Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The marathon I never wanted to run

I was talking to a friend of mine at work last Thursday before I left work and I was telling her I was still struggling with my grief about Kelly. Kelly always seemed to sense when I needed to hear from her. I would be struggling, feeling discouraged and I would get home from work and suddenly an e-mail from Kelly would be in my in-box. I had made a special folder just to store Kelly's e-mails so I would always know when a new one came. My heart would leap every time. How did she know I needed to hear from her?

I got home Friday afternoon after running some errands and inside my mail box was a special delivery letter from Don and Patty(Kelly's parents). Inside the envelope was one of Kelly's bandanna's and a locket with a picture of her pinned to her bandanna. Kelly's parents wanted me to have something of hers to treasure before the marathon. That was so neat.

This was the marathon I hoped I would never have to run. A marathon where I was running in Kelly's memory instead of running in her honor. I have crossed the finish line of 15 other marathons, running for Kelly, running to honor Kelly. Can I do this? Can I finish what I began for her? The finish line awaits, 26 miles, 385 yards from the start.

My training has been off for weeks, my emotions are completely off kilter. For the first time before a marathon I really feel like I might not finish. I am so edgy. I have the emotional stability of a two year old the entire week before the marathon. I have the same feeling of dread I used to have before I fly. I know this is completely irrational and yet I can't shake it.

I have a picture of Kelly, Sarah and Laiken on the back of my singlet and ribbons with their names alongside their pictures. I also have a wallet sized picture of them I carry in a pocket of my running shorts.

The race started right on time. I lined up very near the end of the runners and walkers, took me about 8 minutes to cross the start line from when the elite runners had started. They would almost be at mile 2 before I crossed that start line. Now that it is finally race day, the irrational fears are gone. I am still not sure that I can do this. However, I know that barring a catastrophic event I will finish what I start. To borrow a made up word from my friend Dane , I have a lot of stubbornocity in me.

I crossed the mats at the start line and began running. What would the day be like, what would unfold over the vastness of 26.2 miles?

Most of the day was very quiet. It was rather strange, I don't think I talked to anyone during the entire marathon other than a couple of TNT coaches, shouted some Go Team to my teammates during the marathon. I usually strike up a conversation with someone for a period of time, but today was different.

As I had planned, miles 0-5 I ran as a tribute solely to Kelly. The start of the race takes us through lower downtown, Larimer Square, past the 16th street mall, Pepsi Center, Coors field, back through parts of downtown and then heads east up 17th avenue towards City Park. The first 5 miles pass fairly quickly. I am alone with my thoughts about Kelly, enjoying our time together.

I pass the 5 mile mark and mentally make the transition to running the next 5 miles in tribute to Laiken Kenwood who passed away on April 22 at the age of 13.

Earlier last week KFRG radio was doing a fund-raiser for Londa Lima Children's Hospital in California. This was a fundraiser that Laiken had participated in prior years and the radio station had a wonderful tribute to her. I got to hear her grandmother, her mother, and friends talk about her life. In so many ways she reminded me of Kelly. She lived her life in dignity, never complained about why she had cancer, cared more about others. At the end of the tribute I even got to hear her voice. She sounded so much like Kelly did at that age. It was almost like listening to Kelly again. I had tears pouring down my face as I got to hear her sweet voice.

I ran on thinking about Laiken and her family, about my friend Shayna who was doing a 1/2 marathon in San Francisco on Sunday. Shayna was walking for her mom, for Laiken and also for Kelly and so many others. More on that later.

Miles 5-10 route the runners into City Park for a couple of miles and then we head back out west on 17th avenue and then turn towards the south towards Cheesman Park. I saw one of the TNT running coaches(Wendy) as we ran up a hill towards Cheesman. Wendy asked me how I was feeling. I told her I wasn't having a very good day. She said she could tell from the look on my face. I was at mile 9 and I was already spent. I was 17+ miles from the finish line. I tried not to think about that. One foot in front of another. Focus on Laiken. I entered the park and saw my wife Sue, cheering for all of the runners. I asked her where the kids were and she said they were on the west side of the park.

I passed the 10 mile mark and began my tribute mile to Megan Dickey. Megan was a teammate of Laura's on her club swim team who had died a year ago also at the age of 13 from bone cancer.

Check out the tribute Megan's friend Jenni Greenwald is doing for her at

I have often wondered if Jenni might have met either Mason or Bradan during her visits to Children's Hospital.
I ran on for Megan.

