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Thursday, 27 March 2014

My New Running Tattoo

Before I begin this installment, I want to just take a moment to say that today, March 27th, 2014, is the 2 year anniversary of Abi's passing.

I never knew the true meaning of the word bittersweet until 2 years ago today.  I was so heartbroken at the news, but happy that she was no longer suffering.  When my father asked Abi's niece at the funeral if she knew where Abi was, her response was so simple and so beautiful.  "She's in a place where she's not hurting anymore"

Man, I am so glad I am writing these at home where no one can see me.

So many people ask me, "Is it OK to ask about Abi?" or "Are you OK talking about it?"

The answer to that is a resounding "I will gladly tell you everything I know about Abi"

I am reminded of a conversation between Danny Hillis and the great Richard Feynman (who also died of cancer) toward the end of Feynman's life.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8CKW4A6jnJA&t=5m30s

Feynman, basically says that he has told so many stories, and there are so many stories about him, that he lives on in those stories.

So please, ask me about Abi! Although it can be painful at times, I will gladly tell you about her. The more I can tell you about her life, her love, her compassion, he humor, and just her, the longer she is with us. 

When I run races with TNT, I wear the trademark Purple TNT Jersey (and always with a picture of Abi on the back).  People will see this and ask me about her.  I get to share her story with strangers on a marathon course.  A part of me always envisions them going home and telling someone else, "Hey I met this guy today at the X Marathon, and he starting running because of Abi and I want to tell you about the things he said about her."



When I am not running with TNT I am usually just in regular running gear and no stories are told.  I wanted a symbol that would be with me forever to show others how much she meant to me.  In November of 2013, I got a tattoo that serves as both a reminder, a tribute, a memorial, and a conversation starter.

Abi adopted the Superman symbol while battling cancer.  It was her way of saying that she was stronger than the disease.  Although mentally and spiritually she was leagues beyond what cancer could do to her, her physical strength was not.  But Superman was not just about physical strength.  He was the embodiment of right.  Batman's nickname for Superman was "The Boy Scout."  He always strived to do the right thing.

The design for the tattoo I chose was very simple.  A Superman symbol with a purple cancer ribbon hanging from it.





Now when I run, or am at the gym, or just wearing shorts, people ask me about my tattoo.  And I can tell them Abi's ongoing story.  

Recently a good friend of mine was diagnosed with breast cancer.  The first think I did was to make it very clear that if she needed anything to call me.  She soon realized that she could come to me for anything.  I helped her through some very trying physical and mental struggles.

One day she called me and apologized.  She said that she had been so wrapped up in what she was going through that she never gave any thought to how I was handing it.  She knew what we all went through with Abi, and was worried that helping her was bringing up those memories.

I assured her that my offer to help her was beneficial to me as well.  When Abi was going through her battle, I felt helpless.  I was in Los Angeles and she was in Indiana.  I felt like I couldn't do anything to help.  The opportunity to be able to help a friend through something as insidious as cancer, meant I could do something for her. 

So if you talk to me, never feel like you cannot ask about Abi.  As long as we continue to share her stories, she will live on with us.  This has been the main purpose for this blog.  To share Abi's (ongoing) story and use it to inspire others to do great things. 

As always, thank you so much for taking the time to read my blog and share in Abi's ongoing stories.





Anchorage Mayor's Marathon Recap.



When last I left you, I had told you about what ignited my passion for running.  I relived my first marathon while sharing it with you, the readers.  I thank you for taking the time to read it and apologize that all my blog posts will most likely be that long.  :)

In November of 2012, one month after the Nike Women's Marathon, I took a job in Vancouver Canada.  The first thing I did was find the local TNT chapter. I became a team mentor, a way for me to help others achieve that amazing feeling I felt at the end of every race.

I signed up for the Mayor's Marathon in Anchorage, Alaska (June 22nd, 2013). I figured if I was going to run another full marathon, I would make a vacation out of it.

It was a very unique experience.  Usually when a Team in Training team travels, they travel as a team. This was no exception, except that I was the only one signed up from our team for this race.

I trained with an small but excellent group of runners who all had their own passion behind their training.  A girl whose brother was diagnosed with cancer, a girl who herself was a survivor, a woman whose daughter was diagnosed at a very early age (in remission now), and several other touching stories.

