Edit desk: Leader of the band

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Marathon Sunday has been a holiday in my house throughout my entire life.

My dad has run at the New York City Marathon every year since 1999, and my family has watched him run by our house at mile 18, and then sprinted to try to catch him at mile 23 every year before he enters Central Park. 

As the years went on and tracking technology became more advanced, it has been much easier to know exactly when he will run by our house. 

Yet, as my mom always notes, my dad’s running is clockwork. Even without tracking him, mom knows exactly when he will be running down First Avenue and when he will be finishing the deceptive Fifth Avenue hill and entering Central Park.

About six weeks before the marathon this year, I was presented with the opportunity to participate in the race myself. An Achilles guide dropped out, and they needed a runner to fill his spot.

Achilles is an organization where volunteers partner with runners who have a mental or physical disability and run with them. An athlete on the spectrum, Jason Breslin, needed someone to run with him so he could complete his goal of running the marathon for the third time. Jason, like a lot of athletes, signed up for the race in 2020, but the pandemic pushed back his timeline and forced him to wait a year to complete his goal. 

My mom has worked at a school for kids with learning disabilities my entire life. She started working at the Aaron School when it was founded in 2002 and continues to work there to this day. My brother and I would visit mom at work frequently, playing in the occupational therapy (OT) gym and interacting with kids after school. 

The best decisions in my life have always been spontaneous — diving into something that I thought sounded fun and figuring out the details after I had already made the decision. 

So, when the opportunity presented itself, I just said “yes” and signed up to be a guide in the NYC Marathon. 

I didn’t know if I could handle the responsibility of being a guide or even if I could handle the distance of the race, but I knew the opportunity to impact someone and help them achieve their goal was too important to pass by.

I ran with Jason one time over Lehigh’s Pacing Break to better understand his running style and then met with him the day before the marathon to pick up our numbers at the Javits Center. 

We didn’t know each other too well, but we were about to embark on a day neither of us would forget. 

Race day was as emotional for me as I expected. Being a part of something I had watched my whole life was surreal. Running down First Avenue and seeing my family screaming for me and then seeing them again as I came up Fifth Avenue –– knowing the process of them frantically maneuvering through crowds of people to beat me to the entrance of Central Park–– is something I will never forget. 

However, it was the bonding with Jason, which ensued throughout the entire day, that will stick with me as one of the most special experiences of my life.

Peter Gardner and Jason Breslin run down First Avenue in mile 17 of the New York City Marathon

Jason and I met in Midtown at 5 a.m. the morning of the race and took a bus to Staten Island, where the race began. We went up and down four major bridges, ran through all five boroughs and struggled through each hill on the course together. We laughed at all the Ted Lasso signs on the course and talked about how we were “doing a lot of work for a free banana” ––  another popular sign spectators would hold up. 

One of the reasons I have fallen in love with running is the bonding that takes place when you voluntarily dedicate your time to challenging yourself. I have never been someone who runs on a treadmill, and I try to never run alone, because the experience of grinding and working with someone else is an event I cherish deeply. 

Jason and I were accountable to each other on Marathon Sunday. We were a team — neither one of us wanted to let the other person down. We dedicated our pain and suffering to the course and spent three hours 36 minutes and 10 seconds creating an experience we will remember for a long time. 

As I continue to follow the leaders of my band and stick to the values my parents instilled in me while simultaneously creating my own path, I know the formula for success. Work in teams, do something that makes an impact on others and never be afraid to say “yes.” 

Through my own journey, I hope to be as consistent as my dad and make as much of an impact on people as my mom.

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