Kindness and Radical Forgiveness
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Kerry Gruson helped by Marines (Photo: J. Mendez)
Unique Perspectives on Disability from Kerry Gruson and Caryn Lubetsky

MIAMI - eMusicWire -- "I was awed at the 48th annual Marine Corps Marathon as I watched Kerry Gruson and Caryn Lubetsky, compete in Washington, DC on October 23, 2023. Caryn pushed Kerry in a special racing wheelchair for 31 miles and finished in five hours and 5:13 minutes. Their average speed was just under 10 miles an hour. They came in first in their category. This was a truly remarkable achievement especially since Caryn is 52 and Kerry is 76 years old. This dynamic duo had signed up for the marathon but at the last moment decided to petition for entrance to the Marine Corps 50 K. They made this decision because the event coincided with the 50th anniversary of Kerry's "accident," stated Dr. Eva Ritvo.
Kerry was strangled in March 1974 by a Marine. He was a Vietnam veteran returning from the war. She was a young, beautiful, multicultural, multilingual Harvard-educated journalist. They met in a hotel room in Hawaii where she was to interview him.  He had a PTSD flashback and mistook her for a Viet Cong. He strangled her and left her for dead. Kerry stumbled onto the street and has spent the subsequent 50 years recovering.
Two days after the MC50K, Professor Nils Olsen of George Washington University hosted us and we spoke to his students. Their course was called "Extreme Decisions."  A perfect fit for Kerry and Caryn! They discussed the keys to their extraordinary successes which have garnered them three Guinness Book of World Records (fastest female duo team at the NYC Marathon, most triathlons by a duo team in the shortest time frame - four in eight days across the state of Florida, and the longest run by a duo team-12 hours); seven Emmys and additional international film awards...not to mention completing countless marathons, triathlons, ultra-marathons, and much more.
Caryn shared that for her 40th birthday, she decided to run her first marathon. Her husband and three young sons accompanied her and watched as she crossed the finish line. They were briefly reunited when two bombs exploded. This was the Boston Marathon in 2013. Caryn said the next seconds, minutes, and hours were filled with a jumble of emotions and experiences that were life-altering.

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Over the following days, she was concerned about how to explain this event to her children and help them integrate this traumatic experience. The message she elected to impart to them was, "Yes, bad things can happen in the world, but there were only two people engaging in those acts. On the other hand, hundreds of thousands of people came together in a
moment of crisis to help one another...losing all boundaries of race, religion, age, and ethnicity. It seemed everyone was trying to help those injured and frightened in the terrorist attack." The outpouring warmed Caryn's heart and indelibly changed her life.
Running could no longer be about herself. It had to have a larger meaning. She was introduced to Kerry by a mutual friend. Kerry had been an elite athlete prior to her accident, and she was determined not to let her resulting functional quadriplegia stop her from competing. Kerry fought hard to rebuild her life. She had competed in sailing and scuba diving. When she met Caryn, she turned to endurance racing and they have never looked back.
In addition to training and competing together, they have formed and run a nonprofit called Thumbs Up International https://www.thumbsupintl.org, which pairs athletes needing assistance with those who can help. Kerry's voice is difficult to hear due to her injury. Her movement is limited but she can and often gives an enthusiastic thumbs up.  Hence the name of their organization. Their mission is to Race 2 Educate. They go to schools and share their story encouraging students to look beyond perceived limitations. It would be unlikely to guess Kerry was an elite athlete, yet her accomplishments are legendary, and she is a well-known figure in the triathlon world. They also coordinate races on campus for  students, and Thumbs Up participates in community events such as the Veterans 5K at Tropical Park, Miami.  The shorter races allow for a greater number of participants with a variety of skill levels.
Trust and teamwork are the essential ingredients to their success. Thumbs Up's motto is "Together We Can."
Kerry requires assistance with everything she does from brushing her teeth to eating. She has learned that her disability has allowed her to create so many meaningful connections. Her documentary,  May I Help You?, (https://www.magic-aid.org/)  shows how by needing help, Kerry is giving someone a gift. In the act of helping one another, both the giver and receiver can experience connection, purpose, and joy. We are designed to be interconnected and to help one another. When Kerry asks for help, she's giving someone an opportunity to tap into his or her natural instinct. Vulnerability creates connection and Kerry is one of the most loved and admired people I have ever met. Kerry shared with the students her radical forgiveness and why running in this race was so special. She forgave her assailant shortly after the accident. She said it was a necessity because she needed all of her energy to focus on regaining her mental and physical strength. After such a profound injury, she did not want to dwell on anger, regret, or remorse. These emotions drained her, so she rapidly chose to move beyond them and learned to turn negatives into positives.  Today she calls herself a "terminal optimist". She sees the Marine and herself as victims of war. She wanted to reconnect with him and let him know that she was living an extraordinary life in spite of, or because of, the incident. Sadly, by the time she was able to discover his name, he had passed away.

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When Caryn isn't running with Kerry she's busy with her multiple other roles in life, including wife, mother, law professor, and philanthropist. She often runs to raise money for children battling cancer. She has completed the Badwater 135 four times. It is a 135-mile run known as "The World's Toughest Foot Race". It takes place in mid-July and begins 282' below sea level in Death Valley and ends at the portal to Mount Whitney at 8,360 feet. Caryn's secret: Step by Step. She finds the strength to do this race and the other races by staying present in the moment. Her advice to the students was to avoid getting lost in or overwhelmed by the tasks in front of them. Instead, she recommends breaking them down into manageable size steps and tackling them bit by bit. She attributes her success to her mental fortitude and feels the physical follows suit.
Kerry and Caryn have inspired myriad people on the racecourse, in schools and around the globe with their multiple documentaries.
"I hope you, too, will feel inspired and remember their advice to look beyond perceived limitations and recall their mottos: Step by Step, Together We Can," said Dr. Ritvo http://evaritvomd.com.

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Source: Dr. Eva Ritvo

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