On the Road with Sara Low Memorial 5K


By SUZY TAYLOR OAKLEY
White River Roadrunners Secretary

Check out our archive for previous travels On the Road, and remember we invite you to share your own story, cause or advice with our members.

I am thisclose to being a blubbering mess.

Why?

Because I am once more reminded what a humongous, lovable, sweaty, stinky, wonderful family I belong to: the running community.

Factors involved in my near-blubbery state: My heart surgery is next week. The Final Lap for Sara (aka the Sara Low Memorial 5K) was last week. And I'm writing this on 9/11.

Let's take them in order.

I'm not worried about the surgery — it merely has made me sentimental. I've been saying "I love you" to people I normally don't say that to. I'm not afraid I'll die on the table (OK, I admit the thought has crossed my mind), but I don't want to take any chances that the people in my life don't know how I feel about them. Example: At the end of the 4 Mile Classic in August, I was entirely a blubbering mess, and one friend earned an "I love you, Dana" for running back to get me after she finished and taking me in to the finish. She knew I had been told just two days earlier that I'd need surgery, that I had been struggling with motivation (to run) for several weeks and that I was on the verge of something resembling depression. So she had my back. (This was after an "I love you, Betsy" for no discernable reason before the race, and a "Thanks, Phyllis! Love you!" at the Mile 3 water stop, at which I didn't even take a cup of water.)

One of my greatest fears about the surgery is that I'll have to be off forever — that once again I'll have to watch from the sidelines as my sweetie and my friends run without me, like I did for several weeks after knee surgery two years ago. This may be what put me in a near-depressive state last month. Who knows? I got past that melancholy period pretty quickly.

OK, enough about me.

The seventh and final Sara Low Memorial 5K was Saturday, Sept. 7, at Batesville High School. The event was emotional for a lot of us, but, to be honest, I know it didn't impact me nearly as much as it did the Low family; the race director, Ken McSpadden (whom I had never seen get choked up until Saturday); those who had run all seven races; and those who knew Sara personally. It must be gut-wrenching for Sara's family and close friends to come up to 9/11 each year, remembering what that day 12 years ago brought to us all (but especially to them). We have never been the same, and that is poignantly true for them.

I never met Sara, but Bruce and I have been involved in her memorial race each year since 2011 (a year after we moved to Batesville, one of my two hometowns). Of all the races we've participated in (first as volunteers or spectators, then as runners), the Sara Low has been the most meaningful to me. I think it has something to do with the fact that a hometown girl became part of a moment that changed history — something much bigger than her individual life. In the grand scheme of things, American Airlines flight attendant Sara Elisabeth Low played a small role, but for her loved ones it was huge. I can't possibly know how much it hurts and haunts them. It hurts me to know that we had a reason to organize this race in the first place.

This "Final Lap for Sara" was on my mind all week, and when the morning came I was a bit pensive as I watched people scurry around — volunteers and runners alike — preparing for race time.

Time for the prerace memorial service, and all I could do was watch the face of Mike Low as he listened to lovely renditions of the National Anthem and "Wind Beneath My Wings," the two songs sung before every race in honor of his daughter. Ashley Insell did a beautiful job with both songs, her low tones reminding me of God's blessings of talent and commitment (Ashley had told me a month earlier, at a mutual relative's funeral, that she had been practicing these songs for this day).



Team RWB runners came out in force,
Jackie Stone of Conway proudly carrying the flag
for the entire Final Lap for Sara. —photo by M.K. Vandiver

And I listened to Sara's friend and BHS track teammate Mindy Lacefield — who conceived of the race six years earlier — as she thanked volunteers, sponsors, runners, supporters and the race director for doing something we felt we had to do — maybe the only thing some of us could do — as Americans. (The runner who carried a large U.S. flag throughout the race received cheers as she approached the finish line.)

Some of us never want to forget 9/11. It reminds us what could, and very well may, happen again if we as a country drop our guard. But there are some, I'm sure, who would rather forget.

I can't speak for Sara's family members — I barely know them — but it would be a day I'm sure I would want to wipe from my memory forever.

And so.

We stick together, this community of runners, and those who love, support and hand cups of water to us along the way. Most of the times we're together, we're a sweaty, stinky mess: clothes drenched, hair disheveled, muscles tired. But to me this means we can be real with one another.

It means that when a race director — an Air Force veteran — has trouble getting the words out, as Ken did Saturday when thanking everyone and presenting the Start banner to Mike Low, we're all with him. We each figure we'd get choked up at the exact same moment if it were us. After all, we each had signed the banner that morning. Maybe seeing our names — our support — will in some small way mean something to the Lows in the years to come. It won't bring Sara back, but perhaps it will be a reminder that she won't be forgotten — not only by her family but by others who ran or otherwise gave of their time in her honor.

The reasons we run are many, but for most of us, it boils down to this: We run because we can. 9/11 has not taken that away.