By Ross Forman
Cheryl Ash McKenzie … I barely know her, but never will forget her.
We met Sunday, October 19, about 10 miles into the 33rd annual Amsterdam Marathon. We met as each of us was running solo en route back to the Olympic Stadium, which served as the start- and finish-line for the 26.2-mile grind. She asked about my pace and my run-walk style, and then asked if she could run with me.
Of course, I told her, thrilled to be running with someone, not just my iPod.
For the next two hours or so, Cheryl and I ran side-by-side. I pushed her to the finish line at times. She did the same for me. She struggled some; I struggled some. She saw my friends along the course from the National AIDS Marathon Training Program, such as Chicagoans Katie, Beth, Dan and Steve, and Josh from Los Angeles, among others. She shared some Ritz Crackers that Beth had been holding for me. We talked about our careers and she told me about her husband, Tim, who also was running, though at a much faster pace on this cool and mostly overcast day. We talked about her lack of interest in European soccer, which surprised me. And so much more.
Ultimately, we reached the Olympic Stadium, together. We crossed the magical Finish Line, and then hugged each other.
It truly was a moment I’ll never forget, quite possibly my fondest memory of the grueling journey, past windmills, around lakes, near some farm animals (pigs, sheep, horses, etc.) and more.
The Amsterdam Marathon was my third-ever marathon, all completed in an 11- month stretch. Amsterdam and my first marathon, last November in Florence (Italy), were fund-raisers for the AIDS Foundation of Chicago. Nashville last April was simply Katie, Dan and I running with a goal of finishing, nothing more.
I’m still truly amazed that I’ve finished one marathon, let alone three. And the morning after the Amsterdam Marathon, as I boarded my non-stop United Airlines flight bound for Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, I felt fine. Sure, my quads were a bit tight, but hey, I just ran 26.2 miles, so perhaps they should be.
The support I’ve received for my marathons has been incredible, truly heart-warming. From casual friends to long-time friends to people I’ve never even met yet have read my running tales and decided to support the cause. Family members and family friends also have been there. And countless business associates too, including everyone associated with Total Nonstop Action (TNA) Wrestling, starting with company President Dixie Carter, who texted me well wishes before and after the race. And countless TNA Wrestling stars also have called and/or texted me their well wishes, such as Kurt Angle, Kevin Nash, Jeff Jarrett, Sonjay Dutt, Roxxi and Jacqueline, among others. Heck, about a month before leaving for Amsterdam, TNA Wrestling stars Sonjay Dutt, Alex Shelley, Chris Sabin and Petey Williams truly shocked the shoes off me, literally. They presented me a pair of brand new Nike running shoes with their well wishes.
When the leg pain is, er, was there in Amsterdam at, say, Mile 22 or 23, it truly is amazing how the support of others helps motivate. I never once thought about stopping, knowing that so many others are, well, intrigued, if not amazed, that I have all of a sudden become a marathon runner.
And I’m not done running for 2008. Next up, it’s the Honolulu Marathon, starting at 5 a.m., on Dec. 14. This marathon also is a fund-raiser for the AIDS Foundation of Chicago. And this is the marathon that, of all I have done so far, is the one I am most excited for. Sure, the first was, and always will be, the most exciting, just for that reason, but I have so many close friends in Honolulu and have spent so many days on Waikiki Beach, this one is the race I’m most excited for. Darryn and John from the National AIDS Marathon Program will be in Hawaii, so seeing – and hearing – them on the course will be motivating. Hawaiian JR also will be running, which will be cool to see. My friend Hector from Orlando will be running in Honolulu too, though I know he’ll in all likelihood finish ahead of me. Still, standing alongside Hector after the run, as we both will be wearing our medals, will be an honor. Hector, after all, has already finished an Ironman. (No, I don’t plan to train for an Ironman.) I’ll be running Honolulu with Dell, a Hawaiian friend who truly is a marathon veteran. This will be his 20th consecutive Honolulu Marathon, and though he’s a much faster runner than me, he’s agreed to do it at my best, so we can finish together.
Just like I did with Cheryl … because that’s how marathon memories are made.