JD, who is fifty, is our special needs volunteer. He arrives faithfully at the charity thrift store every day, dropped off by a van that ushers people like him from group homes to volunteer jobs or day care facilities. It’s his responsibility to greet donors and sign donation receipts.
He’s one of the most gregarious people I’ve ever met. He knows so many people that I tell him he should run for mayor. Names and faces don’t slip through the cracks of his memory like they do mine. He recognizes everyone who has ever crossed his path.
“I know this man,” JD says, introducing me to a fellow church member or volunteer with his softball league. “He’s my friend.”
“Is there anyone you don’t know?” I always reply, which never fails to elicit a broad grin.
JD participates in every activity available to him, so it wasn’t surprising that he signed up for our 5K Rise and Run, a fundraiser put on by the charity. Since his van doesn’t transport people on Saturday mornings at 6 AM, he asked me if I would give him a ride to the race.
I was certain somebody at the event would be ready and willing to escort him around the course once we got there. Knowing JD, he probably had a posse of friends scheduled to meet him at the gate. What I discovered instead was a field of lean, fit runners in spandex stretching, jogging in place and looking very serious. These people meant business.
No one came over and said, “JD, you’re running with us.”
JD and I went from group to group, hoping to spot a familiar face. I had looked forward to running my first 5K and had practiced to increase my endurance. Slim and fit, I thought I had a good chance of doing well in my age group.
Driving halfway across town to pick up JD at 6 AM had not been in the plan, but I felt good about myself for making the sacrifice. I hadn’t planned on throwing away the whole race to babysit him around the course, though.
But nobody volunteered to walk with him. Casting one last futile look at the crowd of runners, I made my way to the registration table, JD shuffling beside me.
“We get a free pancake breakfast when we finish the race,” JD said. He had already mentioned this aspect of the race several times and we both viewed it as a nice way to wrap up the morning. The restaurant providing free pancakes was setting up shop under an awning that covered several large, steel griddles and a delicious aroma had already begun to waft over the field.
We pinned our numbers to our shirts and barely made it in time to join the throng of runners poised and ready for takeoff. When the whistle blew, several hundred people surged forward. The sun had risen, streaking the cool September sky with red, and a high, bright moon was still visible, sailing serenely above a distant line of trees.
As the crowd of runners pounded around the first bend, it became apparent that no one was going to come forward to walk with JD. Energized and ready to run, I sped up a little, but slowed down when I realized he wasn’t keeping up. The other runners thundered further along the trail, kicking up a small swirl of dust. JD strutted proudly, arms swinging at his sides, puffing a little as we lurched up a small incline.
I wondered if I might be able to persuade him to stop at the one-mile mark where a few families with kids called it quits and headed for a nearby park. Maybe I could park him with the families and manage to catch up with some of the others, but JD, determined to continue, shambled along with his awkward, jerky gait.
The front runners had long since disappeared. We finally fell way behind everyone except two women who plodded indifferently along, absorbed in a conversation about yard sales. Soon even keeping up with them was difficult.
I tried urging JD to go a little faster, but when we stopped for a water break the two yard sale women trudged beyond us out of sight. Luckily, volunteers were posted along the route to keep us from getting lost. The path stretched emptily ahead except for the occasional volunteer.
“I can’t wait to get my pancakes,” JD said.
We stopped for three more water breaks, two rest stops, and twice because JD’s shoelaces had come untied and I needed to tie them. Even the volunteers were beginning to drift from their stations.
One hour and 47 minutes later JD and I finally crossed the finish line. Somebody called out, “Bebe, what did you do, go to sleep along the way? We started to send out a search party.”
“We made it!” JD cried excitedly. “Let’s get pancakes!”
But they had run out of pancakes. “Sorry,” the caterer said as he folded his tent and packed up his truck. “You should have gotten here earlier.”
JD took it well, especially when the Executive Director of our charity hung a medallion around his neck and took his picture.
“I won!” He exclaimed proudly, fingering the medallion.
When I got home and told my husband about the race, he insisted on making me pancakes.