It was a strange feeling hearing all of their stories.  They all has happy endings.  Stories of recovery, remission, and rejoicing.  My heart sank as I realized that my passion behind why I run was a sad ending.

But was it really?  I knew that Abi would want me to be happy for and supportive of my new team.  She would want me to make this 'sad' ending into a happy one.  After all, her story does not end with her death.

I trained hard for Anchorage and before I knew it the day was here.  I have told fellow runners on several occasions that the only way to fully prepare for a full marathon was to have already ran one.  Marathons are just as much a mental challenge as a physical one.  You always hear about the runners who don't "repsect the distance."

I had full respect for the distance.  Usually when one runs a marathon, they do what is known as a Negative Split.  This is when you run at a slower pace for the first half of the distance to conserve energy for when you run faster for the second half.  I tried this at Nike and found I had no energy for the second half.  So for Anchorage, I decided to just find a good pace and hold it for as long as I could.

The sun was out and it was a nice warm day.  At times maybe too warm. I took my time, stopping when I needed for a rest, or just to take pictures.



The course was a bit different than what I was used too. A good majority of it was a tank trail. But it was hilly.  For some strange reason I like hills and tend to run faster up-hill than on flat ground.  I blame Grampy's genetics for my muscular calves.

I reached mile 17.  This is where I crashed (or as runners call it, "Hit the Wall") during Nike.  I felt strong and very good.  I could not help but get a picture with my old barrier.


 As one does in marathon I kept running.   And as I always do, when I need a little help I always think of Abi.  She is always there to give me a little push.

I was approaching mile 24 and feeling great.  I felt unstoppable.  Famous last words right?  I stopped at an aid station to refill on water and then started back on my way.  About 5 steps back into it after my refueling, it happened.

The Wall.

It is literally how it sounds.  You can be feeling the best you've ever felt and then your body just says, "NOPE!"

I looked at the mile marker next to me. Mile 24. I started laughing.  Apparently I was laughing more than I thought, because a race medic on a bike stopped to ask me if I was ok.  I just smiled and said, "I just hit the wall."  His response was one of confusion, "Then why are you laughing?"  I pointed to the sign and simply said "It's mile 24!" Then hobbled on my way.

The reason I was laughing was indeed that is was mile 24.  I felt happy about hitting the wall this late in the race.  At Nike it had been at mile 17.  9 miles from the finish.  9 miles to push through.  This.  This was mile 24!  2 miles to push through! That I knew I could do.

Mentally prepared to push for 2 miles I rounded a corner and in the distance say a sign with a Canadian flag on it.  I assumed it was for the Montreal Team (whom I had met the night before at dinner).  Well that is nice I thought.  As I got closer I realized...... It was not for the Montreal team. It was for someone named Joseph.  How thoughtful!

Wait......

I'm Joseph.

That is when the full impact of the sign (and what it said hit me). It was from Coach Albert and the rest of the team.  I stopped dead in my tracks and began to cry a bit (one day I may run a marathon without tearing up about something).  I fully expected Albert and the rest of the team to jump out of the bushes and yell "SURPRISE!!"  But they all have a race tomorrow.  In Vancouver.  I looked around in a daze for a second.  A few runners behind me stopped to ask if I was ok.  I pointed to the sign and just said "That's me."

(As you can probably tell by now, I am not in the best mental state from about mile 20 on)

They looked at me and said, "Oh that is nice! Where is your team?"
"In Vancouver." I responded.
"How did they get a sign up here?"
"I have no idea!" I said trying not to tear up/
"Would you like a picture next it?"

I just shook my head and handed them my phone.


This got me from mile 24 to 25.

From this point on in the race, it seemed like events where purposely happening to me to keep me going.  At mile 25 there was a woman in her front yard with a karaoke machine and a giant Team in Training banner across the front of her house.  She was singing "I will Survive"

She sees my purple shirt, stops singing, and runs out to shake my hand.  Turns out she was a cancer survivor who was in her 5th year of remission.  This got me from mile 25 to 25.5

At mile 25.5, A TNT coach from the Anchorage team (whom I had met the night before at dinner) sees me and starts running with me.  I don't remember what he said, but it got me to mile 26.

