A stranger is on my mind today.

She touched my heart almost two years ago with a message through Facebook, and I have not stopped thinking about her, in some capacity, since.

She is not a complete stranger. In fact, I’ve probably known her most of my life. But I cannot think of one conversation we had together. We didn’t go to a large school, but it wasn’t small either, so although we had classes together and likely saw each other in the halls every day for years, we never had the opportunity to hang out. She was always very shy, and she was probably known as one of the nicest people in our school.

But it was almost a decade since I’d seen her before she truly touched my life.

I don’t want to tell you who she is. And I don’t want to reveal specifics of her personal struggles. That is not my story to tell. But I do want to tell you that she read the blog post I wrote after my first marathon, and she found the courage to tell me that it gave her the knowledge that she could change the path she had chosen. She said to me, ” I had come to accept that I was just stuck in this life. You have inspired me to be a better person, to make changes that I should have made years ago.”

She continued, “Melissa, words cannot express the gratitude and appreciation I have for you. I never thought that someone I didn’t know could affect my life the way you have. It is unbelievable to me. For the first time in over ten years, I feel hopeful about the future. I feel like I can set goals and achieve them. I feel alive. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I will never be able to pay you back for what you have done for me. I have no idea why your story (the marathon) affected me the way it has but I am grateful that it did.”

I read that message three times that day, with tears streaming down my face. Training for all of those months to run, crossing the finish line of my marathon, none of that held a candle to what this girl was telling me I had done for her.

I felt nothing I could say back to her would show her just how much she had touched my life by telling me that. But I tried anyway. I responded to her how grateful I was that she’d decided to tell me, how inspired I was by her determination to live the life she wanted to live.

She responded back to me a couple of weeks later and told me she was going to update me on her life changes. And that if I ran the marathon again the next year she’d be waiting for me at the finish line to give me a hug.

That, friends, is a reason to run if I’ve ever heard one.

I hope she does not mind that I am sharing this with you. I would like to have asked her if she minded, but the thing is, I haven’t heard from her since. I’ve written to her a few times in the past two years, and I have not heard back from her.

I wrote this to her today:

“Did you know that the Thunder Road marathon is next weekend? I am considering running the half marathon, and I was training for a full marathon in December in Tuscon, AZ, but I got a stress fracture in my foot and had to take a month off of running. It’s not easy getting back. In fact, taking time off of running reminds me of how much easier it is to *not* get off that couch and not do the work. But every time I’m able to drag myself out there, I hate it for the first mile or so, and then I’m reminded of all the reasons I ever did this in the first place. And it’s so worth it. I’m up to about 6.5 miles now and I’m starting to see the change again – my legs look slimmer, my pants fit better … sometimes it’s not easy, sometimes it flat-out hurts, but it’s always, always worth the fight. Many positive vibes going out to you and know that you’re in my heart.”

I hope she knows how important she is to me. And I hope she’s still out there fighting to live the life she wants. She may have touched my heart as much or more than I touched hers. I hope she knows that.