"As I was running this morning, I was reflecting on why was I running for this women Eileen. I went to her Facebook page and read all her posts. Now I am able to put this all together and see what this group is all about. I can see the admiration in the way you speak her name . It is humbling. Thanks River Runners, I get it."
That's a post I read as I got back from the 2nd annual Superbowl "No Damn 5K" Run for Eileen, who lost her battle with cancer a year ago. The first one was designed to do something to show our running group's support for Eileen so 42 people dressed in pink and made signs on a very cold and blustery February day. Her husband, Joe, said that telling her about the run was the last earthly thing she acknowledged.
So, this story is about Eileen, but it's also about the brotherhood and solidarity of running. Never before have I been part of a group that has a connection limited to pretty much one thing, but has this incredible sense of community.
It was Eileen who introduced me to that community. As she did with many others, she took me under her wing when I first started running. I asked her lots of advice and she gave me so much more. We ended up going to races together and spending a lot of time talking about running.
Eileen and I both share a bit of an independent spirit, so we were totally fine doing our own things at the races we attended together. But, we'd share rides and critique races, noting what we might be able to do to continue to better ourselves. And, that's how I started referring to her as "Coach."
The only time she got really angry with me was one time where I was comparing myself to other runners. Another friend joined in the lament and she said, "Ladies, I don't have time for this crap." (She may or may not have even used another word instead of "crap.") I still think of that and smile when tempted to go down the comparison slope.
It's been a year now since she passed away. And, like many others who knew her, I miss her a lot. I think she would have been surprised at how much of a hole she left in this world. And, that hole is evidenced by people who had the great blessing of knowing Eileen as well as those who came out for a run on a cold day just to be in solidarity with other runners in her honor.
I had the privilege of talking about Eileen at her memorial service (click here for the text of the memorial) and sharing some of the many memories we all had about her. As I was re-reading it last night, I grew teary eyed and I could hear her telling me, "Suck it up, buttercup" while shaking her head at me.
Coach--I thank you for the short time we had together and I hope you're running today wherever you are...as long as it's not a "damn 5K." There were too many of them and too little of you.
Catch you later at the back of the pack!