by D.R. Dunlap, October 2014
We made our way from Birmingham to Greensboro that night, the car floating down rural southern roads in the billowing fog, strangely illuminated by the full moon, as cool fall air rolled in from the north. Not knowing exactly where we were, the fire in the front yard of the antebellum bed and breakfast signaled us to turn onto the gravel driveway. Our gracious hosts appeared out of the darkness, and showed my wife and I, and our two daughters, to our room. The white columned estate, and its surrounding acres, were rich with history, and seemed insulated from the movement of time.
Late in the evening, our family finally settled in to a sound sleep. Then, after midnight, we were awakened by the sudden presence of a black dog in our room. This was quite odd, given that we had closed and locked our door before bed. My wife jumped up, and walked the dog downstairs, to discover our door wide open, cold air and moonlight flowing in. The friendly dog disappeared into the night. We were safe, and relatively calm, but I was haunted by the possibility of being visited by a spirit.
Seemingly moments later, we awoke to a crisp and bright October morning. Certainly the coolest and brightest of the year thus far. Brilliant blue sky and golden sunlight filtered through the limbs and leaves of trees much older than us.
In contrast to the cold air, and last night’s chilling encounter, I felt the warmth of our hosts, a home cooked breakfast, and the community around us. I also felt the nerves, and anxious anticipation, of my brother’s first race since his accident 6 years ago. His life has been a very long and arduous recovery since then. This day was to be my brother’s triumphant return to running.
I remember some of the same weather and feelings 3 years ago, at the first annual Sawyerville 5K, and thinking maybe I was racing on my brother’s behalf. I remember feeling like God was pushing me. I remember breaking away from the pack and realizing, to my astonishment, that I was in the lead. Maybe I was running fast because my brother couldn’t. Maybe I was running fast towards this year’s race, when he could.
About a year or so prior this year’s race, I had written an account of my brother’s car accident and ongoing recovery, from which I feel compelled to share this quote:
“It is the same with my brother’s recovery. He was often blinded by frustration and rage, as anyone in his situation would be, but he soldiered forward, and has now come to understand and appreciate his blessings. Five years after a near death, and life altering, experience, he can walk and talk and exercise and write and laugh. It’s as if his eyes are opened for the first time to who he is and what his life means to him and others. And it is a new life. Remarkably, he is a better person after having gone through his extremely difficult ordeal. An ordeal, recovery, and awakening, that was in my mind so clearly God driven.
Exagorazo is a greek word, used periodically in the New Testament, that seems to appropriately encompass my brother’s state of redemption. Defined literally, it means to redeem, set free, or rescue from loss, after payment of a price.
My brother still has issues with memory, balance, and anxiety, but based on where he came from, this is nothing short of miraculous. I believe, with God’s help, he will run again.”
By the grace of God, this turned out to be true. Running the Sawyerville 5k alongside my brother was an amazing, and beautifully moving, experience. We could not have asked for a nicer day, with blue skies, sunshine, and a crisp breeze, intermingled with the warmth of supportive bystanders that cheered us on continuously. On this day the community truly felt like One Body.
As we were running together, I turned to my brother asked him how it felt. He said “terrible!”, but he said it with a chuckle, and a big smile on his face.
Our pace was slow but steady. The magnificently old southern trees lining the route waved their limbs, and their leaves scattered the sunlight happily, as the miles passed under us. I knew we were close to the finish, and excitement stirred within me as we ran by the downtown shops. We rounded the corner, and were treated to the overwhelming sight and sound of the applauding crowd at St Paul’s Episcopal Church. The applause grew louder and louder as my brother crossed the finish line. My brother and I were elated, and he was as emotional as ever I remember him being.
The race was a huge milestone for my brother, and all those who love him, and the finish was triumphant for all of us. Of all the adventures my brother and I shared over the years, this was my new favorite. It was such a momentous and beautiful occasion, and such a wonderful gift from God.
First Race After the Accident
By Murray Dunlap
Sitting back now, reflecting on the Sawyerville Day Camp 5K on October 4, 2014, I am amazed. It is a humbling experience to have to start over, from an infant-like point of view.
I was in a car crash on June 7, 2008, and put in a coma for 3 months, then a wheelchair for 6 months. A walker for many months after. The dates of all of this are more than a little foggy. Not only do I have a traumatic brain injury, but I have amnesia. As you can imagine, my life has changed in many, many ways.
I had been a distance runner who had measured out 26 miles with my car and jogged that. I never did a marathon for reasons I do not know, except that races had always felt like a maze to be herded through. I am very, very over that now and that I am able to walk, much less run, is an accomplishment that I take great pride in. I feared the wheelchair was for life.
All of this said, I fast-walked, with a strange gait, the 5K, and was so filled with emotion at the finish, when I hugged my love, I cried. Now, I won’t pretend to understand it, but it has been 6 years since my car wreck (not my fault), and my brain injury has kept me from crying. So to feel the emotional tug of tears was an amazing thing.
All in all, the 5K was an accomplishment that I have taken much pride in. My family has all agreed that we should make the Sawyerville Day Camp 5K a yearly activity! Thanks guys!
Sawyerville Day Camp 5K is in its 4th year. We are grateful to St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Greensboro for hosting this fun and life-giving fundraiser. Meg Rankin, a parishioner at St. Paul’s, had this dream over 4 years ago and the event continues to grow and thrive. This year the fundraiser raised about $4,000.00. We also honored long-time staff member Debbie Tabb, at this year’s event after her death from cancer in January. The day was an emotional and wonderful day! We were so moved by Murray’s story and touched by the love and dedication of his family that we wanted to share it with you all. Leslie Dunlap, wife of D.R. has co-written the program for the Lower and Middler Camp for the last two summers. D.R. and his family are members of St. Stephen’s, Birmingham. Murray lives in Daphne, Alabama.