Monday, November 18, 2013

Thirteen Years of Races Without Dad

Today marks 13 years since I lost my dad. During Ironman training this summer, I read a father's account of his race experience, finishing an Ironman with his daughter.  Maybe it was the emotions and fatigue of training that led me to be a sap, but I found I felt better after writing this.

I grew up with a dad who loved to be active.  He was always running, rowing, biking, swimming- heck, even building cardboard boats for us to take part in the "Cardboard Boat Race".  I have memories of my mom making lasagna for his rowing club to carbo load with.  I remember jumping in the car with my mom and sister to hunt my dad down after he went for a run in the dark and it starting storming. When we found him, he didn't see what the big deal was.  A little rain wasn't going to hurt anyone.  He said that line a lot, actually.  Still to this day, when I am getting ready to run in cold, rain, snow, heat, wind, or whatever mother nature throws our way, I remember my dad saying "If you only run when the weather is perfect, you'll never run." And when things hurt, there is always his equally infamous (and not original) "No pain, no gain." I'm not sure how much I admitted it at the time, but I loved going for runs with him. We would do local 5ks and the annual Turkey Trot Five Miler, which was a big feat for a kid. Of course, he made it seem like an even bigger deal when he would take my medal and ceremoniously place it in our "Trophy Cabinet" among his various plaques and trophies.

I remember the day my dad died, he was getting his PICC line out after a long course of antibiotics. When he wasn't answering at home, we figured he had finally gotten out for a swim- something he hadn't been able to do and was so looking forward to. That thought of my dad happily returning to physical activity was still in my mind when I found my father dead at age 49, never to complete another race.

My dad was an endurance guy. He wasn't ever going to be the world's best, but he loved being his best. While the embarrassment of being a 13 year old with your father picking you up from school in neon spandex is very real, so was my pride for all my dad could do. Most of my friend's dads weren't up at 5am every day to row, or sneaking in a 8 mile run before a family bike ride on weekends.

One of the big "sucks" of having a parent die when you are a kid is that they don't get to see the adult you grow up to be. For me, my dad never got to see the athlete I have become. I didn't get to call him and tell him when I broke an 8 minute mile (and then 7 minute), or when I finished my first 10k. He wasn't around when I signed up my first half marathon, and raised $3900 for the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America doing so. Heck, he didn't even know I had to overcome this disease to be the athlete I have become.  He wasn't there when I finished my first marathon, or qualified for Boston on my third, or when I started dabbling in triathlons. He wasn't there when I crushed my half-ironman expectation away and finished in 5:33, two days after starting to flare. It might seem insignificant that I am sad he doesn't know me as an athlete, but that is because who I am as an athlete is who I am- it is my determination, my courage, my strength.

Most of all, my dad hasn't been there for my Ironman journey, from the excitment I had when I registered, to the moments of panic I'm having as I taper. I think that if he was alive, we might have been embarking on this journey together.  I imagine us signing up, excitedly, together. Calling each other after each long session, sharing tips, the highs, and the lows. I can picture him bragging- not about his own accomplishments in training, but about mine. As any father, he was more proud of anything I might do than himself.

I know a lot of people will say that he has been there, in some form or another, all along, and will be with me on September 8.  In some ways, I agree, but it isn't enough.  My mom will be there when I cross the finish line, and yes, that does mean the world to me, but her version of a pep talk when I admit how terrified I am of the 140.6 miles I am about to cover is "well honey, I still love you if you don't want to do it."  I like to think that back when I was just a kid, my dad taught me to love sports knowing it would get me through the tough times and shape me into who I am today. This year was a tough one for me, and the training was what got me through. I don't have my dad around to offer advice or be a shoulder to cry on, but thanks to him, I have 140.6 miles of therapy.

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