Running With An Angel

Posted: May 3, 2013 in Uncategorized

I have had the honor and privilege of coaching Kristen Wilson LaBarca for the Boston Marathon and now the Newport Marathon.  We set a time goal of 3:30 for Boston, which would be a PR for her.  She had to make a quick pit stop along the course and ended with an official time of 3:30:30…extremely well done.  I’m so proud of her on so many levels…she’s a dedicated runner that manages all facets of running with perfection, she’s equally dedicated to her family and friends, she’s a wonderful writer (as you will see), and is just one of the most charming, delightful and compassionate people who I have been blessed to know.  I hope you enjoy her post!

It  was early spring of 2012 and I was running on a neighborhood route that I have run at least a hundred times. Turn right out the front door.  Run four blocks and then turn left.  Continue straight for a mile and a half until the street dead ends at the high school.  Run as many one mile loops around the high school as necessary before turning around and heading back home.
 I like this route for runs that are under 10 or so miles, especially on runs where I need to keep a specific pace.  It is an easy, flat run that doesn’t cross any major intersections and the streets are usually empty enough that I can run in the street without worrying about traffic.  The streets are lined with 100 year-old maple trees providing shade (or, more often, rain cover) for the equally old homes in the neighborhood.  It is the perfect route for the everyday, run-of-the-mill miles that I do mid-week during marathon training.  And ideal for letting my mind wander wherever it wants to go.
Back to last spring…
 I was running part of this route on one of my long runs and it was a cold, wet and gloomy day.  My mood matched the weather and I just wanted to be done.
Then, suddenly, there was someone running just off my left shoulder.  I knew instantly that it was my mom’s dear friend, Trudy.  I had grown up going on rafting trips on the Lower Salmon River in Idaho with Trudy’s family.  These week-long, unguided, filled-with-adventure raft trips were the highlight of our summers when we were young.  Spending a week in the great outdoors with no walls for privacy (and a shared poop bucket that we carried with us in a raft every day) made for some close ties between us all.  Ghost stories told over late night campfires, early mornings watching the sunrise over the canyons, water fights between rafts that left us all soaking wet, quiet afternoons spent reading books with our feet buried in the sand…this is where Trudy’s family, along with all the other families, became not only friends and neighbors but like family.

group pic after a game of beach volleyball – Lower Salmon River (circa 1991)
early morning quiet before the sun rises above the canyon walls
Middle Fork of the Salmon (1998)
So it was with joy and happiness that I felt Trudy’s presence next to me on that gray, chilly day last spring.  I found myself suddenly noticing the early cherry blossoms on the trees, the bit of sunlight struggling to make its way through the thick cloud cover as the rain lightened, the lone bird singing a song and the tulips that were just beginning to bloom.  My pace quickened and my spirit lifted.

As it turns out, Trudy had passed away just a few months earlier, following a courageous battle with cancer.  Although she obviously wasn’t actually running with me in the physical sense, she was there in every other sense — helping me to see the beauty that surrounded me, to hear the sounds of life in my neighborhood, to smell the freshly cut grass and to fill my heart with a sense of peace.
 When I returned home from that run, I emailed Trudy’s daughter, Sara, to let her know what I had experienced and to thank her for “sharing” her mom with me for a little while.  In all the time I had known Trudy, I had never even known her to be a runner.  As it turns out, she was a runner in her younger days and one of the last memories that Trudy shared with Sara in the week before she passed away was one about running with a girlfriend and feeling the fresh air on her face while watching the sun rise.
Fast forward about a year and I found myself again plodding along my same route on a similarly gray day in late March.  I had probably run along this same stretch of road almost a hundred times since that day last spring.  Once again, I was training for a marathon and was just putting in the miles on a day when my heart wasn’t really in it.  And, again, Trudy was suddenly with me, just off my left shoulder.
By the end of the run, the sun was bursting through the clouds and my soul was equally bursting with gratitude.  Gratitude for my family, my friends, my health, my life…and for the gift of Trudy.
 She left behind a husband, three sons, a daughter, their respective spouses, eight grandchildren and countless friends.  She left behind memories of laughter, tears, hugs, joy and an endless capacity to love others.  Somehow, amazingly so, she continues to do all these same things to this day.  I know I felt her love on those two days this past year and I will always be looking over my shoulder just to see if she wants to run with me again.

Trudy and Dan on their wedding day in 1969
Trudy as a young mom
Trudy’s grandchildren…who will never forget their Grammy
  1. Laura Meyerson says:

    Great story!!

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