Picture in Cheesman Park. Picture of Kelly and Sarah on left of singlet, Laiken on right.

I saw Laura and Adam near a point in the park where I run with my nephew Keegan on Thursday night's. Luckily today I don't have to run today pushing a baby jogger. I asked my kids, "whereishe" about Keegan. Keegan says that all the time when he asks where Laura(LaLa )is. It sounds like one word the way he says it.

I pass the 11 mile mark and begin my tribute mile for Patti Kaufmann. Patti was a colleague of mine on the board of trustee's that passed away suddenly this summer. Patti was the driving force for the Denver, Light the night walk. The walk grew from 300 walkers in 1998 to over 6,000 last month. Revenue from the walk this year is 800,000 and counting. Patti was a very kind person. She never wanted to talk about her illness. Her focus was always on helping others.

12 miles, almost halfway. I begin running this next mile for baby Melina. Melina was diagnosed at the age of 3 months. I can't get my head around that. How is that possible? This is a really hard mile. It totally sucks to have to run a mile in memory of a 10 month old innocent baby girl. So sad. Her Mom is so sweet. I feel overwhelmed.

Mile 13-We are now running on one of my favorite parts of the course as we head east on 7th avenue past some beautiful homes on tree lined streets. I run this mile in honor of Brandon Hickey. Brandon is about the same age as my nephew Keegan. However Keegan is healthy, Brandan has an extremely rare form of AML. His disease is the first documented instance of this form of AML in 21 years. His Mom is hopeful that if Brandan survives that it will make it so much easier to help others that follow. I will see Brandan later in the day on the course. More to come on that.

Mile 14-I run this mile in tribute to Mason Bernard who is the team hero for the fall marathon team. Mason's mother Catherine is a teammate of mine this season. Coincidentally, I see Catherine running east on 7th avenue as I am running west. I shout out to her and Marianne, another TNT teammate that they look great. Catherine hurt her knee/IT band during our last long training run and has literally done no running for 3 weeks, but here she is. Running for her son, running so that Mason can cross his finish line with a cure. Catherine reminds me so much of Kelly's mom. I thought that was pretty neat that I saw her during Mason's mile.

Mile15-16. I had dedicated these miles to Brittany Ross and Kelly. Brittany is one of the team heroes for the Winter team. Brittany is a very fun, upbeat young woman. She loves her TNT runners. Who does she remind me of? Brittany and her family have raised over 100,000 doing TNT events. I had dinner with her a couple of weeks ago. She was telling me she had no bone marrow at one point during treatment for 275 straight days. Any kind of infection would have been fatal. Here she is now, about to graduate from college. Amazing.

Mile 16-Memories of running for Kelly on her 16th birthday, a birthday Brittany wasn't supposed to live to see.

Sue and I were at the PF Chang marathon on Kelly's birthday that year, we celebrated her sweet 16 birthday. Sue was the world's happiest marathoner that year. Kelly was so healthy at that time. It seemed like the cancer had been turned away forever....

Mile 17-18-I ran these miles for Sarah Larson. Sarah was one of Kelly's best friends. They both underwent transplants in 1999. The oncology nurses couldn't tell them apart. They both loved collecting Eeyore trinkets. I got to meet Sarah at Kelly's graduation in 2007. In a way I ran for both Sarah and Kelly, celebrating their friendship. What a bond they shared, yet they were just like other teenage girls. I don't think either of them let their experience with cancer define who they were.

At some point during mile 17, I saw Brandon Hickey and his mom at the east side of Washington Park. They had come out to cheer for the TNT runners. Brandan had a purple shirt he was wearing that said cancer survivor. It was so big on him. He looked like a little ewok. I hope he outgrows that shirt.

Shortly after seeing Brandan and his mom, a young lady yelled out to me. Go Team, I love you. Thank you for saving my brother in-laws life. I have never had anyone say anything like that to me before during a marathon. I almost started to cry as I tried to sputter out a thank you.

Mile 19-20. Back into Washington Park. I see Sue, Laura and Adam again. It is always a nice boost to see your family on the course. I am so tired now. I start talking out loud in my head to Kelly, ask her to stay with me. I start to cry a little. I had promised Kelly years ago when she relapsed in 2000 that I would run for her as long as she needed me. Now it is me who needs her, for as long as I am running.

I pass the mile 20 mark. I am at symbolic 1/2 point of the marathon.

The next five miles I run as a tribute to Rose, Molly, Marcy, Patty and Don. Kelly's family, my family.

