A triumph of the human spirit

September 30, 2013

The sport of running can lead to stories that supercede performance-based conversations. Sometimes, the events and the people who participate in them defy rhyme or reason and do a world a good.

This past weekend at Hinson Lake, 39 runners helped, for anyone who was paying attention, to restore faith in the human spirit.

At age 28, Dustin Rhodes, of Tallahassee, Fla., ran in last year’s Hinson Lake 24-Hour Ultra Race. He finished with 71.439 miles and quickly set his goal for the 2013 race at an event 100 miles. Dustin never made it to the start line. He was diagned in November 2012 with a brain tumor. Through months of treatment, his wife, Rebecca, posted updates on Facebook about Dustin’s focus on reaching 100 miles.

“He was planning on being there. He was pushing hard,” said race director Jerry Lindstrand.

Dustin died July 31, two months before race weekend. Jerry already was thinking of ways to recognize Dustin’s commitment and to keep his dream alive when Rebecca called to ask if she could take his bib, No. 221, and run around the 1.52-mile loop of the lake.

There was no way, of course, that Rebecca was ready to run 100 miles on her own. In fact, she hit about 26 miles. But Jerry brainstormed an idea where Dustin, at least in spirit, would earn a coveted belt buckle, awarded for reaching the 100-mile plateau.

Jerry figured that other runners could carry Dustin’s race shirt and bib number around the lake for him. The race began at 8 a.m. Saturday. Early Sunday morning, Jerry called his son-in-law, Kyle Butler, to run “about 10 pretty fast miles.” That gave Rebecca about 40 minutes to complete one more lap before the 8 a.m. cutoff.

At approximately 7:50 a.m., Rebecca entered the clearing off the last trail segment into the Rotary Lodge parking lot, a mere 200 meters from the lap that would put the shirt over 100 miles — 100.32, to be exact. She picked up her 18-month-old son, Michael, to accompany her for the last section.

“Barely, but we did it,” Rebecca said shortly afterward.

With a quiet demeanor and being awake for most of the 24 preceding hours, it was difficult to tell where Rebecca’s mind might have been. There is no doubt, however, of her thankfulness to Jerry and 38 other runners who carried the shirt around the lake to reach 100.

“I was very toched by how they wanted to do it,” Rebecca said.

It was Jerry’s idea to take Dustin’s shirt and have runners help complete the miles. But the story doesn’t end there. Each of the 39 runners’ names will be printed onto the shirt and presented to Rebecca. No sales of extra shirts; this isn’t about money. It’s about a memory. It’s about keeping a dream alive.

“I’m overwhelmed, to say the least,” Rebecca said.

Ultra running, Rebecca said, brings together people of a different variety. And it brings them close to gether, sometimes rather quickly.

“It was really just an inspiring thing,” said Connie Lindstrand, Jerry’s wife and one of the key event volunteers.

Said Jerry: “What a tremendously emotional moment.”