On May 14, I ran my first 10K race after two months of training.
Known as the Sporting Life 10K, it is an annual running event that helps spread public awareness of childhood cancer and raise funds for Campfire Circle. Campfire Circle is the new name for Camp Ooch. Since Aaron was diagnosed in 2019, we have received many kinds of support from charity organizations dedicated to bringing joy and hope to critically ill children as well as their families. Camp Ooch is one of them. It provides summer camps for children with cancer, with oncology nurses and doctors in attendance. Though Aaron wasn’t able to attend any summer camp due to the Pandemic, just knowing that there were so many kind-hearted people most of whom he had never met in person but who would nonetheless volunteer their time, energy, and money to help him --- meant a lot to him.
On the day of the event, I learned that there was a group of participants who ran in memory of their deceased children. If I had known earlier, I would have signed up to run with the group. But that’s OK. Whether in the group or by myself, I was going to run and do my best, in honour of Aaron and all the other children who left the world too early.
A total of 15,954 people participated in this event. Of course this is a fact that I learned after and was incredibly easy for me to remember because I ended up ranking the 3954th. At the start line near the intersection of Yonge St. and Davisville Ave., all I experienced first-hand was the cheerful vibe of the crowds. Many were chatting with people they came with, friends or family member, while doing warm-ups. A first-timer in such a mass participation event, I couldn’t help but be affected by the bubbly atmosphere. I was not bothered by not having running buddies because I knew why I was here. Besides, my family would be waiting for me at the finish line. I was ready to run.
The run itself was a lot of fun, not least because the route took us all the way downhill on Yonge; at least this is what we were promised by the organizer. No one was rushing and for a time we all seemed to be enjoying the moment. Lightheartedness followed us into the third kilometre. Then came an uphill section, and someone near me said jokingly, “They lied to us.” I perked up my ears to eavesdrop more fun conversations but soon all I heard was busy footsteps, heavy breathing, and distant cheering from the roadside. The communal event turned into a multitude of private challenges that everyone must complete on their own. My challenge was partly due to my running watch that was so confused by the tall buildings downtown that it gave me hilariously confusing data. Sunshine was hard on runners like me. For the last two kilometers that we ran on Lakeshore Blvd, we were completely exposed to the sun. At that moment, my admiration for Ms. Lyndsay Tessier, Aaron’s Grade 3 teacher and a Canadian marathon champion, grew from huge to humungous. She represented Canada in the Marathon event at the 2019 Doha World Athletics Championships where the temperature hovered around 40 degrees. She completed the race in the 9th place. Throughout my last kilometer, I knew I had completely lost the “form”. My arms were swinging from side to side, my neck and shoulders were both hunching forward, and my feet were pounding the ground. When the finish line was finally in sight, I gratefully made a faint attempt to dash. I can’t believe I was wearing a big smile when crossing the line, but it was captured in the photos that came after. It said, “Finally it’s over!”
I reunited with my family at the finish line. Angelina seemed a bit perplexed by the presence of so many people, but she was excited by the idea that when she grew up she would also run in races like this. Li was so proud of having an athletic family member that he instantly broadcast the news from his social media accounts. We spent the rest of the beautiful morning at the post-event party collecting memorabilia and posing for photos. I particularly liked the poster with an official finish time stamped on it: 55’12’’.
This is the new memory that we created for the 2023 Mother’s Day. This memory could not have been possible if it were not for Aaron. We will keep adding to this memory by participating in this annual event in the years to come. Li will probably join me in 2024. He is heartened to learn that this is a running/walking event, which means that he can walk from end to end. That’s the beauty of the event. Walking or running, the significance is all the same if our heart is set on remembering the children and feeling connected to them in the run.
Finally, I would like to give thanks to those who contributed to my fundraising with their generous donations: Dandan Chen, Helene Desgagnes, Sasha Gollish, Sarah MacKay, Cong Zhang, three anonymous friends, and Aaron Chen Memorial Foundation. Collectively, we raised a total amount of $565.75 for Campfire Circle.