For the last week of our coast-to-coast run, our team has been trying to figure out if we’re carrying the baton, or if the baton is carrying us. It’s an odd dilemma, which has been created by the unusual nature of the baton’s weight.
The material itself is nothing special. The baton is more or less baton-size and is more or less made of baton-material. It is filled with little colored slips of fabric that are closer in resemblance to feathers than bricks. Add a little bit of ink to the fabric and a capful of dust from the Oregon Trail to the tube, and there isn’t much more to it.
Even with these lightweight materials, some of our runners have found the baton so heavy that they could barely pick it up to run. In fact, one or two runners found the baton so difficult to carry, that they asked if they could leave it in the support van as they sprinted off in pursuit of the horizon. At the same time, some of our other runners have grasped the baton and commented that they suddenly felt like they could run forever.
Above + Beyond’s Chairman and Founder, Dr Deming carried the baton first. Moments before he started to run, he wrote his mother’s name on a small slip of red fabric and placed it inside the tube. Deming is not a runner, but he ran a marathon that day anyhow. Finishing the day with his teammates at 3:00 AM, he slept for a few hours, and then ran another six.
I ran the next day. Before I began, I added a small green slip to the baton in honor of my wife, Cate. As I ran I stepped off into the woods and emerged moments later with the baton and a handful of flowers. Cate loves wildflowers, and carrying them seemed to make the baton a little lighter.
Over the miles that followed, I added slips for my Uncle George, Aunt Barbara, Uncle John, Uncle Bill, and Uncle Bob. After a break, I added slips for two of my cousins, and then for my aunt’s late-husband, Jean. With each slip of fabric, the weight of the baton grew greater. So with each addition, I wandered a little further out into the fields and marshes, picking flowers and cattails and wheat, which I carried for my relatives as I ran.
As the day grew later, I stopped more and more. The weight of the baton surprised me, and I didn’t want to let the moment pass. I stopped to watch a train wind through the valley, then a butterfly on a flower, and a fisherman on a pond. I stopped to chat with a man selling mushrooms out of the back of his truck. My relatives would have done all of these things if they were here, so I did them too. By the time the sun began to set, it seemed that there was no detail along the sidelines of my run that could be left unobserved or unappreciated.
Steve Cannon, the Program Director of our coast-to-coast run was up next. Steve is a loan wolf and a man of very few words. He communicates more with silence and sighs than with actual nouns and verbs. As he reached for a slip of fabric, I pushed our cameraman toward him.
“This one is for my sister,” he said, “who was diagnosed with breast cancer two weeks ago.”
The group was silent and shocked.
We stood watching him, wondering if he would say more. But Steve is not a man of words; he’s a man of action. So rather than offering support and condolences, we stood silently around him, waiting and watching.
As Steve ran from the setting sun, I watched as he shifted the baton from one hand to the other. Finally, he gripped it a little tighter and began to run a little faster.
Who would have known that memories and hope weigh so much?