Reaching lifelong goal: An amazing moment

  • Published
  • By Maj. John F. O'neill
  • 55th Wing Safety deputy safety chief
More than 10 years ago I promised myself to run a marathon before I turned 35. Time slipped by and I had all but forgotten my youthful promise to myself. In January, I dusted off my old promise when I overheard one of my family members deciding to run the Lincoln half marathon. As I was to turn 35 in December I decided to see if my goal was still achievable.

I trained briefly for my first half marathon in Lincoln. Surprisingly, I finished it and subsequently ran two more in a short period of time. At that point, I thought I had a chance to go even further, so I signed up to run 26.2 miles in the New York City Marathon. New York was a natural choice for my first marathon as I grew up in the area, and my family would be able to cheer me on.

A few weeks and several hundred miles into my training, I realized that all of my sweat and running was only going towards my goal of finishing a marathon. After I gave it some thought, I was struck with the idea of running for a charity where my training efforts could serve two goals simultaneously. I wanted to find a charity that I felt a personal connection with.

Fortunately, my family has been blessed with good overall health, but cancer has taken the lives of some of my loved ones and friends. Further reflection showed me that many people have been touched by cancer in some way. Currently, more than 12 million Americans are living with cancer and each year more than 1.3 million are diagnosed with the deadly disease.

I chose the Lance Armstrong Foundation as the cancer-focused charity I wanted to support. The LAF is not just the source of those yellow wristbands seen everywhere. The organization seeks to inspire and empower people affected by cancer.

Training for the marathon required large amounts of time. Half-hour runs progressed to hour runs and before long there were three hour runs that occupied entire mornings. My family supported me even with my increasing absences every Saturday or Sunday morning.

Gradually, my legs grew stronger and were able to handle the greater mileage without complaint. Before long, the heat of summer gave way to crisp fall mornings, which made running more comfortable but also reminded me that race day was quickly approaching.

After all my training, I stood with confidence on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge looking at a long 26.2 miles ahead of me. After a few speeches, the playing of the National Anthem and a cannon blast I was off with 43,600 new friends on the run of my life.

The first two miles, up and down the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge was extremely dramatic as the entire bridge was closed to everyone except marathon participants. We pounded the pavement more than three feet in the air as we started our journey.

Upon exiting the bridge the most memorable part of the race struck me - the crowds. The streets were continuously lined five to 10 people deep cheering us on. Reading the names on runners' shirts, the crowds shouted words of encouragement. The first 14 miles floated by as the energy of the crowds encouraged and entertained me. At that point I looked forward to the massive 59th Street Bridge at the 16-mile point. The bridge's massive size and lack of spectators made it very challenging to climb.

I exited the 59th Street Bridge in Manhattan where I was greeted by the largest crowds yet. At this point I knew I had only 10 long miles left. The last 10 miles took me down long stretches of historic 1st and 5th Avenues.

As I turned down 5th Avenue with only five miles left, my legs communicated to me that they would like to stop via their increasing signals of fatigue and pain. Luckily, I spotted some of my family members at the 23-mile point and found just enough energy left to keep my tired legs moving. After passing my family, I made the right turn into Central Park, signaling I had less than three miles left.

The pace of all the runners quickened as the end of the race neared and I was determined to finish strong and smile for the cameras. After three hours and 42 minutes, I crossed the finish line.

After the race my legs exacted their revenge and decided to go on strike for two days, but I was otherwise no worse for the run. My time was respectable for a person who only used to run once a year during his fitness test. I am also very proud of the fact that I was able to raise nearly $4,000 for cancer research and accomplish a goal that only a year ago seemed impossible. I will probably run another marathon in the future - just don't tell my legs yet.

For more information about the NYC Marathon, visit  

(Editor's Note: Lt. Col. Kevin S. Williams, 38th Reconnaissance Squadron deputy commander, also participated in the NYC Marathon and finished with a time of 3:44:51.)