It's appropriate while in Chicago last week representing the Meg's Mile Supporters Facebook group at a summit for powerful Facebook community builders, I got to meet several members of my online community for the first time. They weren't participants in the summit, but they became one of the true highlights of my summit experience.
I met Laura Baumgardner on the Megsmiles page through my friend Tracey Outlaw when he was supporting Laura's Run for Respect Virtual 5k. The 5K is part of Laura's work with special needs students at Pontiac Township High School in Pontiac, Illinois. Laura and her students use the event as part of their efforts to SPREAD THE WORD TO END THE WORD. The word they are trying to end is retarded. The word they want to replace it with is respect.
I didn't participate in the 5k this year. But spending time with Laura and 3 of her students at a Starbucks in Chicago assured me there was no better word to describe these kids than respect! We drank coffee together, we talked baseball - big Cubs fans there - and we laughed at each others stories.
Hey, laugh at my stories and I'll respect you for life!
It was a cool thing to see an online cause become a real life story. Social media inundates us with requests to support causes. I respond to many of them. But nothing stirs a bigger response in me than talking to and shaking hands with a cause in person. Nothing aggravates me more than realizing it has to be a cause to encourage people to refrain from calling these precious kids retarded and instead respecting them like you and I would want to be respected.
Well my new real world friends, I never was a big fan of that r-word, but when it comes to you all there is no better word than THE r-word: respect.
I also got to meet my online friend Dawn Malartsik and her family. And what a delightful family. Dawn actually did participate in the Run for Respect 5k earlier in the year, so there were many connections coming together at once. Dawn has always been a virtual supporter of my running and writing. But you know, as encouraging as an online "keep lifting us up" comment is to read - and to me personally they are powerful - nothing compares to a real life hug.
That has been my running journey, though. Online encouragement turned real life experiences and friendships. As proud as I am of my amateur and quite unexpected running accomplishments, I'm far more fulfilled by the friends I've united with along the way. Running by itself isn't enticing to me. I'm sorry, it just isn't. Running with friends, however, and running to their cheers and encouragement roaring in the background of my often too easy to give up mind - well there's little more exciting.
So I was reminded in Chicago, as much as I'm drawn to the finish line of each run, I'm drawn with greater force toward the many diverse and cool people I now get to call friends.
Life is like running.