RUNNING INTO THE DARK: The Jason Romero Story - (Chapter 1)

As many of you know, I've been writing a book for several months. The story is about my journey to find vision, despite losing my eyesight and culminates with a run across America. This is a very ROUGH DRAFT and has not been edited so please forgive typos, grammar and other opportunities.


Chapter 1

With every ending is a new beginning
- Unkown

It was 2:00 AM and all I hear is my alarm screaming at me.  The song “Shut up and dance” by Walk the Moon is once again blaring in my ear.  I am in a foreign place.  It is a small hotel room with two beds, and the usual desk, lamps and TV.  But where am I?  I am confused for the first couple minutes of waking.  Am I in California, Texas, Missouri, Illinois, Pennsylvania?  What state am I waking up in?  This question had wracked my mind for the last 2 months.  Not knowing where I was waking up had become “normal” to me, and was not any cause for anxiety or discontent.  I wasn’t in any of those states.  I was in a Comfort Inn somewhere in West New Jersey and my 69 year old Mom was in the bed next to me.

My Mom was already dressed and ready.  She had showered the night before, dressed for the following day, and slept in her clothes.  She wanted to be as efficient as possible as she knew today was going to be a very long day.  A very important day.  She flipped on the light and said, “Jay, are you ready?”  I rolled my body to look at her.  My entire body was too tight and sore to turn just my head.  Rolling my entire pain ridden body toward her was a better option than just turning my neck, which would cause horrible pain and sometimes trigger a morning headache.  I smiled at my Mom and said, “Let’s do this.”

She threw off the covers and rose from her bed like doves being released from a cage.  She seemed to be everywhere in the room.  After a quick bathroom stop to wash her face, do her hair and become “presentable”, she was digging in the mini fridge, getting me food and drink, which consisted of fruit, some pastries and a yogurt.  She was in and out of the room to get ice.  She prepared my morning ice bath for my feet; a hotel trash can with about 4 inches of water and the rest was ice.  She set the can at the side of my bed.  There were no words uttered between us.  There didn’t need to be.  We had done this dance for the last 60 days straight.  As I saw her whirring around and began to more fully wake, I realized she was not moving as fast as I had thought.  She too was feeling exhausted, in pain and not feeling good.  

I had yet to even sit up in bed.  I couldn’t move my legs.  They were locked into a semi-bent position as I lay on my side.  They felt like rigor mortis had set in, and locked into a set position.  I knew that this was no good, and I had to get moving.  I took a deep breath, and with all the might I could muster, I pushed my legs to straighten them out.  They locked into the straightened position and immediately cramped up.  Then, both feet followed suit and cramped up.  I screamed, and then began to slowly take deep calming breaths.  I had learned that this technique could help me ride out the morning cramps, and get my lower body back to functioning.  I rolled side to side a couple times, trying to see how my back was going to react this morning.  It seemed to be doing OK - just some soreness, but no significant strains or cramping.  

It was finally time, I had to sit up and put my swollen feet into a morning ice bath.  My Mom looked at my agony and groaning and shot me a smile.  Her smile was not because she was humored by my agony.  I’m sure that smile was a capstone smile - a sense of pride, compassion and relief that our torture would soon be coming to an end.  

“Ahhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!”  My right foot went into the trash can filled with ice.  It was startling, but also refreshing.  My foot was pounding.  I could feel the foot pulse with every heartbeat.  The foot seemed to be stretching the skin, muscles, ligaments and tendons.  Before going into the ice bath, the foot felt as if it was going to explode at any instant.  My right foot was suffering from severe plantar fascitis, a very painful and semi-common running injury.  It felt like I was being stabbed by a knife in the bottom of my foot every time I put pressure on it.  I also had developed a strange “popping” in the arch of my foot every time I stepped on it.  It was disturbing and concerning, but the pain just stayed steady and didn’t continue to increase - I could tolerate it.  I had neuromas in each foot which had developed between the 2nd and 3rd toes.  Every time I stepped and the toes squeezed together, horrible pain shot through my entire body.  So the game was to keep the toes separated as much as possible, and to ignore the pain as much as possible.  Icing and ibuprofein helped keep the pain at bay.  After 7 minutes in the ice bath, my right foot was numb and feeling “good.”  It was now time for my left foot to get the shocking joy of the morning wake up call.  My left foot was not as beat up as my right foot.  It only felt like a hammer had been pounding on it for the last 60 days.  Nothing was broken, but the entire appendage was crying for mercy.  Somehow it just dangled from my ankle and slowly slipped below the ice to a position where it could no longer be seen.