At some point, think it was right after the 20 mile mark, I started to take roll call for everyone I was running for that day. I had my entourage, my team angels, Kelly and Laiken, Megan, Patti, Melina, my team heroes, Brandan, Mason, Brittany, my honorary team hero Sarah. When I would get the next mile I would add a new name, Rose, Molly, Marcy, Patty, Don. I had an awesome team propelling me to the finish line.

Mile 25.

I saw Mighty Mason with his Dad somewhere during this mile.

I run this mile for my family. They have been such a big part of this journey with me. I realize I have about 5 more minutes of running to go and I will be done. I am going to finish and I just start to let my emotions go, all the pain and sorrow for all of these months. I have cried so many times about Kelly and yet not really cried. Maybe this was what the day was all about, letting it go, feeling the sadness so I could finally move forward and learn to live joyfully as well. I am running and crying, really crying and out of nowhere the TNT head coach runs alongside me and asks me how I am doing.

I tell her I am okay, but I am losing it emotionally and incredibly she says come on you are almost done, you can do it. RATS. I don't need someone to help me run in. She keeps exhorting me to pick up the pace. The cleansing moment has passed and now I am racing for the first time all day. It was a rather ironic ending to the day and to top it off, I forgot to shout "God save the queen". Now I have to run another marathon.

I really can't describe all the emotions I felt as I crossed this finish line. Some of it was relief, it was finally over. I spoke at TNT kickoff for this season on May 10, 23 weeks ago. It was a long journey to reach this destination. I am so glad I was able to finish the race for Kelly and for everyone else I ran for on Sunday. I ran almost the same time I did two years ago at this race. Two years ago, I was so disappointed in the time I ran that day. This year I have no regrets about that aspect. I ran to the finish on fumes. I was out of gas at the 9 mile mark. I had to finish if I could for Kelly. I still choose to feel like I am running to honor Kelly, her memory as well for what she means to me and to so many others, but mainly I run in her honor. After all, I am Kelly's runner. That is what I do.

After the race was over I saw one of our team heroes, Sharon and asked her if she would mind a hug from a sweaty runner. That helped me a little bring some of the emotions back to the surface. I stood off to the side for a minute or so after that and just cried. I went over and hugged my wife and kids and cried softly.

I was able to check in at the TNT tent and chat with a couple of people and make it back to the finish line just in time to see Catherine Bernard cross the finish line. She was able to run the entire race without walking. These parents of kids with cancer are tough!

Catherine is just left of the TNT head coach wearing the white hat. It was a very touching moment to watch her finish. Her friends that did the 1/2 marathon ran in with her and are clapping for her.

Catherine with Mighty Mason share a priceless moment together after the race.

Rebecca Russell, our awesome chapter executive director and me after the race. Rebecca always willing to raise awareness for TNT is wearing a purple wig.

I am going to wash my singlet and then pin the pictures and ribbons I wore that day during the marathon and get a frame to put it in.

This is my friend Shayna(far left) and Cathie Nicolson. Cathie is one of the awesome girls on the TNT staff. This picture was taken at the Pasta Party at the Nike marathon in San Francisco.

Thought I would share this story from Shayna about Kelly.
Also... The strangest thing happened... I was wearing 7 TNT bracelets when I went to San Francisco... The one with Kelly's name was one of them... I was planning to send you the bracelet with the nametag after the race... And I had this amazing reunion with my boyfriend (whom I hadn't seen in 3 months!) at the airport, then we all went to the expo, then to Alcatraz... And it was when we got back from Alcatraz when I realized I was missing a bracelet... And of course, it was Kelly's... She jumped off my wrist at some point... I don't know if she's at the expo, or on a trolley car, or somewhere on Pier 39, or on Alcatraz Island... I just know that she decided to stay in San Francisco... I'm sad that I can't send you the bracelet, but glad that she's somewhere fun! :)

Knowing Kelly, I am pretty sure she decided to do some shopping at Pier 39.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Run 26.2 for Kelly

The start of the Denver marathon is a little over 11 hours away.

For those that are inclined, please pray for all of the people that are running on Sunday to reach the finish line safely. I would ask for you to pray for me to be courageous when the pain and fatigue set in. I have so many reasons to want to run well tomorrow. I am not sure if my body will follow what my heart desires. I hope I can be at peace with whatever the outcome is tomorrow.

I am going to break the race into segments and do all that I can to honor those that I run for. While I am always running for Kelly, I have others that I want to honor tomorrow.

Miles 1-5 for Kelly.

