Last night, Katie and I sat down to watch Life in a Day, a documentary about four amazing women competing in the 2016 running of the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run.
Within minutes of the opening credits, I was already getting misty. The snippets of familiar trail sections and footage of runners, crew members, race officials, and spectators brought me right back to 2007 when I ran it. My first hundred.
As I wiped a tear away, Katie looked over and jokingly asked if I was going to be OK.
“Yeah, yeah,” I said. “It’s just that I’ve got so many great memories on these trails. So many highs and lows. It’s tough not to feel it all over again.”
When I crossed the finish line, my pacer, Dana Gard, said I’d remember this race every day for the rest of my life. He’s been right so far.
Minutes into the film, my phone buzzed. New text message. Captivated by the movie, I left my phone alone. But with my dad in the hospital with a post-surgery fever, I wanted to stay on top of any news on that front.
But the text wasn’t from anyone in my family. In fact, it was from a number I didn’t have stored in my contacts. Last month I finally upgraded my flip phone to an iPhone 7, my first smartphone since a Blackberry back in my Fleet Feet days. During the transition I didn’t move over my numbers, figuring I’d add them as I got them.
And though I recognized the message’s area code, I still was unsure who was reaching out.
The message simply said, “Tom…”
So I typed, “Yes?” and went back to the movie. Quietly crying here and there as the race progressed. I’m a sucker for people who seek out challenges and boldly endure their journey with a positive attitude. Vulnerability and authenticity most always hits me right in the feels.
Minutes later, my phone dinged again, and this time I jumped up to check it. But what I read sat me right down.
First off, I determined who it was after the first line, “Our beloved friend passed away yesterday.” I continued, “The cancer got way too aggressive and she fought hard…her body shut down…I am sorry to deliver this news, but I want you to know how much love she had for you and your family.”
The room was silent. The film was paused on a frame showing the side view of a woman running through a forest, maybe near Devil’s Thumb, around mile 48. Her face conveying the effort of her body.
In the midst of my training, spring 2007, my physical therapist told me, “Folks who run like you are often mentally stronger than they are physically able.”
I took it as a compliment.
My friend, though not a runner, was the same. She had endured multiple bouts of cancer for the past three years. Her body gradually giving way to sickness while her mind, no doubt, scrambled to find new ways to beat it.
Last time I saw her we talked about reflexology and acupuncture. About herbs to cleanse her diseased blood.
And as long as I knew her, even before she got sick, she was always on the hunt for what’s good. Like a positive angel who made it easy to see the best in everything. She didn’t wait until her diagnosis to start living. Or start loving.
In fact, her presence always made it OK to push beyond my boundaries of comfort. Made me hug her tighter and exclaim how much I appreciated her friendship and those of the people around us.
I used to give her shit about always taking photos of everything. Like, everything. I am pretty sure that anytime I was with her, she documented it. She made a point to capture every moment of life with a smile in it somewhere.
She was strong. So goddamned strong.
She wouldn’t be cool with me giving her all this attention. She’d just shrug it off and make sure we sat extra close, stood in each other’s personal spaces. She’d want me to feel her breath on my cheek as she laughed out loud. She’d look deep into my eyes and make sure I knew how happy she was for this one fleeting moment with me.
This is the gift she gave everyone.
Now, I now am forced to but remember these moments. Moments locked on a screen of memory. I can press play and feel overwhelming nostalgia of her strength and support. I can witness her agonizing pursuit to endure a massive challenge.
Life is a luxury. May I remember to always live the way she lived, every day.
My friend. Though I so rarely saw you, I will miss you.
In remembrance of ST (1975-2017). My friend who made all our friends into one big family, I love you.