How to Lose a 5K… The Right Way

Last week, SRNA Blog featured Maleah Moskoff’s story of completing a 5K after her ADEM diagnosis. Below is the story of her journey from her husband’s perspective.

By Dan LaCloche

On June 9th, my wife finished in last place.

Two years ago, Maleah needed a machine to help her out of her hospital bed and into a chair. She couldn’t walk. We weren’t sure if she would ever walk again. Acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (ADEM) was the eventual diagnosis.

Two years of hard, hard, difficult work had led up to June 9th, 2019, when she took on the challenge of doing a 5K. Two years ago, walking 25 steps down a hallway with a walker was a HUGE accomplishment. On June 9th, I watched Maleah put in over 8,000 steps to complete the Wonder Woman 5K. Let me tell you about what I witnessed.

Our son Ben and I dropped her off at the shuttle that would take her to the starting line. We had an hour before the race started. We made our way to the starting line (only participants could use the shuttles); when we caught up with Maleah, there were 15 minutes until the race was to start. She had been standing the whole time, waiting with the other Wonder Women at the starting line, which is pretty draining when you have ADEM. All she had were her walking sticks to help her keep her balance.

The race started. Ben and I were going to stick with her the whole way, just in case something went sideways. Her first challenge came right away. At the starting line, she was bunched together with other participants who would inadvertently bump her and her walking sticks as they jockeyed for position and passed her. As the crowd of racers thinned out, she had her next challenge: I noticed that her legs didn’t look as strong as usual. Standing for an hour pre-race, poor sleep the night before, and no morning medications looked like it all had taken a toll. She looked exhausted, and we weren’t even a mile into the race. I tried to keep her focused, taking it one step at a time. Every once in a while, she needed a 10-second break for a quick drink of water and a rest. There was a lot of track still in front of her, but she persisted.

Every step started looking difficult and a bit unsteady. We were almost halfway through the course when we realized that there was no one left behind us, but that was okay; she wasn’t here to compete against the others. She was here to prove something to herself. At this point she had to work hard to get though a busy intersection. There were police cars with their lights on, holding back the traffic. Some cars were u-turning to avoid the blocked intersection. They seemed angry. I told Maleah to stay focused. I could see race organizers closing things down behind us. They were taking down the speakers and barricades. The water stations were closing before we reached them. I was starting to think that they might close the course before she could finish.

Just then, a course volunteer pulled up on her bike to check on us. She asked if Maleah was okay and got off of her bike to walk with us. She told Maleah that there was no way that she would let them close the course on her. She then proclaimed that Maleah was GOING TO FINISH this race. Alison, the volunteer, started chatting with Maleah to take her mind off of what she was doing and was a great source of encouragement. Now the police cars were gathering right behind us. They were following us in, lights on. After a while, another volunteer joined us. He hopped off his bike and joined our growing support team.

Maleah was two miles into the course, in last place, struggling, when we started hearing people clapping. Scattered here and there, along the sidelines, there were spectators who saw Maleah and could see that she needed a boost. Every clap gave her strength for one more step. EMTs were shouting, “You’ve got this! You can do it!”, and clapping. Security guards stopped disassembling barricades to cheer her on. A third bike volunteer joined us. These volunteers were determined to see Maleah finish what she had started. Without Maleah knowing, I had been asking Ben to check Google Maps. We both decided that the news wasn’t worth sharing. She was still a long way from the finish, but I started telling her that we were almost there. I wasn’t sure how she was going to do it, but I knew she was going to finish. More 10-second breaks and more water. She kept going.

I could see her head and heart battling. Her heart was saying, “You’re finishing this”, while her head was asking, “How do I get out of this?” The whole time she just kept going, with two police cars behind her, three volunteers walking next to her, Ben at her side with a water bottle at the ready, and me walking backwards in front of her snapping photos of the team that she had formed.

For perspective, have you ever seen footage of the Michael Jordan Flu Game? Google it, because what I was seeing was even more impressive.

Then we started hearing music off in the distance. It was the after-race party at the finish line. We were getting close; just three more blocks—two more—one more. Only participants and volunteers could go through the finish line, so I ran ahead to get a good spot to snap a picture. And, there she was, coming around the corner, smiling, crying—just a few more steps to the finish. She did it.

Just two short years ago, she couldn’t walk, and now she just finished a 5K! They announced her name as she crossed the finish line. Someone put a medal around her neck, someone else got her a folding chair, someone else handed her a water. And, with that, she had accomplished her goal.

From my perspective, it was pretty inspiring to see the sheer determination, guts, and heart that it took for her to get across the finish line, and it’s something I’ll never forget. So, yeah, she finished in last place…but it felt like first to me.