fluid peloton racing form the pack split the traffic island at Delaware and Mass Ave and continued northeast. I walked to a water stop at mile nine, and re-grouped a bit near the end of mile twelve, but the adrenaline boost from the Olympic fanfare blaring from the sound system on Meridian Street and the excitement of the turn onto West Street helped fuel a strong finish.
It was never about the time, yet it is always about the time. I had finished 14 minutes under my previous "old guy" PB. My glutes were sore. Nothing hurt. 30 days before I had not even signed up for the race. I had not trained for this race, but I had trained to be as fit as possible. It is much easier to stay ready than it is to get ready. No one pushed me, but the support of many had pulled me. My wife was busy with the Wounded Warriors project that morning, but I sent her a message and would be there to share with her soon. Then the ice storm began. Another reason to cherish being done, though the joy of the day also brought its own warmth.