La PORTE — I jumped into my truck and swapped my soaked shirt from the 13.1-mile run into the commemorative shirt passed out to all participants at packet pick up. I was feeling nice and dry, and just about to leave the parking lot of Stone Lake Beach after yet another miraculous weekend at the Tour De La Porte, but something caught my eye.

Headed around the bend into the park, I saw two police SUV escort vehicles following at a distance behind and elderly gentleman who was walking briskly with a cane in hand. It was three-and-a-half hours after the start of the race, and he was the last participant in the field.

I watched him round the corner into the last tenth of a mile of the race. I got out of my truck knowing I had to find out a bit more about this man. The overall champions and the groups of people awaiting post-race awards were mostly gone by this point. It was a relatively quiet finish for this man, other than a few onlookers offering the most sincere and revered applauses.

The man’s name is David J. Ralston, a 74-year old Vietnam veteran. After striking conversation with him, I was glad I decided to stop and talk with him. His story is the exact reason that I am embarking on my current project, which is to document other people’s journeys in the racing community.

Four years ago, Ralston was a 280-pound man with a heart condition. After a trip to Arlington Cemetery with family members, he made a promise to himself and his fallen friends.

“After seeing their names, I decided I wasn’t going to squander another day,” said Ralston. “Seeing their names on the wall brought closure for me. I want to do whatever I can to make the most of each day, for myself, and for those who don’t have the opportunity do so.”

Ralston began racing just four years ago soon after that eye-opening day, and hasn’t stopped. He has dropped 100 pounds and races in at least six half-marathons per year. He does so with an artificial knee and his trademark cane.

After our conversation finished and we went our separate ways, I was slammed with feelings of gratitude. I took a long and purposeful gaze out into Stone Lake and relished in the day’s events. I thought of my own journey and how I was lucky enough to be standing barefooted on the cool sand after my ninth half-marathon.

The sentiments of the weekend grew as I reflected on my 4-year old daughter Claire, as she had just completed her first running event in her young life. She had a blast at the 4-8-year-old kids run, and left with a medal, some prizes, and a huge smile on her face. For mom and dad, this alone was worth the early morning.

The friends and acquaintances I have made by just showing up at these races became another cause for reflection. I’m lucky enough to know some great runners like the women’s overall 10K winner Becky Galloway and her husband Kyle, who is by far one of the most raw-boned talented runners in the area. We talked briefly after the race. I could tell Becky was proud as she held her coveted Golden Shoe Award, which is passed out to champions.

My cousin Joe Wozniak and friend Adam Seymour were there, both dangling their age group awards around their neck. We talked of our experiences. My mother Deb, and sister Kristen caught up and realized we had a three-generation showing for the Tour, and we enjoyed the beauty of the cool morning. I couldn’t help but feel like it was just yesterday that we were all doing the same thing. Time is peculiar like that.

As I drove away, I thought of the conversations and laughter which take place before, during and after a run with complete strangers and friends alike. The bonds which are established help build a wonderful community that thrives on positivity. It is truly a priceless experience to participate in these running events, and a fantastic way to hang onto life and prevent squandering of our passing days.

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