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.

1 comment:

  1. ross -
    were you writing as you were running?
    it feels like you were writing this on the walls of your eyelids when you were passing the mile markers.

    your connection to the people you help, who help you, is palpable.

    i want to remind you that some people make it. they do. my wife is here because of people like you.

    tonight leanne got to cry because our kitten went pee on the couch.
    then she tucked our daughter in and read her a book.

    luxuries, both.

    presents, however strange, given to us by you.

    thank, yes, you.