On Tuesday, July 26, around 1030am, I ran into the Altantic Ocean after running 424km across The Gambia. I ran made it to the ocean because I always believed that I could. And because I had my team: Ashley Sharpe, Pa Modou Sarr, Kebba Suso and Spider (Dodou Bah), with me and behind me every step of the way.
WE DID IT!!!
I wrote this with pen and paper in my journal on Tuesday, July 26 and am just posting now.
Our 13.5km run today was everything it should have been. It was easy. I loved every step. I loved my team’s love for each other- camaraderie that had turned into brotherhood and sisterhood over 400km. We easily kept step with each other. I felt like we could run to the end of the world together.
Today was all about the team: starting and finishing together. For the first time, all 5 of us could run together because Boss Jarju was driving the truck. On the previous 16 days, someone always had to drive to the truck.
Yesterday, day 16, I ran 24km straight in 2:09:xx so at 5:24/km pace. I was running “fast” (for Gambia) because it was dangerous and I needed to reach the traffic light in Westfield as quickly as humanly possible. Today, I had to get my team to the ocean together. I made sure we ran at 6:00/km. Ashley had never run more than 11km in her life. Although he didn’t seem worried about it, I was worried about Pa Modou showing up at football camp next week. One coach doesn’t wish to displease another. So we clocked 6:00/kms.
We were joined today by 16 year old Muhammed- Spider’s neighbor. He was a terrific little runner and having a youth with me on our last day made me happy. He represented all the kids I was running for.
Spider was in his best form ever with plenty of singing and chanting and dancing. Many of his songs require him to run ahead and do a traditional Fula dance. It was perfection. I wanted to hold onto each precious kilometer and couldn’t believe how fast they were slipping by me.
We saw the Atlantic Ocean at km 6 as we crossed the Denton Bridge, leading onto the island of Banjul. We stopped for a family photo.
Just after the bridge, 3 NSGA staff members- Muhammed B, Adama and Haddy hopped out of a car and joined us. Ashley and I were so thrilled for our women and we both grabbed one of Haddy’s hands. Pa had Adama’s hand. We ran.
Then we were getting so close.
A huge, golden, gleaming concrete arch presents the city of Banjul to the South Bank Road and to enter the city, you must pass under this famous arch. Spider, running on the left-most side of the road, began yelling in sweet Gambian dialect:
“I am seeing the arch!!! I AM SEEING THE ARCH!!!”
I looked ahead and I couldn’t see anything but forest. Spider is very tall.
And the Arch appeared before me.
I started crying.
“We did it. We did it. We did it,” ran through my head, my tear-blurred vision.
Ashley was next to me and said “no crying until the finish line!” Although no one else noticed, it was too late.
I don’t know if anyone other than the 5 of us will ever understand what it felt like to see the arch to the city of Banjul after 420km. I always knew that I could get there, but in that moment, I felt something close to disbelief. Like Oh My God, it’s finally and actually true.
It took about 500m to run to the Arch. I ran to one of the gorgeous, welcoming columns and threw my arms around it and my team threw their arms around both me and the column.
I started crying again, publically this time. Ashley, Pa, Kebba and Spider were hugging me. We were yelling. We were celebrating.
We had made it.
We ran all the way to Banjul.
More hugs, more joyful tears (not only by me), more spraying water, more celebrating.
And then we had our delicious reward. Our gold medal. What we had been waiting for since Koina, 422km ago. What I had been waiting for, training for, dreaming about for 7 months. The Atlantic Ocean. It was about 2km from the Arch.
We began to run again. When we reached “July 22 Square” in the heart of Banjul, we politely asked Muhammed and our NSGA staffers to let the team: Ashley, Pa, Kebba, Spider and I run the last 1500m alone.
Side by side, we ran.
We sang a special team song to each other as we wound through the stalls of the Banjul Market.
Then the market stalls parted and the Atlantic Ocean was in front of us.
We stood on the sand, just where the market ended and the beach began. We took off our shoes. We held hands, looked up at the sky and I yelled “1, 2, 3” and we ran across the beach into the Atlantic Ocean, holding hands.
We started together and we finished together.
The English Dictionary doesn’t have enough words to describe how my tears of joy felt in the ocean. Or just how sweet our celebration was.