Walsh's Wonderings — The unlikeliest run

The presidential race finally comes to an end next week, but a far more positive race makes a welcome return on Saturday in Stratford. Whereas the results of this year’s political cycle will long be remembered for lowering the bar on civility, this weekend’s Vicki Soto Memorial 5K Run/Walk will continue a tribute that highlights the very best in us all.

The presidential hopefuls have spent almost two years playing on deep-seated fears to divide us, but the previous three editions of the Vicki Soto Memorial 5K have seen more than 7,000 participants from around the country gather to celebrate a legacy of peace and hope. The run was started to honor Stratford High alumna Vicki Soto, the young teacher murdered in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting who died trying to protect the students she’d hidden from a madman. The fund supports students who pursue careers in teaching, awarding more than $40,000 in educational scholarships so far.

Her family created the Vicki Soto Memorial Fund to honor Vicki’s passion for life and commitment to teaching. The fund has hosted community book drives, established free library locations around the Stratford community and donated hundreds of children’s books to local teachers, classrooms, libraries, and schools. In addition, proceeds from the fund have helped launch “Miss Soto’s Literacy Legacy,” which provides to more than 200 classrooms the opportunity to collectively read books that promote and encourage kindness.

I became aware of the scope of the Soto family’s devotion to Vicki’s memory during a discussion with Matthew, Vicki’s younger brother. We spoke about the opening of the Stratford elementary school named in her honor last year (http://www.trumbulltimes.com/37529/walsh-the-enduring-lesson). When our talk turned to the 5K run, I got very quiet. As a teacher myself, I’d felt the impact of that horrible event on a number of levels. Like most of my colleagues in education, I’d imagined myself in her position; I shuddered at the decisions she had to make in a matter of seconds.

Contemplating the life she could have lived — and the lives she could have continued to touch — made it even harder. The ensuing years found me constantly checking to make sure I’m earning this extended time that Vicki never had a chance to experience. A morbidly obese 49-year-old who could barely make it up a set of stairs without an oxygen mask was not what I had in mind.

After that discussion with Matthew last year, I promised myself I’d run that 5K in 2016. In January, I made sure I couldn’t back out by committing to the race in a column explaining my New Year’s resolutions.

Now that Saturday’s race is upon us, I’m wondering what the heck I was thinking. I’ve huffed and puffed around the neighborhood for the last few months in a desperate attempt to complete a mile without stopping, then two. I’ve worn out two sets of earbuds listening to songs like “Freebird” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again” on a loop while lumbering around our streets like some drunken Forrest Gump. I can’t in good conscience call what I do “running.” It’s more an exercise in leaning forward and breathing heavily, all the while hoping passersby don’t call for an ambulance.

I don’t know if I’ll be able to “run” the entire 3.2 miles, but that was never the point. Saturday will see a different man than the one who made that promise to himself last summer: I’ve lost almost 70 pounds in my five months training for this 5K. Unlike Tuesday’s culmination of the presidential election, this race inspired me to reach deep inside for something better. As Vicki herself once wrote on her Facebook page, “Life comes with no guarantee, no time outs, no second chances. You just have to live life to the fullest …”

This family-friendly 5K run/walk will go through the picturesque Lordship section of Stratford, Vicki's hometown. There will be a kids fun run and activities tent (featuring face painters, artists and more) in addition to food and beer tents following the race. All proceeds benefit the Vicki Soto Memorial Fund Inc., a 501(c)(3) charitable organization. Find out more at www.vickisoto5k.com.

In the meantime, if you happen to notice an overweight man wearing bib #2600, hold off on calling that ambulance until he crosses the finish line.

You can read more at RobertFWalsh.com, contact him at RobertFWalshMail@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @RobertFWalsh.