Miles 6-10 for Laiken Kenwood. Laiken was the team hero for Shayna Hefner who is friend of mine that is running a marathon in San Fransisco tomorrow. Shayna has been a wonderful source of support for me throughout this year.

Mile 11 for Patti Kaufman and Megan Dickey. Patti and Megan both passed away on July 11 a year apart.

Mile 12 for little baby Molina who was diagnosed at 3 months, gone at 10 months.

Mile 13-14 for Mason and Brandan, age 5 and 2, local team hero's for fall and winter teams.

Mile 15-16 for Brittany Ross and Kelly. Brittany was diagnosed 3 weeks before her sweet 16 birthday. She wasn't expected to live to see that birthday. She was told she wouldn't see her prom, graduate from high school, ever to to college. Brittany will graduate from college next May, turns 24 in January.

This is my 16th marathon for Kelly. Sue and I did the PF Chang Rock & Roll marathon on Kelly's 16th birthday on January 9, 2005. That also happened to be my 9th marathon on January 9th.

Mile 17-18 for Sarah Larson. Sarah is one of Kelly's best friends. They both underwent transplants in 1999. Sarah is in her senior year of high school.

Mile 19-20 for Kelly. Kelly lived 19 full years. Mile 20 is considered the 1/2 point of the marathon where runners hit the wall. I will need Kelly to be with me, to push me past the wall.

Mile 21 for Rose , Kelly's youngest sister. Rose is a very gifted writer. Her insight at the age of 13 is amazing.

Mile 22 for Molly, Kelly's middle sister. Molly is funny, upbeat, and funny, Did I mention funny?

Mile 23 for Marcy, Kelly's big sister. Marcy is also a wonderful writer, creative, sensitive, gifted with a beautiful voice. Marcy is training to run in her first 1/2 marathon in November. Marcy is married to a wonderful young man, Travis and they have two wonderful little boys that Auntie Kelly adored.

Mile 24 for Patty, Kelly's amazing Mom, loving, faithful to all of her children. Sue and I have both learned so much from Patty about practicing gratitude.

Mile 25 for Don, Kelly's Dad. Don is so faithful to his family, never ever wavered during Kelly's illness about where he needed to be. I have shared some amazing hugs with Don over the years.

Mile 26 for my family who continue to support and encourage me as I have struggled so much this year since Kelly died.

Last 385 yards-I hope I remember to shout out "God save the queen" since this is why we get to run the last .2 of the marathon.

To Don, Patty, Marcy, Molly and Rose,

I love you all so much. I am so grateful to be a part of your family, to have been able to share in this incredible journey with Kelly.

To Kelly,

I miss you so much. I am so honored to be one of your runners, grateful for all the ways you touched my heart, for all of the things you taught me. You are my hero and inspiration, always and forever. Tomorrow when I whisper your name, I know you will be with me as long as I need you.

I love you!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

TNT Mission day

Check out the video here that CBS4 filmed of the TNT mission day on September 27.

If you look closely you can see a picture of Kelly and Emily together taken at Red Robin. For those of you that may not know this, Emily is Kelly's transplant donor. Emily flew out to meet Kelly last February. Her plane landed about 30 minutes after mine did that day so I got to share in the amazing moment when Kelly and Emily met for the first time.

There is also a short piece about Mason Bernard who is the local TNT hero for the fall team this season.

Mission day was an incredible experience. There were about 40-45 of us running that morning and every single person shared the reason why they were running.

Some were running simply because they could. Many had personal connections.

One young mother spoke about losing her 10 month old infant daughter.

Catherine Bernard is running for her son.

There is a grandmother on the fall team running for her grandson.

One of the mentors, Alison is running for her mother, Mary.

One young gal said she was running because she could and also because she didn't think it was fair when young people got cancer. It made her mad.

Elly Valas who I am honored to serve with on the board for the Rocky Mountain chapter was running for her the light of her life, her late husband and for her best friend Patti Kaufman who passed away in July of this year.

So many others, too many others we run for.

I run for for Laiken, for Patti, for baby Molina, for Mason, for Brandan, for Brittany, for Sarah, and always and forever I run for my hero-Kelly.

Friday, October 3, 2008

16 to 16

There are 16 days left before I run my 16th marathon.

I am feeling something less than confident at this point. I feel like I have been training for this marathon for such a long time. TNT kickoff meeting was May 10 and we are in week # 21 of training for this marathon That is simply too long for me.

