Karen Osborne

I am a distance runner. That means I spend a lot of time in sneakers and athletic shorts, logging mile after mile, going for endurance over speed. Someday, I’ll run a marathon. I want to cross the finish line having run 26.2 miles, and have someone place a medal over my head as if I’ve won a gold medal in the Olympics. I want to know how that feels. From what my runner friends say, that “marathon moment” feels awesome!

While I am nowhere near ready to run a marathon, my friends are ready. Recently, I went to support them by volunteering to hand out medals at the finish line of a local marathon.

I thought it would be easy, but after five hours I was exhausted. They hadn’t given us food, water or a break. My arms hurt and were strained. I had put at least a thousand medals over runners’ necks at that point, and I felt as if I was going to keel over.

I didn’t stop, though. I didn’t want to. As the runners crossed the finish line, the deep emotions they were feeling were more than obvious. People of all ages, all races and all levels of ability were smiling, crying and absolutely overcome.

Even though I considered medaling boring, repetitive work, I realized that this “marathon moment,” when each of them received their reward, was a major highlight for them. People thanked me, they told me that they’d been waiting for this moment their entire lives, they took pictures with me, and they even hugged me. Wow!

For me, this was a very annoying Sunday morning. For them, it was a “marathon moment,” one of their most meaningful experiences.

The runners weren’t going to remember my face, of course, or my name, but they were going to remember how I made them feel.

Placing the medals on the runners reminded me that we can’t judge our impact on the lives of others solely from our perspective. On that Sunday, I was hungry and exhausted. All of the faces flowed together, one after another. I couldn’t remember them even if I wanted to. The runners were hungry and exhausted. But many of them would never forget how I made them feel when I congratulated them and smiled.

I’ve had people like that in my life, including a friend from elementary school who stood up for me against the bullies on the bus. She probably wouldn’t remember that, but I always will. I remember my English teacher back in high school, who encouraged me to write and made me start pursuing a career in journalism.

Everyone has the opportunity, every day, to make a difference in the lives of others, even if it is with a quiet smile, a kind word or help. What I learned on that marathon Sunday was that words and actions matter. Someone will remember what you said, whether you were kind or cruel, belittling or encouraging.

Make sure that your words and actions are positive, make sure they uplift, that they work to make you and others better. You never know what “marathon moments” you’re going to give other people.