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Kayleigh and Sandy first shared their story with us through our “September to Remember” social media contest. Last year they shared their story again at the end of the Distance Challenge, and this year they are back to claim their finisher’s jackets together and we are rooting for them!  

We started the journey to our finisher’s jackets in 2016. The prior year, I had completed all my races and earned my jacket for my third year in a row. Running had become my therapy, but thoughts of her running anything beyond a 5K had never entered my mind – much less a half marathon, and especially one as difficult as Decker. I figured it could take years for that to happen, but I told her that we would try. In 2016 and 2017, we did not make the official cut-off at Run for the Water, so I knew there was no possibility for us to do Decker, but we still did the Austin Half. With the close of each Distance Challenge, I promised Kayleigh that we would return the next year and do it again. 

Our last race of the 2017-2018 Challenge, Kayleigh made major improvements on her finish time for the half and finished it in 4 hours and 36 minutes. Her next goal was established before we even hit the finish line – a sub 4 half in 2019. With the start of Run for the Water, I was nervous. So many times, random strangers would stop us at packet pickups or during races to tell Kayleigh what an inspiration she has been that I start seeing the bigger picture. These are not just private races for us as much as it has become this very public story in our local running community. We have people who have ran out on the course to high five Kayleigh or drive by with their windows down yelling out encouragement.

This year when it came to the second race of the series, we had someone very special by our side, William Dyson. On her third try, Kayleigh finished Run for the Water with tears knowing she was still in the running for her jacket. She had earned her right to line up at the starting line of Decker. I told her, if we were swept due to our pace then that was fine. We would be back however many years it takes to move on to 3M.

I almost decided not to even try. I felt the challenge of the course and the temps would be too difficult. Kayleigh strongly objected, pointing out that she had earned her right. I was going back on my word. Then Saturday, I received a message from Iram asking if we were doing it. It was as if Kayleigh had the little secret support system. Of course, I told him I had not decided but would let him know. I told Kayleigh that I was going to ask Sonja to pace her practice run and let me know if she felt Kayleigh could do it. So a week in advance, they hit the trail and ended with a yep. When we got home, I told Kayleigh that I had registered us (she promptly broke down in tears of joy) and sent Iram a note. I was told we could start 30 minutes early and still qualify for our jackets. Our position has always been that we want to earn it – we want to know that we earned our jackets.

My biggest concern at that point were the temps. Kayleigh had never done a race in cold conditions, and it was supposed to be in the 30’s. We laid out our clothes and included lots of layers and hats along with gloves and a buff. I filled the camelback with Nuun and gels.

We were up by 4:45am and it was still showing that it was going to be in the 30’s. I popped two protein waffles in the toaster and got dressed. I used the opportunity to take the dogs out to make sure the layers were enough… of course, after standing outside I realized that I was just standing out there in tights and NO SHORTS. Oops, I sure was glad I did that little test. Kayleigh got dressed and we headed for the Expo Center. At 7:20am we lined up to start; the early start giving us 4 and half hours to finish. I would have thought I would have been nervous that we would even finish in that time. I had done nothing but OBSESSED for the last two years with what ifs once we found ourselves at the starting line. There were three possible outcomes: 1) we finish on time; 2) we finish a few minutes pass the cut off or 3) we are swept. I told Kayleigh, we may have to try several years to meet the cut off but the finish line was within reach.

We were blessed to have Sonja by our side. She was there every step of the way, even when Kayleigh opened up that Diva Attitude potion. Oh my, can this girl display some Diva Attitude. Bless her heart, Sonja even carried the camelback for half the race – that thing must have weighed over 5 pounds. She watched to make sure we stayed within the time needed. She shouted out words of encouragement with each hill and even held Kay’s hand when it was outstretched.

We made it past the 2-mile marker before the first runners started passing us. As some passed us, we would hear more words of encouragement. Then at one point, Adriana ran past yelling out encouragement and for Kay to join with her – okay, she was running with the 2-hour pace group, so way out of scope for us but Kayleigh loved the attention. Then another one of Kayleigh’s heroes showed up as if on cue, William Dyson. Talk about smiles galore between mile 4 and 5. That seemed to add some speed to my daughter’s steps. Then we rounded a turn in mile 5 and there was a HILL. I looked at Kayleigh and told her that hill was tiny and she could totally take it.

We passed mile 6 to the water spot manned by Gilbert’s Gazelles where Kayleigh got to run a few steps with Gilbert and had her picture taken with him. Gilbert is the force behind Run for the Water so he has become someone of significance to us. He is such an inspiration to so many. We passed several more runners who knew us and yelled out words of encouragement as we traveled on. As we rounded to the feeder road next to the toll road, Kayleigh dedicated that stretch of our race to her Grandmother. This stretch of the road is the one we travel after seeing her grandmother at the nursing home. With that dedication, Kayleigh kept her pace up. Once we turned onto Decker, I told her that we had only a couple of more small hills (liar, liar pants on fire) and then only three miles to the finish line.

As we got to the top of the hill at mile 10, two fellow runners gave a shout of words of encouragement and peppermint candies. We did lose some time on the hills, but we had enough of a cushion that it did not cost us much. I have to say, Kayleigh was so inspirational to me as well as each one of the friends that was there for us.

I heard the announcer say Kayleigh’s name as she ran to the finish line where Iram and Elaine awaited. Once Iram placed the medal around Kayleigh’s neck, she fell into a hug from him and cried. Talk about a beautiful way to finish her first Decker. After looking at her finishing time, Elaine told me Kayleigh almost did not need the extra 30 minutes. Wow, talk about blowing it out of the water. I was expecting for it to take us several years of returning before we even got close to the official finishing time. I am one proud mom.

This race was about a finish line, but it was such a beautiful journey with each mile – all 13.1 miles. We are so blessed to be a part of this running community. We are truly blessed beyond our wildest imagination.

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