I took advantage, or so I thought of this extended training season and did six rides with the TNT cycling team and one ride with the TNT Triathlon team. Interestingly, I think I ran better when I was riding 30-60 miles on Saturday and then doing my long run on Sunday. It seems all I trained myself to do was to run on tired legs at an easy pace. Even when I stopped riding and started to focus on running, I never seemed to get any zip back in my legs. Every run has a sameness to it, a feeling of sluggishness, listlessness.

The last three weekends I have run, each run has felt worse than the previous week. I usually have one clunker of a bad run when I am training for a marathon and than bounce back. I am doing worse than the stock market right now :)

I didn't eat anything before running two weeks ago and I realized at the 5 mile mark I was out of fuel. I ran out of gas on my own two feet. You would think I would know better than to attempt a 16 mile run without eating. I got in big trouble with my wife over my new training plan.

I am not sure how much of the malaise I am feeling is physical and how much is mental/emotional. There are times I feel like something isn't right with me physically. I feel exhausted at times. I have more than my share of aches and pains than what I normally feel.

My knee still doesn't feel 100% at this point. I have had chronic pain in my left glute for the last 3-4 weeks(Pirformis syndrome) and have had some nagging pain which feels very similar to an injury I have had before(Osteitis Pubis). Earlier this week, I woke up with a terrible pain in my left calf. I had a visible bulging knot in my calf. It was really painful. So on the physical side, I have a lot of issues.

Mentally and emotionally, I think I feel even worse than all the physical ailments. It is hard to say how much of the physical problems have been manifested by the emotional heartache of this year.

There are times when I just don't feel like I am strong enough to get through this run. I never thought the day would come when I would be running to honor Kelly's memory. I have made this distinction in my mind that I am still running to honor her life, her courage in this battle against cancer and I a really am not running in her memory. Yet. . .

I remember when I was training for the Calgary marathon in 2001, being so afraid seven years ago that I would be running in her memory instead of in her honor.

Now that day I was so afraid of 2,614 days ago is now just sixteen days away.

I am going to paraphrase something my friend Shayna posted in her blog.

So, regardless of who is or isn't at that finish line, I'm still doing my 26.2 miles in Denver in the memory of my dear sweet Kelly and also for Laiken Kenwood, baby Molina gone at 10 months...for Patti Kaufman.

I run to honor Sarah Larson, one of Kelly's best friends who is an AML survivor of 9 years.

I run to honor Brittany Ross, one of the Rocky Mountain chapters team heroes, another AML survivor.

I run to honor little Mason Bernard, age 5 who is in week 32 of a 104 week cycle of chemo therapy treatments.

I run to honor Brandan Hickey who has a very rare and dangerous form of AML.

I don't feel very courageous right now, but I will keep trying. I will keep running. What else is there to do?

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The Journey matters

This isn't at all what I had planned on writing about tonight, but it is close to one of the posts I have been thinking about. I have a lot of things I have started this year and haven't finished. I have half a dozen or so unpublished, unfinished, incomplete posts. I probably have about that many books I have started and haven't finished. Unfinished grief work as my sister Jan would say.

I read a short, but very good book about leadership tonight that was written by Marilyn Carlson Nelson. She is a former CEO of Carlson a global group of companies such as the Radission and Regent hotels, T.G.I. Friday resturants.

This is an excerpt from a speech her daughter wrote as a senior in high school.

"Do you ever have the feeling you are constantly getting ready for somthing? In the morning, hurry up, rush, get ready for school, get ready for work, get ready, get ready, get ready. Set goals, work towards them".

She goes on to talk about a quote from the Frenchman named Montaigne, "The journey not the arrival matters.". To him the journey was what we should treasure. Life is a journey we all embark on and in a sense never finish.

"We should all live and love each day-the bad ones as well as the good. Today is so valuable, it should be lived and enjoyed".

"Life is always so fragile. What if. . . just what if something happened to you today? What would trouble you the most. . . an abrupt ending? Unfinished studies? Unplayed games? Unperformed dramas? No...I'm willing to bet it would be unsaid words, incomplete relationships and unfullfilled promises".

"Each one of us is only given one journey. But if we enjoy it to the fullest. . . every, every minute of it, one journey is enough".

Juliet Evans Nelson was killed in an automobile accident during her freshman year in college shortly after writing this speech. Another life cut short, another young person full of love for life that understood the importance of choosing and living life as fully and richly as possible.

I think this was something that Kelly and her family understood and embraced so there wouldn't be unsaid words, incomplete relationships.

So many things for me unfinished. There is always another day to complete them, or is there?