I took a risk. I knew I needed to.
I’d been following the fundraising race announcements on the nonprofit organization’s Facebook page for weeks. Something told me I was supposed to go. Something told me I was supposed to race. Something told me I needed to be there. Something whispered. Take a risk. Ask. Just ask if they need a photographer.
My brain told me no. My brain told me stop. My brain told me I should stay home. This is a ridiculous idea. It’s too late. Don’t even go there. I have nothing to offer. I’m not professional. And duh! They already have a photographer. What qualifies me to photograph a race projected to earn $40,000.00 for children who have Down syndrome? What makes me believe I’m good enough to take on this task when I’m still in exploration mode? Where in the world do these crazy ideas keep coming from anyway?
I didn’t know.
I don’t know for sure.
Perhaps it was God’s still small voice.
So I called.
I couldn’t ignore the feeling I was supposed to do this.
I picked up the phone. She answered.
“Hi! My name is Amy. I see you have a fundraising race coming up this Saturday. I have 14 1/2 years of experience as a speech-language therapist, but I stopped working in December to focus on writing and exploring special needs photography. I’m looking for opportunities to do some special needs photography and wondered if there was any chance you needed a photographer for the event this weekend. And by the way, one of my former patients comes to your center for activities quite often. I’m sure her mom would be happy to vouch for me if you need a reference.”
She told me that when the race planning committee met a week and a half prior, the news was that the originally scheduled photographer was no longer able to shoot the event. She wasn’t sure if they’d found a replacement photographer, but she was going to check with the committee chair. And she wanted to know the name of my former patient’s mom. I reluctantly shared the mom’s name, and she knew her right away. “Oh yes, they’re very active here,” she said, and promised to get back to me within a day.
I hung up.
I’d done all I could.
Now it was in God’s hands.
30 minutes after I hung up, I decided I’d better text that mom and give her a heads up that I inquired about photography for the race…just in case they called her for a reference.
When I texted the mom, she responded immediately. “Ha! You are actually already too late! I just got off the phone.” In those 30 minutes between my phone call to the nonprofit and my heads-up text to the mom, the mom just so happened to call the nonprofit for something else, found out I had made the contact, and gave me a “rave review” without me even knowing!
The next day, the nonprofit called with an update. They’d found a replacement photographer, but could really use a second one. So they invited me to photograph, confirmed that my name would be added to the list of volunteers, and reminded me to pick up a t-shirt at the volunteer desk.
Race day arrived in the blink of an eye.
The air was brisk, chilly. I wore a long-sleeve t-shirt with a short-sleeve t-shirt over it, and figured I’d put the volunteer t-shirt right on top of that. I chose jean leggings and Target Toms. Neither were perfect for a race, but the Target Toms had brought me through long days in Haiti and Dominican Republic just fine, so why not for this, too?
The race was awesome, a photography dream come true. Hundreds of children who have Down syndrome and their delightful family and friends? Free reign to photograph those beauties in a fun, purpose-filled setting? Who could ask for more? Seriously. It was a joy.
After I picked up my t-shirt, I realized I just needed to own this thing. I needed to go ahead and take those photographs. Ten minutes in, I noticed the other photographer in the thick of things at the registration desk, but I knew that wasn’t my place. So I set my mind to do my own thing and just go for it.
I photographed moments leading up to the race. I photographed the race. I photographed special events after the race. And get this…I walked-ran the race, too.
I didn’t plan to walk-run the race, but how silly was that? Apparently, I didn’t know myself quite as well as I thought I did. Me at a race with hundreds of children with Down syndrome and I’m NOT GOING TO RUN with them? How clueless was I arriving in my jean leggings and Target Toms?
So after I took all the starting line and first block photographs of the 5K heat and 1 mile heat, I decided to bring up the rear and run the 5K. I ran. As fast as I could. With my camera. My goal was to catch up to the 5K stragglers. I ran for a long time all by myself. When I finally caught up to the last of the stragglers, I ran up ahead and captured their moment. Then I ran more until I caught up with the next group, and captured their moment. I ran further ahead, group by group, moment by moment. I was the racing photographer and I was bound and determined to photograph this race in real time. Because why not?
I ran with children who have Down syndrome. I ran with their families. I ran with their friends. I ran with their teachers. I ran with their siblings and supporters. We high fived. We laughed. We stopped for bruised knees. We cheered each other on. It was awesome.
I crossed the finish line by myself. There were no familiar faces cheering me on in the final seconds of the race. There was nobody to hug, nobody to high five. There was nobody there to take a photo to mark my first 5K. But it was truly okay. That day, that race, I didn’t need external fanfare. I had all the fanfare I ever needed. Internal joy and peace that this was totally my gig, my happy place.
I took 1,014 photographs that day. I had to triple check the number. I couldn’t believe it was actually true.
For the next two days, I spent nap time and late night time editing the photos, deleting the junk and selecting the ones I felt were best to share with the nonprofit. Three days after the race, I delivered a CD of 419 photos to the nonprofit’s office.
All in all, I was proud of those 419 photographs. I was happy with the way they turned out. They brought me joy. They brought me peace. I knew now. I had confirmation. Given complete freedom to photograph and the right set of circumstances, I really could create the beauty, the art I’d envisioned.
Of the 419 photographs, I was particularly proud of a smaller group of them, and ADORED six so much that I wanted to share on my blog and a new Facebook page I’m developing for photography. I sent an inquiry to the hosting nonprofit and discovered that race participants signed a release for the nonprofit to share the photographs. As a result, the nonprofit has kindly agreed to contact six families on my behalf to see if they’ll give me permission to share the photographs (without any reference to names, of course).
When I received that notice, my heart shifted.
Inquiries will be made. Perhaps some or all six families will give me permission to share the photographs I took of their beautiful children at the race. But there’s no guarantee. There’s a chance that all of the photographs from that day will remain a quiet confirmation between me and God, a quiet confirmation of my call to press forward with photography, especially special needs photography.
Early last week, the nonprofit organization shared 100 of my photographs from the race on their Facebook page. They included a few of my favorite photos. Let me just say, it has been pure joy to see complete strangers’ response to the photos. God knew this was the quiet confirmation I needed.
In response to a sweet girl’s photograph that was a bit too dark in my estimation, a photograph I knew I could’ve shot better had I more time with her.
In response to the photo I LOVED, but critiqued because it was a bit blurry.
“You look great Benny!” and “Go Benny go!”
In response to a photo of a daddy hugging his baby girl that showed the deep emotion I sense from parents of children with special needs.
“This is so sweet.”
In response to the photo of a little boy who toddled towards me at the finish line. He was so cute and so on the move that my best photo of him turned out a bit blurry for my preference.
“Love you Luc!” “Great photo!” and “Love you buddy!”
In response to the little girl that hid behind her mama and ran away from me earlier in the day, the little girl I captured on stage after she was tired and worn out, but still endearing and oh so sweet.
“My princess Aly!!”
None of those people knew me. None of those people had any connection to me. They simply saw the photographs and recognized them as beauty.
Perhaps we don’t need others’ loud fanfare after all. Perhaps quiet confirmation is all we need. Quiet confirmation of a life well lived. Quiet confirmation of a choice well made. Quiet confirmation of a call answered. And warmly received.