Logo for: National Kidney Registry

Running From or Running To?

Matt Cavanaugh

Is 1K4D about running away from something or running toward something?

I wish I could say the latter, but if I’m honest, it’s both.

Maybe it seems a silly question to ask—why does it matter, anyway? But when you’ve got 1,000 kilometers of desert, mountain, and snowy trail front of you, it does matter. A lot.

There’s no way to get across 24 finish lines, filling a full calendar month, if you don’t take a hard look in the mirror and know what propels you. That’s your fuel. So is it a push, or is it a pull?

In my other life, my day job as an army officer, I’ve encountered this before. There’s an old expression by G.K. Chesterton that the “true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.”

It certainly sounds and seems like the honorable way of things. Not to be pushed along, not to be prodded, but to be lured forward and pulled on to something higher, nobler. I’m drawn to that gravitational view of goodness.

As much as I’d like that to be the case entirely, pulled toward the light by an angel on my shoulder, I’m not sure that’s accurate. There are demons with pitchforks, too.

By demons, I don’t mean a squad of tiny pointy-tailed guys telling me to do bad stuff. It’s less a stereotype, and more like a story. A really bad personal experience for which I feel some shame or failure. Something I regret. Something I want to make up for.

The truth is, we all have those things. If I had to pick a center of gravity for my own sins, it’s that I feel in so many instances that I haven’t lived up to my obligations to others. Moments where I’ve expected more of myself and I didn’t measure up. Family members I ought to have helped and didn’t, friends to whom I could’ve lent a better hand.

Even more so, every time I look around the world through the pages of the newspaper, I find something I wish I could do something about. Take your pick—so many lost in this global pandemic, mass starvation in Afghanistan’s brutal winter, and now, Russia’s attack into Ukraine, which will be the worst fighting in Europe since 1945. I was in Kyiv on a research trip this summer. I can’t stop wondering about the people I met and worked with. Are they safe?

Things I can’t help. Things I can’t do much for. People in need. People suffering. It feels overwhelming. Too much.

These are the moments that remind me why I donated my kidney. There’s never nothing we can do. We’re not helpless. We can’t do everything for everyone, but we can always do something for someone. And if enough of us do something, we’ll knock down that list of suffering one by one, until eventually, it’ll be so much smaller.

Now for the good part. What’s on the other shoulder, the angel pulling me toward what I love?

I believe, and I may be monumentally mistaken, but I believe if I can run far, so far, so far past what I should be able to, past pain, shame, and regret, that people will have to take notice.

They’ll have to see that if someone like me can push so far—on a single kidney—then heck, why can’t they too? 

Not to mention that this is all one Big Adventure, and what is life without a Big Adventure?

(And hope. When there’s nothing else, there’s hope.)