Thursday, January 17, 2008

When is a loss real?

Death is surreal by virtue of its timing. It can only occur once, so therefore you can never relay to curious friends and neighbors how it felt, if it was your own; If it was not your own, you're still in that unexperienced realm of not knowing how to react. Many feel nothing initially. During the men's marathon trials on November 3, 2007, according to USATF, 131 of the fastest American male marathoners got on the starting line at 7:35 am in front of NYC's Rockefeller Center to compete for one of three spots for the American team that would be sent to Bejing for this summer's Olympic marathon. The results roster shows the dry facts. Of those 131 competitors, 104 finished, 26 received DNF (did not finish), 3 received DNS (I'm assuming this is 'did not start'), and the last on the list, bib #13 Ryan Shay, had an empty space where his finisher's designation was suppossed to be. The assumption is that a competitor is not suppossed to die during the competition, and therefore an appropriate acronym has not been created. My reaction to the news of his sudden death, I'm sure, was not too different from that of other competitive runners. A bit of unreality about it. How can someone in such phenomenal condition, and who had years of experience putting his body through exactly the same or tougher stress than this event, suddenly cease to exist? Only 5.5 miles into the event? As a fellow runner who is passionate about running and racing, there is an immediate sympathy. But not having met the guy personally, well, it's kind of an impersonal sympathy. So when my friend Valerie asked me if I had read the article in Runner's World about the incident, and highlighting Shay's life, I kind of shrugged it off. 'No, but I read a lot of the newspaper coverage after it happened.' She said it was really good. I kind of forgot about it, probably in no small part due to the difficulty of the training run we were doing that day. Another hilly course to torture Tamar's hill-worn legs. At least this one was in Sullivan County.
That night I flipped through that issue of Runner's World. May as well go over whatever I missed before I recycle it. I came across the article. I really wasn't feeling in the mood to read it, didn't think it had anything to tell me that I didn't already know. I started reading it. I didn't feel anything when they talked about how tough a competitor he was, what a hard worker he was, how his devoted wife waited at the seven mile mark in Central Park for him to come through, and he didn't. These were all just disconnected details of the life of a grounded, competitive athlete. None of this had anything to do with me. Then I read that his family held a memorial run around Central Lake High track, where Ryan had gone to school. People were invited to walk, jog, or run on the track; whatever distance they wanted to cover was fine. A father and daughter came to show their respects. The girl had met Ryan at a local race, and he had encouraged her to pursue her dream of competing. They wanted to honor him by completing 20.7 miles on the track. They wanted to cover the territory that his untimely death did not allow him to.
As a passionately competitive runner, I understand, live, and breath those numbers all the time. The intricate web of numbers to calculate, manipulate, and masticate is forever revolving in my head as I plod forward to turn the seasons of training into a now decades old dream. I've often thought about the obstacles that would try to stop me in mid-run. A machete. (I think I've been reading too much of the Kenyan crisis, but this is a remote fear.) A deer in mating season jumping in front of me. Falling flat on my face on some ice. And if any of these maladies should befall me and cause my ultimate demise, would someone be there to finish my run? That journal entry space would demand it. So yes, this was the point in the article, and in the whole death of the runner story, that brought out those tough-guy tears. The idea that someone will complete your dream for you is really all we need in this world.


~Deb said...

”… How can someone in such phenomenal condition, and who had years of experience putting his body through exactly the same or tougher stress than this event, suddenly cease to exist?”

My uncle was a very fit man – ran every single day of his life, ate nothing but healthy food, no read meat and never touched a drop of alcohol in his life. He was 30 years old when he passed away from a heart attack. (This was on my father’s side too, Tamar.) My father, which is my uncle’s brother, smokes 4 packs of cigarettes per day, he’s 300 lbs and 70 years old. He’s got more energy than most guys his age. He’s out working everyday, eats what he wants and most of all, he has friends and family who he loves with all of his heart.

He has emphysema and diabetes. His cholesterol is lower than a 25 yr old runner. There’s something in the genes that demonstrates longevity. But, in my personal opinion, it’s “life” that makes us live longer. God only knows when our number is up… Think of it like this: if you live a happy life, have a lot of love to give and receive and handle your stress and anxiety to a level where you can function normally, then chances are you’ll live longer than the average person.

Running won’t make you live longer. It’ll strengthen you, it’ll give you endurance and keep you in shape – that’s a given – but it doesn’t guarantee longevity. It guarantees health while you’re still here.

Anyone can go at any time. Is it scary? Sure it is…

Have you ever watched the news where they ask this little cute old lady who’s over 105 yrs old, “How’d you do it? What’s your secret?” And she replies, “The love from my family and port wine!” Each person who was over the age of 100 all said that it was a glass or two of alcohol. Everything in moderation, right?

Live, love and laugh! It’s an oldie but goodie!

Now when you coming back over to my place for another one of my famous martinis so I can make you live longer??? I always have fun with you!!!


Anonymous said...

My wife Barb believes fate is the determining factor as to when we depart this world. I'm still up in the air on this.

