T.J. before running her first-ever marathon in New York—11/2012

T.J. before running her first-ever marathon in New York—11/4/2012

by T.J. Stephens on Sunday, November 4, 2012 at 11:40am

Like many of the residents of New York City, I wasn’t born here. In a move that barely makes sense to me to this day, I came here for college, but really on some level, I came here to run away from something dark that happened to me back home.

Every day since I’ve moved here has made me a better person than I was when I left, and maybe that change would’ve occurred naturally anywhere, but when I look back on the six years I’ve spent here so far and on the people I’ve spent them with… I know that I grew up to be as strong and brave as I am today because of this city and what it’s given me as well as what it’s put me up against.

I’ve always wanted to run a marathon. I have proof, in fact – a list that I made when I was 14 of things that I wanted to do before I died. Four years ago, I entered the lottery for the NYC marathon for the first time. I wasn’t really much of a distance runner back then, but I was hell-bent on becoming one, and I entered the lottery again every year after that for the next three years until I finally got defaulted into the race.

I used to live in Alphabet City, and my very first “long run” was a trek down by the FDR, across Battery Park, up the West Side Highway, and across 12th Street again to my door. It totaled something close to 8 miles, which after training for the last year in the double digits, now feels like a leisurely stroll, but back then, I felt like I’d achieved the impossible.

All of my training runs this year have followed a similar route along the water. I did this on purpose because every time I feel like I can’t possibly run any farther, I come across a landmark that I saw on that first long run – one of a hundred NYC sites that reminds me who I’ve become here, and how far I am from that little girl in Texas who wasn’t brave enough to stick up for herself. I think “I can definitely keep running. I made it here after all, didn’t I?”

The friends I’ve made here are all beautiful people. Some are real New Yorkers who carry the city’s history on their backs; others are immigrants, like me, who shared their part of the world with me as I made Texas a part of theirs. Some are growing into doctors, dentists, filmmakers, playwrights, entrepreneurs… I met my tall, outstanding sisters here. I found a family of Argentinians who brought me in and taught me what it means to work hard. I now work for a company that sent me back to the land of my childhood, introduced me to one of my very best friends, and brought someone I love dearly into my neighborhood. I think about all of these people that I found here every time I’m running down the waterfront and about how eternally grateful I am for this place. When I’m running, I’m not running away from anything anymore; I’m running in homage to New York and to a future where even bigger things that once seemed impossible come easily.

When the marathon was canceled, I completely understood. It’s hard to explain to my friends that are out of town, but there’s a sick feeling on the ground here. It seems like just days before the hurricane, it was fall, and everyone was buzzing about cardigan weather and the return of the pumpkin spice latte at Starbucks. Then, all of sudden, the air was cold and thick, and we were counting ourselves lucky if we had a life that even remotely resembled the one we’d had before.

New Yorkers have lost their homes, their lives, and in some truly horrible instances, members of their families. They weren’t going to allow a mere foot race to siphon any resources away from responding to the tragedy, and so they cried out and petitioned to put an end to the celebration, and I truly, whole-heartedly agree with their reaction. When I saw the news coverage of the flooding in the Lower East Side, I was terrified. I still consider it my neighborhood, and I felt like my extended family was in trouble. When I saw what had happened in Staten Island, I cried as though I’d lost part of my own home. When New Yorkers mourn loss, they mourn together, because though we all act like islands, completely removed from one another when we pass each other on the streets on any regular day, our hearts all beat in unison with a love for the same city; a city that we know is what it is because of each and every one of us. Any of those people who lost everything have played a part in what I have here, and for that, they’re part of the great spirit of New York that I inhale and thrive on when I’m reaching a new milestone.

For me, running the marathon has never been about proving anything. I’ve made countless jokes about how my attempt to conquer 26.2 miles will much more closely resemble the ending of the film Run, Fatboy, Run than anything you’d see in a Nike advertisement. I had no ambitions to cure anything or inspire anyone, but at the same time, I wasn’t out to “just do it.” I just wanted a moment with myself and my memories and my city to honor it and show it that because of everything it’s given me, I believe now that nothing is impossible.

So tomorrow morning, weather and city officials be damned, I plan to attempt to run my marathon for my city. It’s the only way I know how to make myself whole again in the aftermath of what’s happened to my home, and I cling to the hope that I can build something positive for NYC out of finishing what I started.

Therefore, very humbly, I ask that you help me help New York by sponsoring this run to help the city that raised me by donating money to the Red Cross – an agency that’s working extensively to put my home and my people back together. Anything you can give counts, and I speak for New York when I say that we greatly appreciate it, and if you’re not already here, you’re welcome anytime.

Their website is:

www.redcross.org . Please be sure to let me know you’ve sponsored the run so I can write and send you a thank you letter………….

November 5, 2012

You guys! I did it! I did 26.2 miles!

I’m exhausted like I’ve never been before, but it feels great coming home to see all the donations that went out to the Red Cross. Thank you so much for all the support!