As I let my feet ice, I gobbled down all the food my Mom had sat in front of me.  During this time, I grabbed my phone and texted some friends that were in nearby rooms in the same hotel.  One friend, Greg, was a college roommate who had flown in from Austin, Texas and was now a high ranking executive at a commercial real estate firm.  Another friend, Jay, was also a college roommate who was also a high ranking muckety muck with significant responsibilities who had drove 12 hours one-way with his family (5 total) to be with me on this day.  Another friend, Camillo, was a business owner who had given up an opportunity to run a race in the Florida Keys, so he could help me during this time.  I began sending them messages like “IT’S ON!”  “TIME TO ROLL!”  “ONWARD TO CITY HALL!”  As I typed these messages I felt adrenaline begin to course through my veins.  I felt life invigorate my beaten body.  I felt myself “come to life”, again.  My left foot was done, and it was now time to try to stand.  As I sat on the edge of my bed, I leaned forward hoping the momentum alone would force my torso to be directly above my legs; then, only my legs needed to straighten out and I would be upright . . . standing!  The first attempt failed.  As I rocked back, then went forward, my legs were not able to straighten and lift my body, so I ended up rocking back onto the bed into a sitting position.  I would not be denied.  I told myself, “I must get up!”  With all my strength, I rocked forward again, and timed the exertion of my legs at just the correct time so I rose into a standing position when my torso was above my legs.  I wobbled a few times with arms outstretched trying to get my balance and not collapse onto the bed.  Once I was steady, I knew I had to try to walk.  I needed to get to the bathroom for a “wake up” shower and morning duties.  I flung my left foot forward without bending a knee.  Then I flung my right foot forward.  Then, right, then left.  I’m sure I looked like Frankenstein as I slowly moved to the bathroom.  My Mom didn’t even bat an eye at this morose excuse of humanity that looked like it should be in a hospital room, as opposed to a hotel room attempting to “get ready” for the day.  Soon I was in a HOT, HOT shower.  I knew the heat could help the stiffness in my legs, and I tried to move my legs like I was walking in place.  The pain in my feet was back, but it was not as bad as when I first woke.  After a quick rinse, I was out, toweled off and primping.  I fixed my hair, put deodorant and cologne on.  I brushed my teeth and gargled with flouride mouthwash.  Then, I put on my running shorts.  These were my favorite pair of running shorts - red shorts made by Race Ready.  The inner-liner looked like a shotgun had blasted holes through it; they were over 7 years old and had been sewed up many times.  The liner was sterile when it came to providing support, but the sentimentality of these shorts provided all of the mental support that I needed at this moment.  These shorts had gotten me through some of the toughest runs of my life in Death Valley in July, in the Rocky Mountains at 2 miles above sea level, and in the depths of the Grand Canyon.  They surely would be able to take me one more day, for what would be the culmination of the longest run of my life.

I could hear my friends knocking on the door while I was locked in the bathroom finishing my morning routine.  They yelled “20 minutes!”  That was the amount of time remaining until I had to start running.  Start time was 3 am.  I heard them asking my Mom what needed to be taken to the van.  We had suitcases with clothes and first aid equipment.  We also had a bag of moist, sweat drenched running clothes that wreaked of dirt, human excrement, mountain dew, frapuccinos and coffee.  We had coolers with ice, food and drinks.  We had bags with foam rollers, therapy sticks, ultrasound units, e-stim units, air leg compression sleeves and a compressor.  We had a portable battery that we recharged nightly so we could have extra power supply in my brother’s 12 year old minivan.  All of this equipment had to be repacked, organized and reloaded so we could start moving.  

