Growing up, I always enjoyed school and the process of learning. I was a non-athletic 'nerd', whose only exercise was running up to my room at the end of my school day to read a book. I carried the deadly 'teacher's pet' stigma that resulted in extra mentoring from the teachers, and brutal teasing from classmates. Nonplused, I continued to enjoy my moments of being asked to read before the class despite the 'not again' huffs and puffs around me, and continued to wait after the bell rung to talk just a bit longer with my teachers about the subject of the day.
I especially loved College where classes were no longer ruled by taking attendance and being quiet, but centered around discussions, ideas and opinions. Of all the lessons I learned, the hardest was from the paper that I received a 'D' grade for from a notoriously difficult English Professor who explained he gave me that grade because he knew I could do better. After a sleepless night of re-writing my essay trying to purge the old words out of my head and replace them with new ones, I submitted a revision. A few days later I got the paper back with the grade of 'A-' followed by a note that simply read "now Beth...." I still have that essay today and smile when I remember how that teacher took the time to not grade me in comparison to others, but in comparison to what he thought I was capable of.
But all my classroom lessons could not teach me what I learned after my brother Stephen was killed by a drunk driver in the fall of 1999 at the age of 30. I was 39, recovering from an early diagnosis and treatment for breast cancer, and I had no idea where to start the healing process. Then one day I invested in a pair of sneakers, and decided to try running.
Because old habits die hard, my first shot at running was to do something that was familiar to me- I read about it. I read everything from Running for Dummies to 26 miles to Boston. I read before work, during lunch, and at night. But the real learning did not start until I finally laced my sneakers up and headed outside.
I started with fast walking, then run/walk, and finally a slow but consistent jog. I celebrated the first time I could run a mile without stopping, which soon became five miles. I ran during lunch with co-workers, sometimes talking about work, sometimes talking about life, sometimes not talking at all. I ran at night, through dark streets where inside lights reveal quick glimpses into the lives of others. I ran through weather so cold my eyelashes nearly froze shut, rain so hard that I labored to run through ankle deep puddles, and roads so slippery with ice that each step became a prayer not to fall.
I ran through the same neighborhoods for so many years that I saw their children grow up, knew their dog's names and what time they watered their lawns. I passed other runners on their own journeys, so consistently that I worried for them when they were absent from my running route for more than a few days.
I ran through a range of emotions so strong that I've found myself crying during some of my runs. I ran through memories so deep that I've found myself at home after a long run, barely remembering the steps it took me to get there.
Somewhere along the way I got the crazy idea I could do a marathon in memory of my brother Stephen, raising money for the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Salem where he served as the Executive Director and the Stephen M. O'Grady Foundation, a scholarship foundation established in his memory. One marathon turned into two. Two marathons was upgraded to four, then this former non-athletic bookworm found herself setting a goal to complete 10 marathons by my brother's 10th anniversary in 2009. My goal is to raise $40,000 in honor of what should have been his 40th birthday. At the verge of completing this goal, I can't imagine what the past 10 years would have been like had it not been for the catharsis of running.
I've run through cities around the country, taking in sites that could never be experienced from a car, nor would they be so vividly remembered. I've experienced the joy, first of simply completing a race, then bettering my time with each attempt.
Through running I met my fiance Doug and joined the Wicked Running Club of Salem which introduced me to what I am sure will be lifelong friends who help me continue my running education. I transitioned from the reflective years when I ran alone, sorting through my thoughts with each step, to the interactive years, looking forward to my long weekend training run with friends, where conversation flows easy as the miles pile up. When I return from my long run, Doug will ask me 'so what did you learn today?'- a question that never fails to elicit an answer as long as he has time to listen.
The thought that I have come this far and am so close to my goal is one that both excites and frightens me. I credit my 10-marathon education as being my emotional rescue for the first 10 years of missing my brother, and sometimes wonder if I have been running from my grief instead of running through it. The one thing I do know is that running has redefined me. It has improved my physical and mental health and shaped me into a stronger person, inside and out.
Although my goal for my brother will end this year, my running education will continue. Perhaps I'll set a new goal- a goal just for me, not tied into grieving for my brother, but tied into living my own life with hope and curiosity for where this running journey will take me. Perhaps that goal will be chasing races in states I've never visited, chasing PRs when possible and chasing after happiness once again, running just a bit faster than the grief that always threatens to catch me.
Submitted by Anonymous
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