Sunday, January 19, 2014

Brave Little Banana

The bravest thing I ever did was dress up as a banana and cheer on runners at the Rock N Roll Marathon in Nashville.

I'm a shy person, and an introvert. Meaning, I prefer to be alone. I've never been one who likes shopping in groups of people or who enjoys big parties. I get really uncomfortable. Big crowds terrify me. And marathons? They have some big crowds.

It was Spring 2008. I was in my junior year of college. To make a long story short, I was headed to Nashville to support several of my friends who I had met through a Melinda Doolittle fan site. They were going to be running the marathon in honor of our group, Melinda's Backups. Now, before you write me off as a creepy weirdo who meets people off the internet, understand that the Backups are the sweetest, most compassionate people I've ever met and to this day continue to be some of my best friends.

I was not running the marathon. I was a student, and out of shape, and the thought of squeezing training for a marathon into my schedule terrified me. But I wanted to go anyways. These ladies and gents were my friends, I wanted to support them.  There was a big group of us- the first day of arrivals was full of squeals and hugs, catching up face to face. We even got to have dinner with Melinda. Most of us had met her by that point, but some had not. It was an exciting trip for all of us.

Flying there and spending a few days with "strangers" was a brave enough act, for me. I had only met a couple of them, and had barely spoke when I did, fear that I would say something stupid and they wouldn't like me anymore. I was still shy on this trip, I remember a couple times where I stood awkwardly, just not knowing how to engage or jump into conversations.

But little did I know, I was about to be even more brave.

Us cheerleaders spent the night before the race making signs and packing up chairs and snacks for the sidelines, while the runners rested. And then I saw the banana. My friend Gem, the artist among the group, had constructed these amazing banana and pickle costumes. It was an inside joke from the site, and she wanted two of us to wear them so that the runners could spot us.

I wore the banana.

Me. Shy little me. And you know what? I had the greatest time in that thing. I don't think I stopped smiling for a second. At one point, I was standing next to Melinda, who was being recognized by several runners/cheerleaders. Two girls came over and asked if they could get a picture- assuming it was with her, I reached for the camera. Bur no, they wanted a picture with me, the banana. I put my heart and soul into cheering on my friends as they ran by our group. I would hug them tight (Except Val, who didn't stop! Kidding, Val!) and then yell at them- kindly, of course, to keep going. The feeling of immense joy that I had watching my friends fight hard to reach their goal was something I have never felt sense. Afterwards, when they crossed the finish line and I fed them water and fruit, I had never felt so proud. We were a team, we were a family. We still are.

The banana costume still hangs up in my room. It is a daily reminder of that day, the day I chose to be brave and loud, instead of hiding and quiet. That day changed me. I did not become this super outgoing person, but I did gain confidence. I also gained gratitude, for my new friends and for Melinda, who all pushed me to put myself out there.

My "banana story" is one of my go to stories I tell people. You know, in those "Tell us a random fact about yourself" kind of situations. No one really seems to get it. They sort giggle, and move on to the next person. And maybe my readers won't get it either. But the backups do. Melinda does. I do. And it is a story, and a day, that I will cherish for as long as I live.

Myself, Melinda, and Babz in the pickle.

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