About eight years ago, I went out for my usual morning run in the neighborhood. It was December, around six thirty in the morning, so although it was light, the sun wasn’t all the way up. I was about a half mile from the house, on a route I ran all the time. My mind was on the upcoming Christmas holiday, and I was really enjoying myself because I got to look at all the Christmas decorations my neighbors put out. It was a crisp morning, just chilly enough to be able to see my breath, but certainly not a bitter cold.
I heard a bicycle coming up behind me and I smiled. There he was. He’d changed his mind. I’d given my husband a bicycle for our anniversary a few months before and he’d taken to riding with me on some of my morning runs. I’d asked him earlier if he wanted to come along, but he’d said no, he’d pass this time around. But, it wasn’t him. I turned my head to look over my shoulder, and before I had time to react in anyway, I was knocked to the ground. I was being attacked. It was horrifying, and I didn’t know what was going to happen. Luckily for me, this person only wanted money.
After that incident, I lost my confidence in feeling safe when running by myself. My schedule and my husband’s didn’t always coincide, and he could only ride with me now and then. After years of running alone, all over the US, this thing that happened in my little town of less than 25000, was what stripped away my independence, my confidence to go out on my own and do the thing I loved.
Fast forward a few weeks later, to one evening when I receive a phone call from a friend. “David” wanted to start running. Would I be interested in training him? It was an answer to a prayer. David at 6′ 3″ and about 200 lbs is a big guy. Used to play football. Did I say big guy?
At first, we met three times a week and as he got more acclimated to running, we added another day. We ran in the rain, on trails, in the dark with only the moon to show us potholes (that was kinda dumb), but no matter what, unless something unexpected cropped up, I could expect him at the end of my drive, with a deep, solid “Good Morning!” and off we’d go. We talked about his business, my kitchen renovation, the kids, school, my job at Nortel, and a host of other topics. My confidence returned, and on the days when David couldn’t run, I, once again, felt comfortable enough to go it alone. We ran together for three years, and then one day, David said, “I think I might take a hiatus.” And just like that, my days with my running partner came to an end. I’ve always suspected David did it out of kindness, out of knowing my fear to run alone. And he wanted to run, it was a win/win situation for both of us.
It’s been five years, and now, David can’t run. A mysterious ailment is plaguing him, making it hard for him to walk because his right leg isn’t functioning. He has foot drop, (the inability to lift his foot) which is key to walking properly. His family’s greatest fear may become a reality. We learned of his trouble when my husband spent some time working with him on a big project David’s company had going on. He noticed David having trouble walking. He asked him what was wrong. He said, “We don’t know,” and in typical David fashion, that was it. We saw them this past weekend, and I asked his wife if MS had been ruled out. She said, “yes,” and it was like a gut punch. Because…, me, being how I am, I had been doing the Dr. Google thing and there is one other disease that has similar symptoms, and that’s ALS.
There isn’t a specific test for this, it’s more about eliminating all other potential neurological diseases. He’s been going through testing for months, and the elimination of each one, sends them closer and closer to this devastating illness. If it is this, it is a death sentence. I can hardly imagine it, not only for his family, his wife, his two children, one at university and the other a senior in high school, but for all of us here, in this tight knit small town. And then, there were those three years when we were running, when David was a picture of health. He went to the doctor one day and told me the doctor said, “Keep running. This is the best checkup you’ve ever had.”
I am sharing this because this is what writers do, when something is bothering us, we write about it. It’s an outlet, a way to get feelings out, when speaking the words is too difficult, too heartbreaking. When I go on my run this morning, I’d like to think there will be the sense of his presence beside me, a shadow of my buddy, and if I listen carefully, I hope to hear the beat of his footsteps just to my right, even if it’s just in my memory.