True to my marathoning nature, the story and purpose I find behind my running did not happen in the first few miles… Anyone can show up to the starting line of a race. It was the somewhere in those middle miles where I finally found my pace, and remembered to stay faithful to my sport. Always faithful. Semper Fidelis.
It is late Fall 2009. At 21 years old, I am living in Gunnison, Colorado- a town known for being the 2nd coldest town in America behind Barrow, Alaska, and fittingly holding a meager population (3,000 people short of the altitude: 7,800 feet). I have been given a rare second chance to run and go back to college, after failing miserably the first time around, dropping out to become a whitewater raft guide, and then also failing at that with a few flipped rafts to frighten the customers.
Thankful for a place to run to next, I joined the team at Western State College (now Western State Colorado University) in September. Now, at the dawn of December, Cross Country season has come and gone. As winter is near, but not quite here (it’s a balmy 20 degrees), I find myself cold, slow, still out of shape, and lost. I wonder; “What the hell am I doing here?”
It occurred to me that it might be time. Time to run away from running.
My plan: Finish off the extra year of college I graciously received in athletic scholarship, leave this god-awful ice box with a few extra credits on my transcripts, and move home to finish a degree in whatever major/flavor of the year I come up with next.
Cheers to that.
A drink or two in, my phone begins to ring and I am not ready for the news from the messenger on the other end of the line. Immediately my body reacts before my mind can register the words. The next 24 hours is consumed in convulsive sobbing, my body held prisoner as I empty tears and muffle screams into my pillow.
My good friend, former high school teammate, the older brother I never had, active U.S. Marine, constant supporter, my wisdom, my inspiration, my hero… is dead. The words are so short and simple and succinct. (The most brutal, swift punch in the gut that will remain unmatched in severity.)
A snowy whirlwind transcends my presence from the mountains of Colorado through avalanche warnings, blizzards, and Midwest ice storms and suddenly I am home in Wisconsin, months earlier than the escape plan, just in time to say goodbye one last time to my dear friend.
He makes his final exit draped in a flag of red, white, and blue, and I hear the bugle’s Taps echoing my final farewell.
24 years to live and die is too short. Life is short. I wish I had one more chance to tell him how much I believed in him, how much I looked up to him, how much I still needed him, especially now. But second chances, if they even exist, are rare.
Somewhere between time spent with family, and conversations with friends and old teammates, I realized I wasn’t giving my second chance an actual chance.
I left home after Christmas and went back to the mountains of Gunnison to run. I ran through tears, I ran through snow, I ran through doubt, (I ran off a few extra Christmas and river guiding/beer drinking pounds), I ran, and ceased the habit of looking back and too far ahead. I stopped running away from running. I learned to embrace my pace.
Flash forward five years. In 2 hours, 28 minutes, 48 seconds, I complete 26.2 miles, and before I register what the clock means (a huge breakthrough, a 13 minute best, and an Olympic Trials qualifier) my body is wrapped in a flag of red, white, and blue.
I can feel my dear friend here, embracing me with a proud hug. My hero is telling me that I can borrow the honor for the moment. I thanked him for serving our country as I looked up at the shining sun shining down from the Los Angeles sky, wrapped in his flag, and I thanked him for carrying me with his wings to a place where I can represent the same country he served, through my sport. Semper fidelis.