Last Friday I hopped on over to the Kicking Butt for Crohn’s disease 5-k run/walk event being held in West End. I was expecting the worst, after what felt like 40 days and 40 nights of rain that would make Noah himself get back under the covers, I was absolutely certain that the humidity would cook us all before the race even got started. I was close to being right, we were in an outdoor oven and sweat was rolling off me like I was back in the Amazon; don’t ask, but it seemed impossible to be in a bad mood considering the energy that was there.
I have driven through West End plenty of times, and nowadays it looks more like a ghost town, except when the suboxone clinic opens in the morning. I was literally taken aback by the site of neon spandex and Nike cross-trainers as far as the eye could see. People were excited, they were happy, and for some strange reason they were ready to do some running. I contemplated whether it could be some kind of mass heat hysteria, but then ruled that out because I had no desire what-so-ever to join in, at least in the beginning.
I met up with one of the event’s organizers Mr. Shawn Cool, who is cool ironically, and introduced myself as William Plaster from the Williamson Daily, I love the way that sounds, he eagerly introduced me around and gave me enough story ideas to last a month. Everyone I spoke to had inspiration oozing out of their ears, they all had purpose, and they were all so amped to be there. Well I studied the 60’s and 70’s enough to know that when something cool is happening sometimes you just have to jump right in and lose yourself in it. Before the race even started I found myself wanting a t-shirt, I wanted a bright colored headband, I wanted short shorts, and I wanted to fit in. These people didn’t black ball me because of my boots and blue jeans, they embraced me, or maybe it was just too hot for anyone to care about what they looked like anyway.
After speaking with a woman who had Crohn’s disease herself and had driven eight hours from Norfolk Va. To compete in the 5-k I was totally sold on the whole thing. At first I kept thinking I didn’t know this many people still lived here, then there was her, chocked full of so much belief in a cause that she put in a full day’s work just to come run. She was my new hero.
I was tasked with taking pictures of the runners at the beginning of the race; I felt that was safe to do in case half the field dropped from the heat, but it felt like the crowd was never ending, I took so many pictures I got tired of taking pictures and there was still people coming at me.
After the race I was honored with speaking to the heart of the event, the reason all these crazy people were here. Mrs. Tonya Cool still made a meaningful impression after running three and a half miles. The event was held in honor of her mother who had passed away from Crohn’s disease fifteen years ago.
Tonya wanted to educate people on the disease, she wanted keep the spirit of her mother alive, she wanted people to do something that most of us have forgotten how to do, she wanted people to care about something. Tonya can probably go to sleep easily tonight knowing that she has accomplished something. What I saw there that day was a rare sight around these parts, I saw a community in the purest representation of the word. Tonya’s mother Jean Stanley battled Crohn’s disease for 20 years, that kind of spirit radiates and those who know it will absorb it and pass it along.
At the end of the day I had forgotten all about the heat, I had forgotten all about the troubles, I had almost forgotten about the article! I was with great people and stuck in the middle of a giant sweaty mess and I was truly happy to be there. So now when the first of the month comes along and the four legged beast, which is addiction, awakes and comes dragging it’s knuckles down Second Avenue, I won’t be bothered that much, I won’t be as scared, because I know that the battle is not over for this sleepy little Appalachian town, he hasn’t won yet.