Friday April 3, 2020

“The Corona Virus took my school, my studio time with Archies, and my friends away from me, it is not taking this!” The last words my sophomore daughter at Notre Dame said before she went to bed on that Friday. Frances had been training to run the Holy Half, which is a half marathon that without COVID-19 would have taken place on Notre Dame’s campus the next day. But things were different now. Each day brought new restrictions. A few days earlier we had been able to enjoy an amazing hike overlooking the Pacific Ocean while keeping a safe distance from other hikers. Now, all of the trails, the beach in our town, and the public strand for walking and biking along the beach was closed. 

My husband, Pat, had mapped out a route for Frances to run the next day to achieve her half marathon. But we were still nervous. 13 miles in congested Los Angeles. Would she be exposed to too many people during that time? I was nervous and tried to get her not to do it. She was adamant. And sad. It felt like her last connection to Notre Dame life on campus to go do this run. 

Saturday April 4, 2020

Since there are 5 in our family we had all decided to run 3 miles of the run with Frances with one of us running 4 to keep her company. We all went to the “beginning” of the race together and did warm ups all of us dressed in Notre Dame shirts and me in my Saint Mary’s shirt, (Belles represent!). Oddly, even though it was just the five of us and Frances was the only one running 13 miles there was a great energy in the air. You know that feeling before a race where you can’t stop thinking you should use the bathroom one more time? Well that was happening for no reason to all of us. 

After the obligatory group selfie Frances and her youngest sister Audrey (14) were off. We decided to throw the youngest under the bus and have her be the one to run 4 miles. On the way to drop her off I had texted a couple of local and fellow Notre Dame sophomore friends to meet us at the finish line to surprise Frances. Within minutes they replied they would be there. A couple of her High School friends were able to come also. 

The race was on. We rushed home to make signs for Frances. The paint was still wet and it was time to switch runners. Darn it! Frances was running too fast. They were already approaching the switch spot. Pat got Margot (16) dropped off for her leg of the run, and Audrey said she wanted to keep going so the three sisters continued together. Pat was to run the next leg but parking in our beach town isn’t easy on a good day and with all of the public lots closed we only had enough time to park illegally and run water down to where Frances would pass. We jumped back in the car in a panic, this was becoming stressful trying to meet up, switch drivers, and find her on the route to give water. Adrenaline was crazy and none of us wanted to miss our chance to run with her. I don’t even run BTW.

We drove further ahead and darn it Frances was still going faster than we had anticipated. At some point we found her and dropped Pat off to continue with Frances. I made Margot get back in the car in a panic, even though she wanted to keep running also–I had no idea where Audrey was but we had to get back to the next meeting point. 

It was definitely a flawed system we had going here, with losing runners, wet signs, and a crumpled streamer for the finish line. Also the time we had told her friends to show up, based on our own history of tortoise-like running performances was going to be 45 minutes too late. I texted them again, “You have to get here ASAP.” 

I got to run the last 3 miles with Frances. She was on mile 11 when I started and I could barely keep up. Kind of ticked me off actually. She kept saying, “I don’t want to hold you back Mom.” So rude! I was giving it my all. As we ran I kept singing the Notre Dame fight song and as Frances passed me and left me in the dust I kept yelling, “Here come the Irish” to the confusion of passersby. 

The designated “Finish Line” was the famous landmark pier in our beach town. About a half mile before the finish Frances started to run zig zag across the street. Her friends and siblings at the finish line were definitely confused. Her running app was letting her know when she hit 13 miles and in order to finish at the pier she had to run zig zag for the last half mile to add mileage. A solo zig zag photo finish was not how Frances had envisioned this, but nothing about this race was. The finish line should have been on Notre Dame’s campus under the golden dome. But COVID-19 took that away. What it couldn’t take away was the excitement of race day, a motley crew of friends and family with wet paint signs and good intentions and the determination of one runner to achieve her goal and make the best of it. 

As a family it was great fun supporting Frances together. It took our minds off of the pandemic for one day. She was so grateful for her friends’ support, even as they had to stand 6 feet apart. We couldn’t hug them in appreciation or invite them over after. We could just wave our thanks from a safe distance.

I have heard many stories of people making the best of it during this pandemic on a much larger scale. From proms at home, signs of thanks for essential workers, weddings on zoom, and graduations that will probably take place on zoom also. It will always be sad for those irreplaceable opportunities lost, like graduating with your best friends and classmates in person, on a campus you have loved for 4 years. But I hope years from now looking back on COVID-19 people will remember the spirit in which we all tried to make the best of it. 

This pandemic race is far from over. But the good to come out of it will keep us going. 


Frances Barrera, Sophomore at the University of Notre Dame (post Holy Half)


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