Obstacle Course

By Emily Gold Boutilier / January / February 2004
June 8th, 2007
A little more than five hours into the New York City Marathon this fall, Elizabeth Davis ’06 crossed the finish line in Central Park arm-in-arm with her father, Mac. She was running on a sprained ankle, he with stage IV kidney cancer.

The pair had been anticipating the day ever since last year’s marathon, when Elizabeth cheered on her father only a few months after he’d been diagnosed with cancer. “It was such a moving experience that I jokingly said, ‘I want to run with you next year,’ ” she says. “He held me to it.” The father-daughter team started training in July in the U.S. Virgin Islands, where the Davis family lives.

“I didn’t realize it at the time,” Mac Davis says, “but she was doing this to give me a sort of life-affirming challenge—something I could work towards and look forward to.”

They ran nearly every day over the summer, logging up to forty-five miles a week and completing two twenty-mile runs. In the fall, Elizabeth returned to Brown, where she continued to run.

Early on in the marathon, the Davises set a pace of about ten minutes per mile. But around mile eighteen, just after passing some Brown friends among the bystanders, Elizabeth tripped and fell. “I just heard a scream,” her father says. “She was on the ground. Her knees were bloody. She was crying and holding her ankle.”

Elizabeth, however, had no intention of quitting. “Let’s go,” she quickly declared, declining an offer of medical help. “I want to finish this race.” She limped at first, then jogged, and finally broke into a run: “After training for eighteen weeks I was not going to give up.” Her father thinks he knows why. Despite his diagnosis, he says, he is determined to live for years to come, and he believes his daughter was sending him a message of support: if she could do what nobody thought possible, then he could too.

The pair finished the race in five hours, five minutes, and twenty-five seconds. “Between the two of us, it was kind of a celebration of life,” Elizabeth says. She waited a full two weeks before having her ankle checked out at health services.

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January / February 2004