Ode to a Friend
Jan 03, 2011 09:00AM, Published by Style, Categories: In Print
I’ve always had a weird interest in running. Weird, because I never had much inclination to actually do it.
I kept fit playing basketball, which is better suited to my ADHD. To me, the monotony of running was the fitness equivalent of not necessarily a root canal, but the long, boring wait in the dentist’s office BEFORE the root canal.
I guess that’s why it fascinated me. I couldn’t stand the redundant tedium of running for even a few miles, much less 10 or a marathon’s 26.2. But I respected the mental discipline of those who could. To say I am mentally soft is an understatement; inside my head is a baby animal petting zoo.
But as time and age eroded my basketball skills from “slow white guy” to “Betty White guy,” I started thinking more about running. Unfortunately, it continued to seem boring. Then, a buddy of mine in our hometown ran a marathon. His name is Doug and we’ve been pals since third grade. That he ran one wasn’t surprising; he’d always been a good athlete. But he was the first person I’d known to actually do one. Aware of my nebulous interest, he was encouraging: “Tom, even you can do it!” Whatever. I was fascinated. But after hearing about all the aches, pains and gut checks? Ha. No way.
Then one October day, 2008, I got a call. Doug had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. It made no sense; he was one of the healthiest people I knew: he barely drank, didn’t smoke, and – thanks to a bad chimichanga in college – had a food phobia that compelled him to eat healthy long before it became hip. The news struck my heart like a hammer.
Sometimes my body knows what I’m going to do before my brain does, like it grows impatient with my B.S. and just grabs the reigns. Example: I’ll wake up Saturday knowing the yard needs work and not wanting to do it. But even as I’m scheming an excuse, I’ll find I’m walking towards the shed to drag out the mower. Well, that week I started running and about a mile in I realized what was happening. As I stumbled along, I recalled all the moments Doug and I have shared and – although this sounds corny – it occurred to me that moments are like heartbeats: even though they seem endless, the fact is we’re only given so many. We shouldn’t waste a single one. Then, I had another thought: Roseville is a hell-of-a-lot hillier than it looks.
I lurched home and called Doug, telling him if he had to go through chemo, the least I could do was run a marathon. No, it wouldn’t cure him, but seeing a friend face cancer is a helpless feeling. By choosing this as a way to demonstrate what he’s meant to me as a friend, I hoped in some small way it would give him strength. Plus, Doug would hate if I sent flowers. Six months, 10 pounds and a chronically sore hip flexor later, I did it. It wasn’t easy. But compared with Doug’s fight, it was nothing.
Two years later, he’s still defying the odds, still battling. And I still run. When he finally triumphs, I’d like to think I’ll hang up my shoes and happily gain 50 pounds. But I’ve grown accustomed to running. And as this new year begins, I’ll likely lace up my sneaks and hit the road, grateful for good friends who inspire you to be more than you ever imagined.
To donate in the fight against pancreatic cancer, visit pancan.org.
Find more of Tom's Takes here, and make sure to catch Tom on the Pat and Tom Morning Show on New Country 105.1.