Friday, April 25, 2014

Grandpa - Doing That Thing You Do

When I was 16, I went to a church track meet, not to run, but to check out all the cutie boys in shorty- shorts, because I was that kind of a desperate pubescent mess. Somehow I ended up running the 440, although the word running is probably a gross exaggeration of what I actually did.

Regrettably, I got about 1/3 of the way around the track and realized that my heart was beating in my brain and that the dreadful, moaning, gasping sound I could hear was coming from me.  I thought about bowing out, but wasn’t sure if any cute boys in spandex-tight shorts might be watching, so instead of humiliating myself I decided to finish the race dead-last and crumple in a heap of sweaty, gaspiness because what says “I know you want me” like I can’t breath and I smell bad?

I vowed that day to never not be able to run around the track once at a church track meet again, (one of my loftier goals,) so I started running around the cemetery. Actually I walked a side, jogged a side until I could run around the cemetery. I figured it was a good place to run because only dead people were watching and if I died, nobody would have to move my body too far.

Pretty soon, I got so I could go around and around that cemetery; the headstones were a blur I tell you. Then I moved to the roads where I could run in my sleek, running shorts with my sweaty glistening, tanned body past the houses of all the boys who should have had crushes on me. I felt like such a big deal that I decided to train with the cross country team.

School started and we had our first race. The gun went off and I got about 1/3 of the way around the track and realized that my heart was beating in my brain and that the dreadful, moaning, gasping sound I could hear was coming from me. That’s when I realized that I am not a competitive person. I am all about raising the white flag and surrendering.

Now I don’t run competitively. Actually, that last word wasn't necessary. I mean running is great if you don’t like breathing or if you happen to be someone else or if you don’t enjoy having toenails.  Unfortunately, I don’t care if I ever run in a church track meet again. I figure I could always rock the church track meet in a cheer leading skirt and some pompoms, right?

My father-in-law is a runner. He can’t even run and he still runs. He’s so slow now that I have to walk backwards to keep up with him. But he runs. It’s what he does; it’s what he’s always done, probably because he doesn’t want to wear a cheer leading uniform at a church track meet.

A couple of months ago, he decided that he was going to “run.” Everybody at “his place” was busy doing other things and he decided he wanted to see the mountains, so he left. After all he reasoned, I am a runner and I was a scout leader. He could remember those things, but unfortunately, he couldn’t remember that he has Alzheimer’s.

When we realized he was gone, we started searching for him. The staff where he lives started searching for him. The police and fire department started searching. Hundreds of volunteers searched. There was a story about him on the news and there was a reverse 911 call that went out. And just to make things really lively, some search dogs and a helicopter joined the fun. Unfortunately, we searched within a mile radius of his place, because how could he get any farther when he was so slow?

By 2:00 in the morning, the search died down. We started looking again at first light. No luck. Then at 10:00 a.m. we got a phone call. He was at Alta View Hospital. Somebody had found him and that’s where the fire department who responded had taken him.  Why so far away we wondered? There were closer hospitals. The answer was that they took him so far away because HE WAS SO FAR AWAY. Step by step he had traveled over 8 miles—up and down hills, across 8 major roads and the freeway. To the mountains. 

When we got to him in the hospital, he was dehydrated, all scratched up and extremely cold. Crying, my husband and I ran into the room. His eyes lit up, he smiled and asked, “What are you guys doing here?”  It turns out he wasn’t lost at all. He knew the whole time where he was even if we didn’t. It was a grand, liberating experience for him that subtracted 10 years from our lives.

He is turning 74 next month. Everyday he asks us when his birthday is. Some days he asks if we skipped it. But no, we are not skipping it. How could we not celebrate such a great man who keeps running even when it’s hard? And what better way to celebrate than by having a race? So, for Dad’s birthday we are running 75 miles. (It seemed a shame to only run 74, so we are celebrating the beginning of his 75th year.) Fortunately, this is a collective run. Between everyone at the party, we will run 75 miles. There are about 25 of us, so nobody should have to do more than 2-4 miles.
So, for grandpa, I will put on my running shoes and “run” around our mile course gasping for air, my heart flopping in my chest like a fish out of water; I might even do it 2 or 3 or 4 times. Who knows, I might even run in a cheer leading skirt with pompoms because I think his life is definitely worth cheering about.  I’m a little worried about the “run,” but how bad can it be when I know he’s good for at least 8 miles?

Grandpa running in a 5k with 3 of his grandkids.
June 1, 2013

1 comment:

  1. The race idea is so awesome! What a great way to honor him!