I know there has been controversy the last few years about giving a participation trophy to every young member of a sports team. I can understand both sides of the discussion, but the medals hanging on my wall are not “participation trophies.” They are much more than just a token of appreciation. To me, each one tells a story; they are reminders of remaining persistent in the face of adversity, accomplishing goals with no excuses, no barriers, and continuing to push beyond perceived limits.

When I look back on the last nine years, I am filled with gratitude for the many lessons that I’ve learned. Do I wish that I was still strong enough to race on my own 2 feet without the assistance of the knee scooter? Absolutely. Will I someday be able to bounce back enough to complete a race without assistance? Perhaps. Would I trade these experiences if I could all of a sudden be restored to where I was before? Nope.

The emotions and experiences from an injury or surgery are unique to each individual, and there is no right or wrong way to react or behave. I had a year and a half surrounding my surgery where I was still motivated and ready to stay active, then I had a year and a half of loss of motivation, inactivity, and progress.

I am amazed and humbled by the support I received along the race route. Several people slowed down to keep pace with me for a bit to express that perseverance is inspiring. If you can’t race the way you used to be able to do it, if it’s essential, you’ll still find a way to make it happen.

This race was tough; I didn’t train as much as I should have, and the last 5 miles were brutal. It was also one of the races I am most proud of. I struggled, I cried, I wanted to give up. I also laughed and smiled so much my cheeks hurt. I encountered some fantastic people (I-35 challenge gal, the random encounter with the man who once did a half while carrying a St. Michael flag. A lady from Boston who was hurting but still stuck it out. One of the nurses from my office who helps lead Team Triumph. And even my office manager, who was on the bike support team and, along with 2 of her friends, rode me the last half mile to the finish line. I feel so proud of accomplishing something that felt impossible.

Every single athlete who crossed that finish line is deserving of that hard-earned medal. Look at it with pride, and always remember if you can push through this challenge, you are unstoppable.

It’s been a joy and a privilege to share my thoughts and my story with you! Thank you for a great race, and I look forward to seeing you again next year!

by Stefanie Harper