At mile 26 I was met by another TNT coach.  The day before a group of us had ran the last 0.2 miles of the course so we would know when we were almost done.  I knew that all I had to do was run up a big hill, turn into a park, and that the finish line was in that park.

The whole way up that hill, I chanted "Up, The, Hill"  in time with my steps.

I made it up the hill and sprinted across the finish line.  Another Full Marathon.  No "One and Done" for me.

That feeling of life came flooding back.  I felt so proud.  Proud that I was now a multiple marathon runner.  And proud that I could once again, honor Abi in my own way.



I made my way to the TNT tent with a huge smile on my face.  When I got there, everyone asked how I did.  "I...... I.......I forgot to look at the clock."

Turns out that despite my 7 mile crash difference, I only bettered my time by about 3 minutes.  But even though I did not make better time, I definitely had a better time.  And that is what I took away from this race.


As always, if you want to support my cause, please visit http://tinyurl.com/morerunning

As always thank you for taking time to read what I have written.  It means so much to me that you get to share in Abi's and my journey.

Be on the look out for my next 2 posts, My New Running Tattoo, and The Goofy Challenge Recap

The Beginning.

This was written back in October of 2013 for a friends running blog.  I am reposting it so after each race, I can expand on it.

I grew up in a small town in Indiana. When I was 4 years old, I met my best friend. Ben had 2 younger sisters and a few years later, his youngest sister, Abi, was born.

Abi brightened any room she was in. With a smile from ear to ear and a wonderful singing voice, she was a truly a joy to be around. She went to school to study horses, but found she missed interacting with people. She later became a greeter at Wal-Mart. Her co-workers tell stories about how she could cheer up any customer who walked in the door with just her smile and a friendly hello. She constantly went out of her way to talk with anyone and everyone who seemed to be having a bad day. She always put her own bad days aside to help those around her.

Truly, the most selfless person I ever knew.

In June of 2011, Abi went to the doctor complaining of leg pain. At first the doctor wrote it off as a lymphedema (a condition in which fluid is not carried away from a specific part of the body). She was told to find a good physical therapist and begin treatment. After working with her therapist, she was told that a CAT scan was recommended. The CAT scan revealed what we all feared, but never spoke. A tumor. After running a biopsy, we found out it was a rare (but treatable) form of sarcoma called Extraskeletal Ewing’s Sarcoma. This was a shock because that specific form of cancer was so rare and usually attacks the very young. At 21 years old, Abi took this challenge face on and was determined not to let this get her down. She literally looked death in the face and smiled.

By November of 2011, the tumor had not responded to the chemotherapy Abi's doctors had put her on. There was talk of surgery to remove the tumor. This, however, was very risky as they had no idea if the tumor was intertwined with the surrounding blood vessels of the leg. Abi smiled and reminded us all that God gave her 2 legs. Luckily, the surgery was a success and Abi was able to keep her leg.

Though it all, Abi smiled.

In February of 2012, after several months of remission, Abi was rushed to the hospital, presumably pneumonia. The scans reveal that the cancer had returned with a vengeance and had a strong hold in both of her lungs. She was put back on chemotherapy and medication to battle the blood clots associated with the infection in her lungs. It was at this time the doctors had to tell this sweet 22 year old that she was fighting a battle she could not win. Abi, with no fear and no regrets, continued living her life. Day by day. Hour by hour.

And through it all, she smiled.

In March of 2012, Abi was rushed to the hospital for what appeared to be a stroke. Scans revealed that the cancer had spread to her brain. This, in combination with the blood thinners to battle the clots, did not bode well. When she was not in the hospital for chemotherapy, she was there to have blot clots removed, and when she was not there for that, she was there to have fluid drained from her lungs. At this point, the doctors gave her a month to live.

On March 23rd, 2012, I flew back to Indiana to visit Abi and the family I had known since I was 4. For a very brief time, we were all kids again. Laughing and playing, joking and singing. It was as if time never moved.

That Sunday I flew back to Los Angeles, and the following Tuesday, I got the call. That Thursday, I was back on a plane for the funeral.

Now Abi looks down on all of us. And she is smiling.

