Katie Patton
March 09, 2013 9:00 am

I often think that we look for kindness in the form of a grand gesture or unexpected, out of the ordinary action; at least this is where I tend to look. It seems we have a tendency to publicize things that fall at one end of the spectrum or the other- extreme acts of kindness or unfortunate acts of hate. What we may come to find however, is that while grand gestures are a wonderful way to spread kindness, it is the smallest gestures, the ones that so many times go unrecognized, that are the most sincere and heartwarming.

Recently, I had the good fortune of running my first ever 13.1 mile road race. As I embarked on my Walt Disney World Princess Half Marathon weekend, I expected many things, upon which these few days delivered; the anticipation and excited preparation for the event with friends, the nerves and thrill of race day and long time goals being achieved. What I didn’t necessarily foresee, the most pleasant surprise of the weekend, was the outpouring of kindness from thousands of strangers.

Throughout the course there were an endless number of spectators cheering on their loved ones which, believe me, is a special type of kindness in itself. I speak from experience when I say waking up at three o’clock in the morning on a Sunday to watch someone you care about run for hours is certainly no small commitment. Even more heartwarming however, was the fact that these dedicated, no doubt tired, cheering sections never fell silent. Despite the fact that they may have only seen their loved one for less than a minute, they continued their shouts of encouragement for the participants who came before and after; many had even made two signs, a shout out to their special someone and an inspirational message for all other passerby.

This is simply the tip of the kindness iceberg. There were young children on the side of the course giving high fives; thousands of volunteers holding up signs and shouting words of encouragement and praise; runners dedicating their runs, sacrificing their bodies in honor of friends and family members who had passed or to raise money for various charities; women running alongside their friends and sisters, step for step, encouraging one another to make it to the finish line; “princes” pacing their “princesses” on their first road race; and innumerable mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, grandparents and children doling out the words, “I am so proud of you.” The kindness was nearly tangible and most certainly contagious. It was just as Disney intends all things to be, magical.

Of all the amazing acts of kindness I witnessed on this day, all sure to stick with me for years to come, there was one that I will certainly never forget. As my friends and I came around the corner, heading into our last mile, there was an older man sitting on a chair holding up a sign that read, “Hey you, complete stranger! I am proud of you!” Perhaps it was the endorphins or fatigue, but I nearly began to cry. I don’t know this man and therefore have no idea if he had any particular attachment to any other runner that day, but it did not matter. On that Sunday morning, he chose to sit on that corner for hours, letting myself, my friends and twenty-six thousand other participants know that he was proud of them for their efforts; for simply having the courage the start. That, my friends, is kindness.

If your faith in the notion of everyday kindness is wavering, I encourage you to head out to a road race of any kind, whether it be a Walt Disney World marathon or your local, charitable 5K run. I am willing to bet there will be a volunteer or complete stranger who will restore your belief that, at the end of the day, there are still people who offer as much kindness as we allow ourselves to see.

Just keep running. There is always kindness up ahead.

Image via My Disney Marathon.

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