After a speeding 19-year-old driver plowed into me just two months before the 2017 New York City Marathon - cracking three ribs, three vertebrae, my left pinky, and shattering my right humerus in three places - it was my mom who ultimately saved my shoulder, and ensured I could still run that year's race.
Mom didn't actually perform the emergency open reduction internal fixation surgery, which involved the insertion of a metal plate and nine pins to reset my splintered bone. But as a 35-year veteran nurse at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center, she quickly arranged for the head of orthopedics, Dr. William Levine, to conduct the intense, meticulous operation.
The procedure could not have gone better; Dr. Levine managed to return the ball of my shoulder, the displaced humeral head, to its original positioning. During a follow-up visit two weeks later, he even cleared me to run the upcoming marathon - if I wore a sling.
Immediately after my crash, Mom took three weeks off work to tend to my wounds. She ensured I downed all necessary medications four times a day, arranged for future appointments, managed insurance claims, wrapped my sling before I showered when I could not.
On rainy race morning, just sixty days following my crash, I crossed the finish line in four hours, six minutes and 14 seconds. While I got from Staten Island through Manhattan on my own two feet, I never would have made it to the starting line without my mother's committed care and persistent optimism.
"Accept the situation for what it is, no matter how horrible," she repeatedly said as I recovered at home in New Jersey. "And then find a way to MOVE FORWARD."
A few months later - having moved back to Brooklyn and undergoing physical therapy sessions six times a week - I called Mom from Penn Station, overwhelmed by emotion and gratitude. "I love you," I cried. "Without you, I'd have no shot at returning to normal."
"Daniel, please," Mom said. "Any mother would've done the same thing."
This past spring, my mom suffered a serious health scare. Treatment required surgery that left her with a titanium plate - matching the slab in my shoulder.
"We're the most heavy metal family in the Tri-State Area," I joked after her operation. "We should see Nine Inch Nails together."
Over the last few months, my brother Kyle and I have promoted positivity and provided support - seizing whatever potentially happy opportunities Mom might enjoy. I threw a house party to introduce Mom to my best friends, then spent months assembling a Shutterfly scrapbook that featured 300 photos from throughout her life. Kyle managed to snag tickets for the three of us to catch Mom's beloved Rolling Stones at MetLife Stadium.
Still, I realize the best way to celebrate Mom is to follow the sage advice she provided post-crash: keep moving forward.
In early September, I completed my first Half Ironman 70.3 in Lake Placid. During the agonizing final miles of the bike leg, a spectator screamed at me: "THIS IS YOUR MOMENT! TAKE IT, TAKE IT, TAKE IT!"
This November 3rd, 50,000 runners from across the globe will approach the 2019 New York City Marathon starting line at the Verrazzano Bridge - and I'll be one of them. 26.2 grueling miles lay between us and our "moments". No matter the amount of preparation or exercise, our legs alone will not be enough to guide us to the finish line. Courage, persistence, and a reason to hope - or maybe someone to make proud - will ultimately reward us with success. When our bodies hit their limits, our thoughts will provide strength.
Mom, I'll be thinking of you on race day. Thank you for being there when I was weakest. Thank you for teaching me the importance of resilience, of fighting for a better future, despite the odds. Thank you for inspiring me to capture so many rewarding, life-affirming "moments."
The future is uncertain. But I know my Mom is here to provide love and support - just as I am there for her. Even if our bodies are, at least in some ways, our toughest opponents, they are also capable of incredible acts of inspiration.
I dedicate this upcoming marathon to you, Mom. Though I may have the world's largest chip on my shoulder, I promise you this: I am not giving up - not during this race, not on you, and not on myself. Together, you and I will find a way forward.
As my favorite musician once sang about his mother, also named Iris: "The darkness just lets us see who we are. I've got your light inside of me."
Dan Levinsohn is an Emmy-winning digital producer. He is currently working on a memoir about lessons learned from a near-fatal car crash.