Liz the Runner and Unexpected Sources of Inspiration

Why On Earth Did I Wear These Flip-Flops?!

It is freezing. I am chilled to my bones. The hope of the sun is peaking above the palm trees, but in midtown at 7:30 a.m. in Tampa in the coldest February in decades, the wind is still blowing down the shaded streets between the tall building.

And of all things, I wore flip-flops. My toes are going to fall off, I complain.

“You have no room to complain,” Krysta reminds me, indicating the innumerable people running who will be in this weather for the next 4 hours beating their bodies against the cold and the strain of running further than a human body should.

Though it is a frigid chill, it is noticed for only short moments because the constant cheering from our lungs warms us from the inside out.

Krysta and I alternate between looking for our friend, Elizabeth, to come around the corner for her 11th mile and cheer her on, and watching these distance kooks in all their regalia. Some are dressed as pirates to celebrate the Gasparilla Fiesta Day. Others are dressed as Superman. One is rather scantily clad wearing a tight pair of shorts and bearing the flag. (He would not be complete without his well-groomed handlebar mustache.)

‘Where is she?’
‘Is that her?’
‘Did you see that guy?’
‘The one with the man-boobs, or the guy with the mustache?’
‘No, no. The crazy one running the marathon.’

[Pause. Wait for just the right amount of time to make the dramatic pause funny. Smile. Everyone laughs because ALL of the thousands of people out here are running a marathon. Perfect.]

These people are insane. Are they not? Who, after all, wants to run a marathon?! I mean, other than people like Liz.

Liz the Runner

A word about Elizabeth Carpenter:

She is subversively insane.

She has only been out of her parents’ house on her own for a year now, but she has wasted no time in finding her voice and stretching her legs.

She shocked me when she set out to jump out of an airplane.
She shocked me again when she showed up with a tattoo on her back.
She surprised me, yet again, when she published her books and has sold more of them than Jason or I have of Principles in the Raw. (We’ll see about that, you!)

She is a quiet person. Her actions, however, have made sure that she has been, and will continue to be, heard. She is unassuming and small, but she cannot go unnoticed. She is gently unyielding, like a the sands of the shore, giving in to your step for a moment but will withstand the pounding of the tide for centuries more.

She is active with our work with CPI Haiti, having hugged on children and supported diseased and dying mothers.

And, when asked why she wants to run marathons she makes no excuses. She does not try to make up something. She unpretentiously, almost defiantly says, “Because I want to.” When she decided to put CPI Haiti on her jumpsuit, I stopped questioning it.

Liz is a force of nature to be reckoned with.

With my passion to see people take new levels and accomplish life dreams, I made my way with Liz and Krysta to her marathon on a Sunday morning.

“Here she comes,” Krysta says, nudging me out of my reverie as to what brought me out into this cold morning air. I am starting to warm again.

After a round of cheering, I start wondering who else among these insane runners are not so insane as they are impassioned like Liz.

Who Knew the Unexpected Source of Inspiration

Having made our way to the finish line some time later, I start to notice things. Inspiring things. Motivating things. Things that were I to view in a passing car I would laugh out loud about. Instead, I am on the side lines, not sidelined but in my position to partake in this ancient tradition.

Victor and Welcoming Party.
Hero and Adoring Crowd.
Champion and Those Championed.

I am moved at what I see:

  • 60 year-old women, victims of mastectomies, champions of marathons just barely jogging, hand in hand. (We cheer and cheer!) Victorious and glorious.
  • An ancient man, 30 yards from the finish, receives a crushing cramp that takes him to the ground. (Shouts of encouragement, ‘Take your time! You can do it!!’) He rises and runs limping (Shouts! Glorious shouts!! Hurrah!) A champion.
  • A sole outline of what appears to be a child. No, a deformed Asian women. With a prosthetic leg. Jogging, or hopping rather. Tears streaming. Pushing her entire body to make this, her first marathon. (Throat-chocking, sob-blocking screams from all corners of the crowd. ‘GO! GO! GO!’) A weeping victor of a 26-mile boxing ring against a foe many tons her better.

Whatever demons were defeated, whatever ancient hurts were being conquered, whatever fears, worries, or dismembering memories were crushed and thrashed on; it was their job to strain and fight and claw and gnash and throw their bodies over the line. It was our job to give the rousing primal scream they felt releasing in their chest, unable to give themselves for pure exhaustion.

What Else Have I Missed, What Grandeur

Where else have I missed the racing heart of inspiration and motivation? What other obscure places do champions big and small, fine and distorted, whole and broken gather in? What ring? What course? And how do I align with them? How do I enter my own fray to the same degree of exhaustion?

And what crowd cheers me on? What audience screams the scream of the lion roaring in my chest as I expel all? What is taking my breath? Is my life taking the breath of those who observe it?

Must I be both champion and him championed?

Then, the small frame of our hero of the day. Liz is running. (‘Come on! Give it all!’) Closer now, she has a limp or s stitch. Still she runs! (‘GO! GO! GO!’) Pushing. Pushing. She is done. Though her face does not show it (warrior, through and through), she is spent.

She is tired and disappointed that she missed her goal. I am proud of her. I am emboldened by her. I am emboldened by this irrational urge of hers and those like her.

I do not care to know why she runs. I do not care to know why they, the insane, do it. I do not have to know why. I feel it. I know how it makes me feel.

I am proud. I am choked up. I am sobbing and honored to be a part of these lives, the heroes of their own goals and fates.

As she crosses the line, allow me to introduce you to Elizabeth Carpenter.

by Grant R. Nieddu

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My Tweets from Liz’s Race Day:

  1. Why am I up @ 3 a.m.? To see someone achieve a life goal of course! Liz carpenter is running her 1st marathon & qualify for the Boston. Will keep you informed throughout the day.
  2. Liz is listing her food yesterday while getting ready in the dark. Krysta is groaning tired & complaining in the back while dressing.
  3. Liz is sporting the new CPI Haiti jumpsuit! Bam!
  4. By volume, marathons bring out tons of spandex. Stretching before the race.
  5. The most granola-eaters in any one place. I like the marathon vibe.
  6. Krysta Christina & I just left them. Liz was putting on her headset & entering the zone. About to start.
  7. Race has started. Waiting now. Krysta caught me tweeting about her complaining and called me a punk. The line to starbucks in Embassy Suites
  8. Liz just passed & still qualifying for Boston.
  9. The Kenyans are well ahead. Kiwi s [misspelling of “Liz is”] still on a qualifying pace. My toes are frozen. I am pleasantly surprised @ the encouraging nature of running.
  10. Achieved first marathon! 3:46:?? Finished strong. Injured hip flexor. Missed the qualification by 6 minutes.
  11. Now breakfast @ First Watch. Head home. A nap. Meals. And laundry.

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Runner Photo by Randy Lemoine