Jackie Gingrich Cushman

“A goal is a dream with a deadline.” Napoleon Hill

Six months ago, my sister Kathy and I decided to walk a marathon to raise money for the Arthritis Foundation. This was a particularly bold goal for Kathy, as she has rheumatoid arthritis.

Our initial steps were to gather team members (Phyllis Head, Cynthia Counts and Jeanne Cadwallader), pick a marathon (Athens, Greece) and name the team, (A2A4A – America to Athens for Arthritis). Once these steps were complete, our dream (walk a marathon for the Arthritis Foundation) had a deadline, November 4, 2007.

That gave us six months – enough time to train for the 26.2-mile walk and to raise money for the Arthritis Foundation. Our training, facilitated by Olympian Jeff Galloway, included long walks every 2 – 3 weeks, eventually equaling the marathon distance. Along the way, we encountered blisters, pulled muscles and, in my case, plantar fasciitis, a painful foot ailment.

Fundraising included e-mailing, mailing letters and requesting donations. We were all thrilled with the response, and left for Athens with more than $35,000 in donations for the Arthritis Foundation. Along the way, our team created our own mantra, “Walk on,” reflecting our team’s goal of moving forward with purpose.

Kathy and I arrived in Athens on Friday, November 2. We were the last of the team members to arrive. We were all excited and a bit nervous about the upcoming weekend. We had a team dinner and a good night’s sleep.

Saturday we toured Athens. The tour began with the Acropolis, which according to our guide Marissa means city on a hill. After walking up the long pathway from the modern city of Athens to the Acropolis, we came upon the Propylaea, or gateway into the Acropolis. To the south of the Propylaea we saw the Nike Temple, built for the goddess of Victory.

This Nike temple (pronounced Nee Kay in Greek as Marissa informed us), was built around 420 B.C. to celebrate the Athenians’ victory over the Persians.

The Greeks fought the Persians at Marathon in 490 B.C. Although outnumbered, the Greeks defeated the Persians. Legend holds that, once the battle was complete, Phidippides, an Athenian messenger, ran from Marathon to Athens to spread the news of the Greeks’ victory. He ran into a theater where people were gathered, yelled Nike! and then died. This was the birth of the marathon event.

Athens is also the birthplace of democracy. Looking west from the Propylaea, Marissa pointed out the hill of democracy, where men would gather to vote on civic issues. Participation began at 16 years of age, but boys would begin attending the gatherings at age 6, which gave them a decade of study before participation.

We continued our tour of the Acropolis, stopping at the Parthenon and the temple to Athena.

We then stopped by the Panathinaiko Stadium, where our marathon was to finish the next day. The stadium was the site of the Olympic games of 1870, 1875 and 1896, the latter marking the start of the modern Olympics. Made of white marble, the stadium is incredibly bright and beautiful. The Olympic rings soar above the back of the stadium; it is truly an inspiring place.

Marathon day started with a 4:30 a.m. wakeup call. As walkers, we were to begin two hours ahead of the runners. Cynthia, the one team member who had initially planned to run, changed her mind and decided to walk with us, as her legs were still recovering from having walked Friday up and down the hills of Athens carrying a laptop in her bag. Our team got onto the bus at 5:15 a.m. and traveled to Marathon to begin the marathon at 6 a.m..

The start of the marathon went well. The weather was perfect, high 60’s, overcast with an occasional drizzle. About six miles into the marathon, we decided that coffee was in order, so Cynthia and I ran ahead to find a coffee shop. We received a few odd looks as we asked for coffee and wedding cookies, but the coffee was the best we drank the entire trip and the cookies kept up our blood sugar.

After our short coffee run, Cynthia decided that running the rest of the way would be less painful after all, and she charged ahead.

About 11 miles into the marathon, we were overtaken by the lead runners who had started two hours after we did. They were running at just over a 5 minute per mile pace, a pace I could not sustain for even a mile. The winner, Kiprotich Korir Benjamin, finished the course in 2:14:40. When he finished, we were four hours into our walk, just beyond the halfway mark.

At one point, we were passed by a runner dressed in Trojan dress, complete with skirt, breastplate, helmet and shield. We found out that this year was his 11th running in Trojan garb, an outfit that weighed 30 kilos.

We walked on.

Our trainer, Jeff Galloway, passed us while we were entering Athens, more than 75 percent of the way to the finish line. He stopped for a few minutes, encouraged us to continue and ran on.

We walked on.

Cynthia, who had finished hours before us, greeted us as we entered the Panathinaiko Stadium. Finally, seven hours and 48 minutes after we had started, Kathy, Jeanne, Phyllis and I crossed the finish line.

On the way into the stadium, I turned to Kathy, smiled, and said “Nike!” The smile on her face was proof that she too felt victorious.

NIKE!

Post script: none of us died.


Jackie Gingrich Cushman

Jackie Gingrich Cushman is a speaker, syndicated columnist, socialpreneur, and author of "The Essential American: 25 Documents and Speeches Every American Should Own," and co-author of “The 5 Principles for a Successful Life: From Our Family to Yours”.