I can remember where I was when the marathon started on Nov. 3rd. I was en route from Binghamton to Rock Hill for the Scholarship 5K. When I learned that he had passed away during the marathon I was astounded.

I read the article in Runners World and thought it was pretty good. I didn't realize his bib #13 was the one I wear whenever I can get it. Since I've been wearing #13 for almost 40 years I'll continue to use it but will now think of Ryan Shay whenever I put it on.

On to the next run.


Jon said...

I'm glad something broke through your tough exterior.

It always amazes me when someone dies with these kinds of circumstances, or like how my sister went.

I am a realist, so I look for scientific explanations. Sometimes they are never there. Just dumb luck maybe.

My dad was a lot like Deb's. He lived to be about 83, smoked probably 3 packs or cigarettes a day since he was 12. It surprised us all that cancer didn't kill him.

tamar said...

deb~ I don't think I'm afraid of dying as much as living..
And I'd be happy to share some wine with you, always a pleasure!

kevin~Wow, odd coincidence about your lucky bib#.. Did you know in Cuba they have a 13th floor in their buildings?

jon~ I'm sorry about your sister..

So do you think that tough-exterior stuff is a sagittarian thang? I do..
Your dad, who 'was good, but got over it', sounded like he had a dry wit.. I think that carries you through the tough times..

Just_because_today said...

That hilly course in Sullivan County...that wouldn't be Celebrate Life gentle hills, would it?
The idea of someone completing my dream after I'm gone does not do the trick for me, not after my death and not even in my life. Selfishness perhaps or the feeling of incompetence, someone being what I was, someone replacing me it's not something I take well...

Anonymous said...

Maybe Cuba has a 13th floor cause Castro was born on the 13th of August.

I'm not worried about what happens when I'm gone cause I can't control it and I'll be in a better place.

I'm actually more focused on what they'll say about me after I'm gone and constantly trying to work on my "dash" (i.e. what I accomplish in the in between years that they'll put on my tombstone). I'd like to leave this place a little better off than when I got here.


tamar said...

just~ well, here's a revealing tidbit.. but I already thought I was an open book in this blog.. you my dear, must feel abundantly loved, and that's why this wish doesn't motivate you..

kevin~ when's my birthday, quick?
only good things could ever be written about you.. :-)

Anonymous said...

Tamar: I think we both know that you were born the Monday after Thanksgiving in a Presidential Election Year. Our son was born the Wednesday after Thanksgiving two days after your birthday.

I think one way not to have anyone complete your goals is to not let others know what they are.

Tamar, Just: I sure only good things will ever be written about both of you.


~Deb said...

Ooooooooooooh - that was deep! Not afraid of dying as much as you are afraid of living.


I like it!

Thanks for "sharing some wine" with me the other evening at my get together! I appreciate everything you did!


tamar said...

kevin~ uh, no I didn't know all that stuff about my birthday.. But now I know there are two people I can turn to whenever I have date (as in calendar) related questions: You and my sister Anna

deb~ life is SCAREY deb, from the bacteria growing at the healthcare hub to a pen running out of ink at an inopportune moment..
Your party was a hoot, happy b-day! :-)

Anonymous said...

Tamar: Interesting to hear your sister Anna is also good with a calendar. So when is Anna's birthday?


tamar said...

kevin~ she's good with people's birthdays, and multiplying triple digit numbers in her head; Her birthday is March 21, 1970; But she'll always be six years old to me! :-)

Anonymous said...

Hey Tamar: Thanks for the info. So now we know that Anna was born right at the beginning of spring to start the decade of the '70's on a Saturday. Interesting (nice) comment that she'll always be 6 years old to you.

On a related numerical note, this is the lucky 13th post to your original post.


tamar said...

kevin~ uh, now you've got me curious.. Do you time your comments so you're always the 13th commenter? I'm going to go check!

Anonymous said...

Tamar: Definitely not a comment timer, sometimes things just happen that way.

Interesting that I don't care for #7 and I'm the 6th and 8th on this post, while your the 7th. Just a random occurrence, although I do try to stay away from 7 reps in anything I do. If I'm bench pressing I'll either do 6 or 8 reps and 6 or 8 sets, never 7.

Do you have a favorite number?


TeeJay said...

I hope this doesn't sound callous or egocentric, but I would never want someone to complete my dream for me. My dreams are my own, and belong to no one else. Even in tribute, I would prefer that my survivors abstain from filling in the gaps of what I did not have, or did not accomplish in my own life.

That said, I mourned Ryan Shay's loss when I heard of this. But no more so than I mourned the loss of Sean O'Neill of Whitesboro, NY, who died similarly at last year's Utica Boilermaker. And just as the folks did for Ryan Shay, a group of O'Neill's friends gathered to run the remainder of the Boilermaker race in his memory.

What the tributes show is Love, and that's a beautiful thing...

tamar said...

tee jay~ thanks for your comments.. it's really interesting how we each respond in such unique ways to these things.. For the record, anytime anyone wants to complete a marathon for me, they are more than welcome, whether I'm dead or alive :-)