I rounded the final corner of the 26.2-mile 2008 California International Marathon and looked for my twenty-year-old daughter, Daicia (pronounced Day-sha). Regardless of the thousands of spectators cheering the runners on the sidelines, it took only a few seconds to find her. As I raised my arms high over my head and crossed the finish line victoriously, it was as much her triumph as it was mine. Neither of us would have thought my legs would carry me this far.
Five years ago I was sucked into the propeller of a sixty foot V.I.P. Luxury houseboat while on a vacation to Lake Mead in Las Vegas, Nevada. The damage was severe: fractures of the tibia, heel, ankle, talus, and fibula. Six different leg lacerations exposed the shattered white bones. The cuts created a dangerously low hemoglobin count and 500cc's of a stranger's blood saved my life before low oxygen could cause organ failure. I was confined to a wheelchair and told I would never walk normally again.
I was too weak to be Daicia's mother. She assumed my role, and I hers. I avoided her eyes as she showered me, her light chatter lulling me to rest my head on my chest as she navigated the task, her clothes soaking wet. Her cool breath soothed the sting of the antiseptic on my bedsores. She dabbed the ointment and blew, dabbed and blew, dabbed and blew. There were others there helping: my husband, my son, and my parents. But it was under Daicia's levelheaded, innate care that my fortitude returned. Determined together, we healed me.
A year later I re-entered her life as my former self and our roles reversed quietly back to their original state. Friday nights were spent at her high school football games, clapping vigorously along with her cheerleading squad. Her long blond curls sprawled across my chest when she leaned her head on my shoulder and succumbed to the grief that only first love can cause. She rolled her eyes at me the following week when I enforced curfew with her new beau. In solitude, though, my throat swelled when I considered the dimensions and potential of my only daughter.
Three years later, Daicia left for UC Berkeley and I bought a pair of grey and yellow New Balance running shoes. As I pounded the pavement, the fiery pangs in my legs burned less than the loss of her in my everyday life. "How many miles did you run today?" she asked during our daily phone calls. The number grew steadily. We both knew we were defying the odds.
As I surged down the home stretch of the marathon, Daicia began to run as well. Darting and weaving through the crowd, she kept pace with me on the other side of the fence that separated the spectators and the runners. For the last thirty meters of the race we ran side by side, friends and equals now as we joyfully crossed the finish line together.
12 December 2008