I remember September 11th, 2002 just as clearly as I remember September 11th, 2001. The days were eerily similar – beautiful blue skies, light winds, and a perfect late summer/early fall day… and tragic. After a moment of silence outside on our high school’s front lawn for the first anniversary of September 11th, I went off to lunch. Our high school offered four lunch periods, 5th, 6th, 7th, or 8th… and I was lucky enough to have 5th (yes, I was hungry by 10:54am for lunch). After that I can’t remember what class I had, but I remember being in math class 7th period. That’s when our principal came over the loud speaker to let us know there had been an accident in the front of the school, and that everyone needed to stay put. Naturally we all began to panic. My classroom was towards the back of the school near some fields, and we just watched as police cars, fire trucks, and ambulances went racing by. It seemed like hours passed… and they did. Our teacher would get a phone call every so often with information, but she wouldn’t share much. Eventually though, we saw a helicopter land on the field out back, and a few stretchers go racing by.
I’d later learn that during 7th period, as students were sitting out front eating lunch, a gust of wind came along that was strong enough to knock a very large (dead) tree branch from it’s trunk. Under normal circumstances this wouldn’t have been an issue, as students wouldn’t have been in the front of the school at that time. However, construction prevented them from sitting in the courtyard, so the tables had been moved to the front. Unfortunately the giant tree branch fell on a group of students (mostly freshmen) eating lunch. Everyone recovered, except for Greta. Her injuries were too severe, and three days later she passed away. Our school was rocked to the core by this tragedy – how could a student, simply sitting outside eating her lunch during the first week of school, be killed? It just didn’t make sense. I had known the family from YMCA swimming, and was completely heartbroken for them. There were vigils, wakes, and the funeral that almost the entire student body attended. I know that I will vividly remember those days for the rest of my life.
But as it happens so often, out of tragedy comes something positive. Last year, one of my friends (and former CCD students) organized a 5k run in Westfield to raise funds for a program to serve adults with special needs, who typically age-out of programs as they get older. So while I wasn’t able to run last year, I made sure to mark it on my calendar early and register right away for this year. I knew that regardless of the outcome of my actual race that it was a cause I wanted to help support! But onto the actual race report…
The race didn’t start until 11am, so I had plenty of time to get a good night’s sleep and have my pre-race breakfast. My mom came with me to the race, and we were there with plenty of time to spare. I went for a quick warm-up, and lined myself up towards the front of the race. I started chatting with a fellow runner, who it turns out knows quite a few people I went to high school with! After some songs from the choir (that’s right, choir), it was time to run. Per the usual, I nearly tripped over a little boy who started in front of me and decided to stop about 50 yards past the start. Thankfully I didn’t fall (and I don’t think he did either). The first mile came relatively quickly (6:38) and I felt decent. I knew that if I could hold on to that pace, I’d PR. Of course by 1.5 miles I wanted to quit, but I knew I had to keep going. By the time I was halfway, I had picked off quite a few runners, including a handful of females. No one was saying anything, but based on what I could see ahead of me I knew I was either second or third. I slowed down a little during the second mile (6:45), but this portion also had the most “rolling hills.”
I told myself just to hang on the best I could for the third mile, and it was here that I heard someone yell “alright! Second female!” I had no idea how close the third place woman was, so I tried my hardest not to slow down. The course had a lot of turns but I think I managed to cut them all really well (Garmin actually read 3.1!). Once I turned by the middle school I knew we were almost done, so I tried my best to kick it up to “puke pace” … which turned out to be the same pace I ran the first mile in – go figure (6:38). I crossed the finish and saw that the girl I had been chatting with earlier, Erin, was the overall female winner! We grabbed some water and decided to do a cool-down together before heading back over the the finish area for the awards. It didn’t hit me until after I had finished that I ran a 20:35, which is actually just over a minute faster than the PR I set in July. Icing on the cake was my 2nd place female finish!
After the race my mom and I got Starbucks and a sandwich from my favorite bagel shop, and I made a trip to Trader Joe’s before heading home. It was really great to run a race that supported an important cause and was in honor of a really great girl. It was also fun to see a lot of familiar hometown faces and catch up with some people! This is definitely a race I’m going to keep on my calendar for every year.