More than 51,000 people are expected to run the New York City Marathon on Sunday – defying their own limitations as well as the recent terror on the streets of Manhattan.
Life does go on, stubbornly, taking hold and sprouting through the cracks in tragedy.
Case in point: The Brinsons. In its own way, for a loss suffered months ago, one Atlanta family will conduct a small, private observance of perseverance and commemoration over the 26 miles through the five boroughs.
Harrison Brinson was to be name of the baby boy born in Georgia early this year. Everyone who loved him before they knew him will be at the New York race this weekend wearing Team Harrison shirts. His mother. His 3-year-old sister Kate, who this Valentine’s Day made a card for Harrison, and asked her father to lift her up so she could deliver it to heaven. His uncle. A cousin. His grandparents.
Harrison’s father, Bryan, will be the runner in that vast, heaving swatch of humanity wearing the thin blue wristband he got in October, during Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month.
“I don’t run with headphones. I don’t run with podcast or books on tape or anything like that. I run as is, with nothing but my thoughts,” Brinson said. “For me it’s almost like grief work, dealing with the loss, dealing with re-living the vivid images that you do have and are ingrained in you after something like that.”
Her pregnancy deemed high risk, Samantha Brinson was confined to bed last Christmas. For a month, she tried to protect her child, but on the early morning of Jan. 29, at only 20 weeks, weighing less than a pound, Harrison was born. Far too young and small to survive. Samantha and Bryan held his small form briefly and said goodbye forever.
The experience numbed the family in different ways. For the 35-year-old property manager, for whom running had been a great diversion, and taken him to marathons in Virginia, Chicago and Nashville, it became difficult to convince his legs to play along.
“I was trying to run a couple times a week right after. I’d go out and try to run four miles and just couldn’t,” he said. “Emotionally I was so drained that I’d stop after two miles and walk back home. Which is demoralizing in itself. It took so much out of my wife and me. I don’t know if running right after was the right thing to do, but I needed some outlet.”
Gradually, Brinson began stretching out on the road again.
Then he felt right enough to sit down and write an essay.
Included with his entrance form to the New York City Marathon, where entrants are determined by a lottery that had failed Brinson for seven years, was a section in which to spell out reasons for wanting to run the event.
Brinson started typing and out came the story about his own father running in New York and about how now, here was his chance to run in honor of the son he never got to really meet. He had always wanted to run in this marathon, badly, but had never gotten lucky enough. Now, in a way, he was explaining why he needed to run in this one.
He didn’t save the short essay. Didn’t print it out. He just tapped it out his feelings on the computer keyboard and hit send.
The words landed with the right audience. Race sponsor Michelob ULTRA beer holds spots for 95 runners it judges to have special motivations to join this eclectic run. Team ULTRA, they call it. Bryan Brinson was selected as one of the first members.
Running displays a different personality to each different runner. For Brinson, it has shown an increasingly therapeutic side.
“I never thought of myself as a runner, but the value I’ve gotten from running, I don’t know if it’s something I’ll ever stop doing because it has been so good for me emotionally and mentally,” he said.
Brinson will get the premium package in New York. He’ll bus from his hotel to the start line with the group. He’ll wait out the idle time before the start in a comfortable team staging area, and run toward a team party at the finish. A four-hour marathoner, he dares to set a goal of under 3:45 for this one.
It will read Team Ultra on his singlet. Somewhere on his body, though, he’ll take a Sharpie and also note that he is a member of Team Harrison.
Of how he can serve that latter team over a long run through the great city, Brinson said, “For me it will be his name, thinking of him. And seeing family along the way. That will be uplifting. Along with the crowds in Manhattan, I hear they’re fantastic.
“I’ll be thinking about (Harrison) at the start. Definitely at the finish. I’m sure it will be an emotional finish.”
When he has beaten the distance, when he has pushed himself through the last six miles that are always whispering to a runner to just stop, Brinson will make the stiff-legged walk to join back up with family. A family whose numbers are stubbornly growing. Samantha is pregnant, and after a worrisome beginning, both she and the child are doing great, Brinson said.
They’re expecting a girl. The name already is fixed.
“We have Hope in February,” dad said.
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Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC