We live in an extremely competitive society. It has been said that second place is “the first loser.” I beg to differ. Let me tell you a story about a woman who finished last in a race with over 3000 walkers and runners, and I dare you to tell me she is not a winner.
On March 6th this woman decided that she had enough of being overweight, tired, with back problems so severe she could not walk too far without being in pain. On Thanksgiving Day, this same woman, having lost 100 pounds in a little more than 7 months, walked in the 5K Tallahassee Turkey Trot to benefit Second Harvest Food Bank and two women’s abuse shelters in Tallahassee. She is the kind to raise money and awareness for needed causes, so when she asked if I wanted to join her, I said yes, that would be fun. “You sure YOU want to do it?” I asked. But she was determined that she would do the entire 3.1 miles, in addition to the almost one mile to and one mile from the parking lot for the race. There were a lot of people there warming up on this cool, wet and chilly morning. Some were serious runners, some joggers, some walkers, and some were children only 4 or 5 years old, who after they got tired, got carried by their parents or wheeled in strollers. So they finished ahead of the lady who finished last. Which is okay, because those parents were teaching their children the value of family time together and finishing a race no matter how long it takes, and hopefully, the value of exercise, which can not only make you stronger, but give you the desire to get into even better shape.
The last place finisher had in the past several months not only lost all that weight, but gave up the need for all medications, was no longer borderline Type 2 diabetic, and the back pain went away. She felt well enough to take a little 3+ mile walk over hills and dales. So I went along with her to make sure we could track her progress. The volunteers were starting to pack up the medals, the bananas and water, and even the timing mechanism at the finish line. But the woman finished the race, and the tears of joy she shed when she crossed the finish line for all the determination and hard work and discipline she endured this year made it all worth while. That woman is my wife–Janet Balanoff. She has been a great wife, then Mom and now Grandma…a leader in the community, an award winning administrator at the University of Central Florida and now associate vice president at Seminole State College. She has paved the way for so many people to reach their goals. She does it without fanfare, self-serving propaganda, or ego. In a time when if you aren’t self-promoting, you are not seen to be trying, she serves as a quiet inspiration for so many. But I hope that now a few more of you will see the hero in this woman…a woman strong enough to take on seemingly insurmountable odds to do something just for herself.
And oh, by the way, the next time the job gets a little tough for you, or you give up on your diet, or your exercise, or hopes for a new job or a better education or way of life…I want you to stop for a moment, and look at the inspiration that Janet Balanoff provides to us all. And if nothing else, maybe you will take a kinder look on those who finish last, and realize the joy and fulfillment and peace that comes with finishing…at all! I am so grateful to have the chance to spend my life with this great woman, but let her inspire you to fulfill your unrealized dreams. On this Thanksgiving weekend 2017, I wish you the courage to follow her inspiration and your own. Peace.