Confessions from Laurel Hill

By Laura Edwards

Tar Heel 10 Miler pre-raceToday, I joined 6,200 other runners for the seventh annual Tar Heel 10 Miler in Chapel Hill.

John and I jogged from the Carolina Inn to the bell tower on the campus of my alma mater, the University of North Carolina (UNC); we met Steve Gray, our friend and a UNC gene therapy expert whose work makes me believe, just as the morning light touched the towering pines and the dew-kissed pink and white azaleas.

I’ve battled various injuries since early March, including a mysterious ankle problem for the past week, that have limited my training; I ran just 25 miles in April prior to today’s race, less than an average week for me in 2013. I didn’t know what to expect from this race, my fifth consecutive entry in the Tar Heel 10 Miler. Butterflies wrecked my insides as we waited to begin. But no matter what, I start every race with the intent to run faster than I’ve ever run before. One month ago, I ran the Charlotte 10 Miler in 1:17:49, a 7:46/mile pace. So after Steve and I saw John off for the four-mile run, I wished Steve good luck and found my way to the 7:30/mile pace group.

I got off to a quick start and stayed with my pace group for most of the race. But around mile six, I began to feel winded. I wondered whether I’d started too quickly.

As I hit a long downhill stretch close to mile seven and eased up to save my quads, I thought about my family at home in Charlotte. My parents and Taylor started the 150-mile trek to Chapel Hill on Friday evening, because they wanted to be there for me today. But when you’re fighting Batten disease, a lot can happen in 150 miles.

My family never made it to Chapel Hill last night; Taylor got sick around Greensboro, and they had to turn around and go home.

I hate Batten disease.

I know the Tar Heel 10 Miler course almost as well as my own neighborhood, but Laurel Hill always sneaks up on me. Laurel Hill, the 200-foot vertical gain that spans just under one mile near the end of the race, is a personal record (PR) killer. A lot of people walk it. Though I’ve come close to speed-walking the tough stretch, I always find a way to power through the hill (actually a series of consecutive hills). Last year, I ran Laurel Hill in 7:18.

But as I began the first steep climb, I felt a deep burn in my legs and my chest. I fought through the urge to slow to a crawl.

When I crested the first hill, I came upon a small crowd of supporters clustered at the top. Keep going, they said; keep pushing; you’re almost done. In the middle stood a woman clutching a poster that read, “Don’t stop believing.”

At that moment, it hit me: I’m going to lose my little sister, no matter how fast I run.

I’ll never know what quit on me – my legs or my heart. But there, under a canopy of trees and the bright, blue sky beyond, I walked for the first time ever in a race. And as I took long, deliberate strides toward the finish line, I cried behind my sunglasses.

I didn’t run my best race today, but I finished. The ghost of Laurel Hill behind me, I recovered to run the last mile in 7:18 with wet eyes. I floated through the stadium tunnel before sprinting onto the track for the final stretch, pummeling Batten disease every time my shoes pounded the rubber.

Though she proved too ill to travel to Chapel Hill, I felt my sister’s presence when I crossed that finish line at 1:24:11.

And I still believed.

5 Comments On “Confessions from Laurel Hill

  1. Georgia Elfert Reply

    I enjoy reading your posts. My daughter Adia is almost 14 with jncl. Keep raising awareness! God Bless you and your family! May Adia and Taylor one day run their own race in heaven!!!

  2. Member Laura King Edwards Reply

    Thanks for reading, Georgia! I’m so sorry to hear about your daughter, Adia. She and Taylor are about the same age; Taylor will be 16 later this year. We’ll never stop spreading the word about the courageous fight of kids like my sister and your daughter. You, Adia and your family are in my thoughts and prayers.

  3. Julie Siebel Reply

    Laura, you brought tears to my eyes with your honesty! This journey your family is on is beyond anything I can comprehend … I remember when I first heard about Batten Disease from your Mom and did some research. This included talking to docs at the children’s hospital where I was working at the time. They had little hope to share, and offered no help as I tried to put myself in your shoes. I couldn’t manage it then, and I still can’t now. But, please know that you and Taylor and the entire King clan remains in my heart as you move slowly through this journey toward an end that no one could ever dream of, nor wish upon their greatest enemy, let alone an innocent and lovely young lady 🙁

    1. Member Laura King Edwards Reply

      Julie, your note means so much to me. Ours is an arduous journey with too many twists and turns to count, but knowing we have the support of friends helps light the way.

      Though it’s never been easy, these past several months have been especially difficult. I always strive for honesty here, but I’ve had a lot of revelations of late; I believe that’s what happened to me at the top of that first hill.

      Here’s what keeps me going, though: even on the toughest part of that hill, as all my emotions of the past near-eight years were laid bare, I still saw blue sky through all those tears. I never lost sight of what’s good. That’s what my blind sister taught me. And that’s why I still believe.

  4. […] a cool morning in Chapel Hill, North Carolina last April, I arrived on the UNC campus for my fifth ...

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