Last year to this year.
Lost to found.
Dreams to clarity.
As I drove into Grand Rapids this past weekend, I reflected on the past year – the crazy and thrilling journey of Fellow Flowers. It was here – one year ago – when I ran a half marathon on my birthday. On that day, there were just two of us wearing flowers – myself, and my younger sister Rachael, who’s handmade shirt bore the words, ‘Hey Melon, consider 13.1 your birthday present.’ She wore the flower in honor of our unbreakable bond as sisters. She drove eight hours to celebrate my birthday with me – making sure I wasn’t alone. Showing we were together. Fiercely united. Even then, the flower represented something far bigger than running.
If you’ve read our story, then you know that it was this race – during two hours of pavement bliss – where the vision of Fellow Flowers came to be. The possibility that this organic and unintentional effort may have a greater purpose than any of us realized or dreamed possible. With every step I took, the clarity sharpened and I repeated the words,
Make a plan.
Dream the vision.
Uncork the crazy.
Lay it down.
I texted Tori after the race…I have an idea…what if…why not us…why not now…I know it sounds crazy…but I think we could do it…are you in?
Fast forward to this past weekend. Grand Rapids. Fellow Flowers. Bloom Party. Expo booth. Radio interviews. Television appearance. Online article. 300 flowers crossing the finish line.
Amazement. Awe. Gratitude.
We met hundreds of incredible women this past weekend, yet surprisingly, it was a remarkably humble and unassuming father that reminded me why we’re doing what we’re doing.
Bob – the father of four girls.
Usually, it’s women who wear our flowers. But this weekend, there was one exception – Bob. At our booth on Saturday, he and his wife Angela, parents to four daughters, purchased a dark pink flower for their youngest. When I asked why dark pink, they paused and tears welled up in their eyes. “Because we’re so proud of her. She’s been through so much.” They shared with me that a trusted person close to their family had sexually assaulted their daughter. “She could’ve given up on her happiness, but she didn’t.”
Bob, who would be running his ninth marathon that weekend, told me his most recent marathon was in her honor. For her strength and resilient spirit, he said, and for the deep pride he took in being her father. Watching her fight back. Watching her pursue justice. Watching her stand tall in a courtroom and address her assaulter directly, letting him know his actions would not define her future.
His grace took my breath away. He could’ve been so angry at the world, but all I could feel was his kindness.
He looked down at all the colors and noticed the light pink flower. “Is it okay if I wear this in honor of all my daughters?” he asked.
Yes, Bob. I think it fits.
/pink/:: Gratitude. To endure against the odds. To unite and connect. To admire, to love. To honor a hero, to be a hero. Because this is so much bigger than me.
Moments after they left, I excused myself for a few minutes. I sat in the bathroom stall and let the tears fall from my eyes. I thought of my two little girls – their smiles and precious souls. Their promising future. I thought of how Bob’s warmth and smile reminded me of my own dad. I thought of how much of my dad’s life purpose and passion revolved around his children, just as Bob’s did for his daughters. And then I thought of my husband Jason and the deep bond he has with our girls. How intensely he loves and protects them. I thought of how his heart would break if any person harmed or took advantage of our girls’ innocence and trust.
Yes, a father’s love for his daughters is fierce. I cried some more.
And so, on race day, while a few hundred women were rocking their flowers, one proud father – with a pink flower tightly clipped to his hat – ran in honor of the women in his life.
I got to the starting line late that morning (bad habit) so I didn’t start with my usual pacer. But had I, I wouldn’t have come across Bob and his bright pink flower at mile one. I could see his light pink lily 30 yards ahead of me, and while I couldn’t see his face, you could sense the contentment and gratitude in his stride.
I tapped his shoulder. He smiled. “How do you like my flower?” he said.
“Keep doing this,” he said as he touched my shoulder. “You know, this whole Fellow Flowers thing. Keep doing it, okay? I think you girls could make a real difference. ”
Tears. I hugged him. “We will Bob.”
Yes, there is something special about Grand Rapids. There always will be. I’m still smiling thinking of all the flowers that came across the finish line this past Sunday. And wouldn’t you know it, as we were waiting for our relay team at mile 26, we saw Bob…steady and smiling, coming to the finish line. And while his daughters couldn’t be there to cheer him on, we made sure he had an obnoxiously loud and loving crew of Fellow Flowers bringing him home to the finish line.