We had weekend guests who were up here for the marathon. The young lady of the family planned on running the 26 mile course, hoping to qualify for the Boston marathon. These folks were neighbors of ours when we lived two places ago. They lived kitty corner from us across the backyard and my son grew up best friends with their youngest son. You couldn't ask for nicer folks to share a yard, or a life with. It was traditional that myself and the father take our kids around the neighborhood every Halloween - a tradition that lived on even after we moved.
Often times on those walks we would talk over the issues of the day and at one time or another, the discussion would turn to my health and how things were going. We talked about how a serious illness can alter one's outlook on life and how we might approach things differently. My companion had his own scare a while before. While camping on the north shore of Lake Superior with the family, he became ill with what he initially thought was the flu, but which quickly became something more serious.
He wound up in the hospital in Duluth where the family learned that it looked very much like a brain tumor. He was airlifted to the Twin Cities where he underwent a long and delicate operation. The prognosis was guarded - a possible partial recovery. Most likely he would not walk again and would eat through a tube for the rest of his life. He proved them wrong by slowly, but determinedly regaining all of his previous capabilities. It was a trying time for the family and all of their friends - ourselves included.
When my wife was diagnosed with cancer, making it two for two amongst the adults in our family, our old neighbors were always there for us. Their support was something very important as we made our way through that difficult period.
It was with profound sadness that I learned that K, a woman of incomparable selflessness, was diagnosed with acute leukemia a couple of years later. After a long and hard battle, she passed three years and one month from when I lost my wife. That was about a month ago.
This weekend, the father and two of the three kids were our guests. It was wonderful to see them and to be able to spend some time talking, eating, and simply taking some down time. They are doing alright. As alright as you can during a time like this.
We were moving to the rhythm of the marathon's schedule. The young runner was up before the sun to eat breakfast and catch a bus to the starting line. My daughter was also up at the crack - an event so unusual that I feel the need to mark it historically - so that she could make it to one of the water stations along the route where she was going to volunteer for a five hour shift. The rest of us were moving a bit more leisurely that morning.
When we had risen, showered, and dressed in our finest marathon observation costumes, we walked the five blocks down the hill to the course where we could see the second half of the half marathon runners going by interspersed with the occasional wheelchair athlete. At that point, we were at about mile 22 or 23 and we slowly started making our way downtown toward the finish line.
Even at that time, about 9 AM, the sun was pouring down some serious heat that made even leisurely walking a sweating offense.
The leaders of the full marathon had yet to make an appearance and we were able to make it almost to the downtown district before the lead runner went striding by at a pace that I couldn't maintain for more than about twenty feet. He was flying. We kept looking for number two, but didn't see him for several minutes. The eventual winner won by almost three minutes over number two. It was something.
We made it to the finish line and were able to see many of the elite runners come in, including the three-time woman's winner. One of the two women behind her swerved to the side as she neared the finish line, almost as if she were going to shake hands with supporters behind the fence when she completely collapsed. She had to be evacuated by wheelchair and taken to the medical tent. How heartbreaking to get so close and not be able to finish.
It was shortly after that that we got a phone call from our young runner saying that she had to quit the race at mile thirteen. Reception was bad and the crowd noise high, so we didn't learn any details of what led to this, but we immediately left the finish line and began our hike back to mile 22 (or 23) where we would hook up with her.
By the time we got there, we were hot and tired and Risa had developed blister farms on both feet. We met my son there who gave us a ride up the hill to the house, where we were surprised to find our young runner sitting in the yard waiting for someone to come home.
It took a few minutes to ascertain that the reason she had to drop out of the race had nothing to do with her physical condition which seemed excellent, but rather it was case of emotional overload. This was the first time she had run when her mother wasn't there to cheer her on. Over the course of the first half of the run, she fell into an emotional hole that she couldn't climb out of and it took such a toll that she had to stop. It was very sad and obviously a huge disappointment for the young woman. Her father and brother arrived minutes later and we withdrew to allow them to be together.
It turned into one of those days where everyone found the need for a little siesta during the heat of the afternoon. That evening, the young lady abandoned us for the charms of a male friend whom she had not seen in years while we went out for a fine, late dinner.
Early the next morning we prepared a huge breakfast for us all and then bid adieu to our out of town friends.
It was a wonderful weekend where we got to share our house, our town, our favorite restaurants, with friends whom we had not seen in a while and whom we wanted to share our support in their time of need. We all got our souls fed.