Looking to change up my exercise routine, I ran a race Sunday that honored those in the military. The real honor came at the end when I cheered for Yuyri Zmysly, a man who doctors said could forever be in a vegetative state.
It was Salute Inc.’s “got freedom?” run. My crazy-runner-MILF friend texted me on Friday to see if I was running it. I smirked, running it, ha! I hadn’t even *heard* of it. At 5:30 race morning, I decided to give it a go.
I left the boys at home and headed out. At the starting line, I stood there, feeling pretty proud of myself for leaving the boys to go run a 5K on a whim. (There was a 10K option, which naturally I didn’t do.) Then the starting gun went off. And we were off.
The weather was cool and it was strangely foggy. I felt good the whole race and there was a quaint sense of community as several event volunteers were local high school kids or Girl and Boy Scout troops. Also, many people stood in their front lawns with their pajamas and morning coffee cheering us on. One woman even turned on her garden hose to mist us.
Soon the race was over. Me and my crazy-runner-MILF friend (who ran the 10K) were gabbing over bananas, when we noticed the crowd at the post-race party grew quiet and shuffled over to line the last few blocks of the course.
We followed suit and heard shouts of: “Here he comes!” “There he is!” Standing on my tippy toes, I saw him. He was in a wheelchair, his body was thin, his fingers were slender and gripped the air. Wow. I wonder what happened.
He had a mini-entourage around his wheelchair. Well before the finish line, they all stopped and a burly man stood in front of the chair. The man helped Yuriy to his feet, held out his arms for support as Yuriy took a step. We all held our breath.
His feet shuffled, his upper body jerked and he moved forward and onward and onward. We were clapping and cheering and after Yuriy passed us, we crowded the course and circled him. The finish line was still about a block away.
I looked at the 6-foot-tall, ripped man next to me. The tears in his eyes matched those in mine. He gave me a faint smile. I kept clapping. Yuriy kept walking.
The finish line seemed far away, this wasn’t a ceremonial finish, Yuriy was grinding out the end of this race like the rest of us did. He was willing his body to do what he wanted, he was pushing its boundaries.
With each shuffle, we got louder in our cheers and our tears were now freely flowing. Then he did it.
Retired Marine Cpl. Yuriy Zmysly, who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, finished the 5K. He did it just five years after suffering a brain injury at a military hospital that left him unable to speak, see or walk.
Yuriy Zmysly walked crossed the finish line, showing that the human spirit is unconquerable.
Thank you Yuriy and to all the servicemen and women for their valiant hearts and sacrifice.
(For more information on Yuriy and his amazing story of love and triumph, click here.)