My job was simple - eat, get dressed & run.  But, how could I run?  Just 40 minutes previously, I could barely roll-over to look at my Mom.  I had 20 minutes to search within my soul and find the HOPE that I would need to again take that first step of the day toward my goal - the finish line.  I played music - “Thunderstruck” by AC/DC; “Right Now” by Van Halen, “Lunatic Fringe” by Red Rider, and my theme song for this expedition - “I Lived” by One Republic.  

Hoping you take that jump but don’t feel the fall . . . .

Hope if everybody runs, you too sustain . . . . .

The only way you can know, is to give it all you have . . . .

Hope that you don’t suffer, but take the pain . . . . .

Hope when the moment comes you’ll say, “I did it all!” . . .

I looked into the mirror, at my body.  I could make out that I was very thin.  My arms had withered and my torso was trim.  I had six-pack abs - not because of doing crunches.  My body had been slowly consuming itself for the past 60 days because I had not been feeding it enough calories.  I was down over 10 pounds and had almost no body fat on my frame.  My cheeks were drawn and veins were plentiful to be seen on my arms, torso and legs.  Who was this person I was looking at in the mirror.  I did not recognize him.  Was this the same person who had lived in this body for 46 years prior, or was this some other entity that had possessed my body.  


My buddies were hooting and hollaring.  It was like we were back in college in San Diego about to throw a big bash at our house that had a black-bottomed pool.  Only, it wasn’t San Diego.  We were over 3,000 miles away from San Diego, somewhere in New Jersey, and we were heading East.

I came out of the bathroom.  We all smiled at each other.  No words.  We hugged, and I was again moving.  My legs and feet were stiff and sore, but they were working again.  My Mom was doing her best to load things onto a luggage dolly; however, it was apparent that she was as exhausted, if not more, than I was.  I asked my friends to be the workers for my Mom.  For 2 months, my Mom had loaded and unloaded luggage, coolers, ice, and supplies for me - this was in addition to all the other duties she was performing.  I was constantly amazed to look at this woman who was 5 feet tall, and barely tipped the scale at 100 lbs.  From her I was born.  She raised me.  She was the strongest person I have ever met, and the only person who would and could have done what I needed for the past 60 days.

Within minutes, the van was loaded.  I had been guzzling water.  I had a coffee in my hand.  We had gotten the coffee the night before and microwaved it to heat it up this morning.  We knew no gas stations or coffee shops would be open by 3 am.  I had grown to need coffee in the morning to get me moving.  It was like a magic elixir.

I was dressed in sweat pants over my favorite red shorts, a t-shirt I had made for the run, my favorite Pearl Izumi coat, a PrincetonTec headlamp, and a highly reflective LED Lightvest.  As I exited the automatic sliding glass doors of the hotel, I stepped into a dark, cold, humid New Jersey morning.  I stood outside the doors with Jay and Greg, waiting for my Mom to pull up in the van.  She was not driving and was in the passenger seat.  Camillo was driving the van for her so she could rest.  Greg pulled up behind the van in a truck he had rented.  The plan was to put me in the middle of the truck and the van so they could protect me from being run over by cars.  Jay walked me through the dark hotel parking lot.  We had about 100 yards to navigate, curbs, bushes, trees and cars.  He had to get me to the place where the hotel parking lot intersected the street.

The day before I had stopped running at that exact point.  That point, marked the end of the previous days 60 mile run.  Today, it would mark the beginning point of a 70+ mile run and my 60th consecutive day of running.  60 days earlier, I had started running on the other side of America, in Los Angeles, California.  I was running over 3,000 miles across America from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean.  I would not stop today’s run until I was on the steps of City Hall in Manhattan, New York - my finish line.  

I lowered my head and said a prayer; then, I raised my head, looked deep into the darkness and started running.   


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