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(delivered at the April 10, 2011 run)
As Julia's younger cousin who lived out of state, I only saw Julia run competitively once. It was at a high school cross-country track meet on a grey drizzly afternoon. It was the first time I ever thought of Julia as a serious track star. Before then, I always knew Julia was naturally energetic and loved the outdoors, taking any opportunity to go biking, canoeing, hiking and swimming. On our frequent family vacations together, Julia, my brother, Thomas, and I would spend hours of every day racing on our bikes, swimming in the ocean, and tramping through the woods, often making up wild stories to spur us on and telling jokes that left us with side-splitting aches in our ribs.
It is difficult to describe what Julia meant to me. Telling people that Julia was my older cousin does not do our relationship justice. To me, she was much more than a cousin. Julia was my childhood.
Like a big sister, she paved the way for me in life, doing everything first so it would be easier for me when it was my turn: going to sleep-away camp in New Hampshire, visiting our grandmother for the summer in France, doing a teen trip to Israel during high school. Each time, I watched Julia accomplish something new, then followed in her footsteps, secure that anything Julia did was sure to be wonderful.
Like a mentor, Julia listened to my fears and uncertainties growing up. One warm summer night, Julia and I sat outside staring at the moon through the trees, the wind softly whispering in the shrubs near where we were sitting. For hours, Julia listened as I tried to articulate my understanding of the world, and our place in it. She did not laugh at my naïve explanations of God and the universe, but quietly asked me questions and pushed me to explore my thoughts more fully. That kind of validation was somewhat rare for me as the baby of the family, but that was just how Julia was -- seeing every person before her as someone worthy of her respect.
Like a nurturing caregiver, Julia wiped my tears and comforted me during what must have seemed like endless stretches of homesickness those first few years at sleep-away camp. Another twelve-year girl might have shunned my tear-streaked face, opting instead to hang out with her friends, but Julia was always different. She would take me into her cabin and cuddle with me on her narrow bunk and make me listen to cassette tapes of Phil Collins and the Cure, telling me that they surely understood the pain I was going through.
And like a best friend, Julia knew how to have fun. I saw this side of her come out in its most extreme fashion at camp, where the close friendships and essential lack of adult supervision led Julia to completely cut loose. During one afternoon, all the girls were gathered in the "girl's camp": a semi-circle of four wooden cabins around a fire pit. Suddenly, the sky above us darkened, and with a crack, a torrential downpour descended upon us. With a yell of encouragement, Julia convinced all the girls to put on our bathing suits and come out to dance in the rain. With our hands reaching to the sky above us, twirling around like banshees, we all shrieked in delight, singing at the top of lungs to be heard above the steady drumbeat of the falling rain.
Julia lived life as it ought to be lived: fully, exuberantly and without reservation. With Julia, life was just better -- your jokes funnier, your ideas more profound, your soul was more at ease.
And although I was fortunate as Julia's "little cuz," as she endearingly called me, to be a long-time beneficiary of her amazing personality, she would shower equal attention on almost everyone she met. It seemed impossible for Julia to have any experience where she did not profoundly touch someone's life: friends from high school, college and her many summer experiences will recount stories of how Julia had helped them through some difficult phase of their life. Her all-encompassing empathy helped friends through family traumas. Young children whom she met as a counselor at the Fresh Air Fund camp reached out to her to help them readjust to life in the inner city after a magical summer in the country.
Julia was constantly giving herself to others. But when she ran, it was for herself. She was able to express her passion for life by putting one foot in front of the other, and tilting toward a challenging hill. She liked to win races, but mostly, she just loved to run. Running was an essential part of simply being alive.
Every year I attend the Julia's Run for Children. As a fairly committed non-runner, I try to hit the pavement at least once a year in Julia's memory. Before the whistle blows, I stand in the back, gazing at the hundreds of runners tensing up in preparation before me. In each participant, I see a little bit of Julia. Those at the front, seeking to win, are Julia's competitive, disciplined side. Parents running with their sons or daughters are encouraging mentors. The presence of LEAP represents Julia's devotion to children. And those who are here to support friends and loved ones represent Julia's eternal empathy and compassion.
When the whistle blows and we begin to run as one, we are all Julia.
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