Saturday, February 8, 2014

Prologue: A Little Background

It seems fitting to me that I am sitting here writing this with the sound of the Olympics on the TV in the background. My dad loved the Olympic Games, more than anyone else I know. He especially loved the events in the Summer Games, but he loved the Winter Games too. He always did his research well before the Games started, reading the personal stories of many of the athletes and deciding ahead of time which ones he wanted to “pull for,” as he put it. 

I don’t know why he didn’t ever try out for the Senior Olympics.  I feel sure he would have qualified; maybe he always thought there would still be time to do that on down the road.  He used to half-joke that if he ever became disabled he wanted to compete in the Paralympic Games; whenever he talked about the possibility of incurring a life-altering injury, though, it was always with the subtext that if something incapacitating actually happened it would be an injury he sustained from an accident that occurred while he was running or biking.

I need to give a little background to this: my dad, an avid runner since before I was born, was involved in lots of accidents over the years related to his workout regiment. So many that my family had become somewhat desensitized to it after so many near-misses and even a few "hits." My dad was hit by a car while running twice and three times while biking, not to mention the many emergencies like falls, sports injuries, and other things like heat exhaustion he'd had. Like a cat with nine lives, though, somehow Dad always ended up ok after something happened to him, although a few times he'd ended up with broken bones and needing stitches or at least debris picked out of his skin as a result.

It always seemed odd to me that Dad never saw his own toughness, his resilience, his extraordinariness, especially in the midst of his athletic endeavors. I remember once when I was about eight years old, I was playing in the front yard of our house when an unfamiliar vehicle pulled up in our driveway.  Dad got out of the car, thanked the driver, and turned around to face me.  He had blood dripping profusely down the side of his head.  

"What happened?" I asked.

"I was running across a 2-lane bridge and an RV that didn't have enough room to get over side-swiped me," he said casually. I didn't even know what side-swiped meant, but I figured it wasn't anything good based on the blood that kept coming and coming.  

"I was going to keep running, but I knew your mom would be upset if I didn't come straight home to get this cleaned up," he said, as he casually headed into the house.  

When I was in the seventh grade, my dad was running a marathon and, in third place 18 miles into the race, he was hit by an old lady driving a car who hadn't seen him because the sun was shining in her eyes. Her car hit him from behind, and he flew up over her windshield and landed in the road. She was screaming so much that he, while lying in the street with his bone sticking through the skin of his leg, had to try to calm her down until the police got there a few minutes later.

He was taken by ambulance to the hospital, where we met him after the police found us on the course, waiting at the 20-mile mark, where Dad had told us to wait to cheer for him.  When we got to the hospital, he wasn't at all focused on the pain from the two compound fractures in his leg but instead was concerned because the force of being hit by the car had knocked off one of his running shoes, which he wanted back, and because he wouldn't be able to finish the race.  

The orthopedic surgeon told him that he would be in a cast for several months and would not be able to run again for at least six months.  Four weeks later, Dad used a kitchen knife to cut the cast off his leg and was out on the road again, training for his next race.

And then there was the Big Bike Wreck that happened a few years before he got sick. Dad was on a long training ride, probably 75 miles or more, and was riding by himself on country roads in Missouri.  He usually didn't take his cell phone with him on bike rides, but for some reason he had brought it along on this one, even using it to call Mom right before he left to tell her he would be gone for a few hours.

At some point on the ride, a guy driving a pick-up truck wasn't paying attention and didn't see Dad on his bike in the road in front of him. The driver hit Dad from behind, and, again, Dad flew over the top of the vehicle and landed in the road, this time with his feet still clipped into the pedals of the bike.  He landed very hard on his back and immediately found that he couldn't move his arms or legs at all.  The driver had stopped but hadn't gotten out of the truck yet; Dad told us later that all he could do was lie in the road and yell for the guy to call 9-1-1.

Here's the really crazy part of the story: apparently, when Dad was thrown to the ground by the impact, his cell phone got bumped and the redial button was hit. Mom thought it was odd when she saw on her phone's Caller I.D. that Dad was calling back so soon after he'd started his bike ride, and when she answered, all she could hear was Dad screaming for someone to call 9-1-1 and saying that he couldn't move his arms or legs. She kept him on the line and then used another phone to call 9-1-1. She made it to the scene of the accident just as Dad was being loaded into the ambulance, and, by the time they made it to the hospital, Dad was moving his extremities again, although he had a major case of Road Rash and was understandably sore. He didn't even spend the night in the hospital that night, and - predictably - he was back on the bike within a couple of weeks.  Time and time again, he toughed it out, picking himself up and heading right back out on the road.

“I hope that when I go, I go out running,” I heard him say many times over the years, and, like everyone else who ever heard those words come out of his mouth, I knew he was serious. The strange thing is that that’s pretty much what ended up happening, although not at all even close to the way that anyone who knew my dad would have ever thought things would go down.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Sweetness of Life

There are some things that so easily serve to bring us joy in life, to make us remember that we are lucky to be wherever we are, to show us perspective if only we are willing to see it:

A ray of sunshine breaking through the clouds after a storm

The sound of shells tinkling that can only be heard in the stillness underneath the ocean

The sweet surprise on a newborn baby's face when his eyes focus on something for the first time

The taste of too-strong kool aid

The sound of a grandparent singing a made-up song to a grandchild

The sound of siblings laughing at something only they recognize as funny

The drop of one's stomach on that first downhill of a roller coaster

The sight of a loved one's face in a photograph

The sound of crickets on a summer night with no curfew

The tears of pride that come from witnessing your child show kindness to another person

The pride felt as the National Anthem is played during an Olympic medal ceremony

Hearing a song on the radio that holds special meaning

Seeing the color of a flower as it's just begun to bloom

Seeing a baby smile in his sleep

Smelling honeysuckle, wisteria, or hyacinths at the start of a new season

Opening a new book, full of anticipation for the words ahead, and

Closing it later with the swell of satisfaction from the read.

Mustering up the courage to set a goal, to try something different and new, 

With a parachute of surrounding support from friends and family.