That May, I joined Team in Training (TNT). An amazing fundraising program with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS). As a participant, you train for endurance events such as marathons and triathlons, while fundraising for new research grants.

I was never a runner. At one point, I was pushing 300 pounds. Could I run a marathon? Screw it. This is for Abi.

Originally, I was signed up to run The Disneyland Half Marathon, but ended up switching to The Nike Women Full in San Francisco. This race was being held on October 14th. This would have been Abi's 23rd birthday. I could not think of a more perfect situation for my first race.

I trained hard, made so many new friends, and learned so much about myself during that time.

The day of the race came. I was as ready as I could be. I always tell people that the only way to be prepared for running a full marathon, is to have actually already ran one. I had no idea what to expect. I met so many amazing people on the race course. Cancer survivors, runners who lost loved ones, a couple who lost their baby girl, and people who just enjoy running. I felt amazing. Then, The Wall. It hit at about mile 17. Hard. I pushed with every amount of physical and mental strength I had to keep going. I found my greatest encouragement came from encouraging the other struggling runners around me (a practice I still do to this day).




On this particular race course there was an out and back with a loop around a lake. When I got to the lake, the race officials told me I had missed the cut-off and needed to skip the lake. I was devastated. Luckily, there was a TNT coach from another chapter who ran beside me. He reminded me that this was my first ever race and that to tackle a full marathon is no small feat. I had done the training. I had fundraised close to $4,000. I was running a marathon. 26.2 miles or 23.2 miles, it was still an amazing accomplishment.

I ran the race with a picture of Abi on my back, at mile 25.5, I took it off my back and ran across the finish line with Abi's picture held high above my head.



As I ran past all the spectators, teammates, and friends, I could not not help but break down into tears. Someone I grew up with and loved, was gone. And here I was doing something incredible in her honor. It was too much. Even now (one year later) as I am writing this, I have to wipe away tears. I remember people cheering, then reading the words on Abi's picture, then smiling at me. I remember my teammate and friend, JoeAnn (who had ran the half) running out to me. All the said was "Abi is right here with you and she is so proud."

As I approached the finish line, I could hear Coach Ed's advice on what do to when you cross. "Just remember to smile" With what little emotional. mental, and physical energy I had left, and I smiled.

I crossed that finish line, full of love, joy, accomplishment, and sorrow. Once it finally dawned on me what I had just done, I felt amazing. Not physically. I mean, I just ran a freaking marathon! I felt like I could do anything! Even more marathons!! I felt alive. More alive than I have ever felt before in my life. It was then that I realized, I had done something bigger than myself. I had raised money to help save lives. I had pushed myself to a level of life that would ensure I was not wasting what little time we have. I had honored Abi in a way that made her proud.

I wanted, no, NEEDED to do it again.

In November, I took a job in Vancouver, Canada. The first thing I did was find the local TNT chapter. I became a team mentor, a way for me to help others achieve that amazing feeling I felt at the end of every race.

I continued to train. From October 14th, 2012 to October 14th 2013, I have ran a total of 2 full marathons and 7 half marathons, and raised over $12,000 towards cancer research and treatment. 

(EDIT October 17, 2015: From October 14th, 2012 to today,I have ran 4 full marathons, 15 half marathons, numerous 10ks/5ks, a RAGNAR relay, a Tough Mudder, The BC Ride to Conquer Cancer, and 4 triathlons.  And I have raised close to $20,000 towards cancer research and treatment.)



My story does not end there. This year (2013), I am raising money for LLS by challenging myself even further. The Disney World Goofy Challenge. There's nothing Goofy about Goofy's Race and a Half Challenge! Its 39.3 miles and two-days of pure fun and Disney magic. Goofy's Race and a Half Challenge combines Saturday's Half Marathon – over 13.1 miles with Sunday's full Marathon which covers 26.2 miles through all four Walt Disney World Theme Parks.(See Goofy Challenge Recap)

I chose this race because of it's difficulty. Everyday, thousands of people suffer from their battles with cancer. Compared to this,my suffering on the course(s) of The Goofy Challenge will be next to nothing.



To find a local TNT chapter near you please visit: www.teamintraining.org/

Thank you for taking the time to read my story. It means so much to know that Abi's story is being shared. I know she is looking down on all of us..... and smiling.