A thank you for 99 running memories

Community: The journey has ended for Team 99 Counties

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Editor’s note: Daren Schumaker of Cedar Rapids and Dennis Lee of Walford have run across all of Iowa’s 99 counties, raising money and awareness for the American Heart Association. They completed their 99th, Delaware County, last Saturday.

“I can’t believe we just did that.”

Each of us has uttered that simple phrase many times. It was first spoken on December 20, 2009, after we crossed Benton County — running from Belle Plaine to Walford — in a blizzard. We have voiced these words in the spring and fall, and exclaimed them in the summer and winter. We have stated these words after 26.2-mile runs, and bellowed them after 45-mile marches. We have whispered those words to each other and shouted them with friends.

On April 15, we stated these words — laced with emotion, equal parts happiness and sadness — for the last time.

Not only did we cross Delaware County — our 99th county — but we completed a journey that took us from a spot just west of Belle Plaine on Highway E66 to the intersection of First Avenue West and Eighth Street NW in Dyersville, a journey that took us from 2009 to 2017 and from who we were then to who we are today.

It pushed us toward who we will be for years to come.

The day started as ordinary as any, but it was anything but ordinary. We departed Cedar Rapids and headed north on Highway 13, making our way to a spot just west of Masonville, to the western edge of Delaware County and the beginning of the end.

We arrived at 8 a.m. to find an overcast sky that contained no storm clouds, a temperature in the low 60s and a stiff wind out of the south-southwest. Within the span of an hour, we gave the intersection of Buchanan-Delaware Avenue and 215th Street the most action it has ever seen. What would normally start as a duo of runners had ballooned to 10. At 9:03 a.m., surrounded by family and friends, we took our first steps for the last time, passing through a shower of confetti and past reporters and their cameras.

The group settled into an easy pace as we chatted with each other and before long we had found our way through Masonville and were heading east on 210th Street, already putting two miles behind us. We each spoke with different runners as we chewed up three miles of gravel road before pounding two more miles of pavement to the western edge of Manchester, waving to families who had made it a point to stand at the end of their driveways and wish us well.

We picked up a few runners in town — siblings and strangers alike — and enjoyed an escort from the Manchester Police Department as we darted around to see the sights — Manchester Whitewater Park, the Delaware County Courthouse, West Delaware High School and Strickland Street — to honor of our good friend Bob Strickland. We found our way back to East Main Street shortly after completing our 10th mile and made our last turn, turning east onto 210th Street.

Things started to move pretty quickly. Our group picked up a few runners and lost a few others. We climbed several hills east of Manchester as the sun started to poke through the clouds. We had the good fortune to be joined by a couple and their two children, who were visiting family in Earlville, for four miles between about our 15th and 19th miles. After they wished us well, we completed our 20th mile side by side.

Soon, we found ourselves alone. It had taken 20 miles for this day — which was becoming extraordinary — to seem ordinary to us. We savored those few miles alone because in them was the dynamic that had gotten us so far — each of us next to each other, taking one stride after another. We started to realize that for as much as we wanted to complete this journey, the end was coming entirely too fast.

Just as the moments were starting to weigh heavily on us, we saw two runners coming toward us, runners who joined us as we ran to our last stop, shortly after the completion of our 23rd mile. This is where it became difficult for us. Tears were flowing freely. What had once seemed so far away had suddenly grown up around us. Soon, too soon, the end was in sight. There were no more hills to climb.

We had both been picturing this moment, and it exceeded our expectations.

We were met by quite a group of runners at the intersection of 210th Street and 332nd Avenue, a group that was going to take us in to the finish. It was quite the moment. We asked the group to lead us in and followed by the flashing lights of the Dyersville Police Department, we fell behind the group. We asked Kris join us and the three of us were met by the cheers of our family and friends as we crossed the county line hand-in-hand, as we crossed the finish line.

“I can’t believe we just did that.”

We crossed a 26.35-mile route in 3:53:15 and, now that it is over, we wish that we would have slowed the pace so that we could have had a few more moment, a few more memories.

The emotion of the moment remains fresh. The tears still dripping down our faces. We can’t thank those who have helped us along our journey enough. Each of you is the reason this is and will forever be so special to us. Each of you has allowed us to finally see what has seemed ordinary to us was truly extraordinary.

Usually, this is where the lesson is taught, where the moral of the story is set forth. Today, there was no plan behind this message, no blueprint for structure. This message was intentionally written with no plan, and intentionally written from the heart.

When we so foolishly started this journey, we had no plan. No plan at all. We didn’t bother to work out the details most of the time and we let things happen. We made mistakes and we learned from them. With no plan, and only our hearts, we spent the last seven-plus years stumbling up the side of a mountain to greatness.

You don’t need to have a plan to be great. You simply need to put your heart into something — your entire heart -— and you can climb mountains. You can do anything.

We have turned that last page. We have completed the last chapter. It is said that new beginnings are often disguised as painful endings. That is the truth. We don’t know what the future holds and we have no plan. However, regardless of where we go and what we do, we will no doubt put our hearts into it. That is a lesson that each of you has taught each of us.

We ask those who have been touched by this journey, who have been inspired to perspire, to make yourselves honorary members of Team 99 Counties. We ask each of you carry our mission into the future. We will be watching and smiling, our hearts full.

Thank you for the miles. Thank you for the moments.

Inspiration through perspiration.

“I can’t believe we just did that.”

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