May 11th, the day before Mother's Day, Team Ari ran the Mermaid Series Half Marathon. Our goal was to complete Half-Marathon #2 in our Celebrate 13 Challenge (13 halfs for Ari's 13th Birthday this year). But boy did we get so much more than just working towards our goal. We were joyously welcomed into the Mermaid Community! The Mermaids are a diverse group of female athletes sharing the fellowship of running. They are beginners, intermediates, Elite Runners, First timers, Young, Old, Middle-Aged, & Girls Just Wanna have fun runners!!!
At the startline, Music was playing, runners were chatting, and much to our surprise Ari's name was announced as being the youngest half-marathon participant for this race. The Announcer asked for Ari to identify herself in the crowd so that she could be acknowledged. Both Ari and I happily raised an arm up in the air so she could be seen in her chair. Immediately there was a loud roar of applause! We were truly taken aback to have such a warm and celebratory atmosphere. I could feel my eyes well up with tears of joy for Ari. I felt so grateful to be in the company of women who were embracing disability and inclusiveness. They had no idea how much it meant to me that Ari had this kind of heroes welcome!
So we started this footrace on such a high note. We were off and running and feeling more motivated than ever. Ari high-fived runner after runner. We were greeted each time by participants we passed or who passed us. Virtually everyone made a point of telling us how "inspired they were by seeing us run together". At Aid stations volunteers called out "Go Team Ari!", spectators waved and cheered as well. It felt like we had this immense fan club the entire distance on the course. Mile after mile we were greeted with Smiles. I knew I had a runners' high because it felt like I could have run forever. Time flew by despite being a very hot 80 plus degrees for most of the race
Thirteen miles down and as we approached the finish line we could see Michael with the camera. Ari waved and was picture ready for Dad! We could also see a large crowd of people gathering on both sides of the race chute. Then we heard the Announcer call out, "Team Ari is at the Finish Line!" More people gathered, and as we came through the chute the crowd chanted, "Team Ari, Team Ari!" This was surreal. We felt like Olympians. This was just a spectacular event with great organizers, staff, volunteers, & runners. But what touched us so much was the attitude of inclusiveness. Ari was an athlete, just like any other athlete on the course. We will always cherish this race and vow to run it again next year. So, it was official, we were part of the Mermaid Family Now and Forever Proud. Mermaids 'R' Us.
Wishing you Miles of Smiles ~ Team Ari