Today is my dad’s birthday.
He’d have been 76. If not for ALS, even at that age, he would’ve likely continued to fill his days with hiking, gardening, and talking to the black bears that frequented the mountain home he built himself. He still would’ve been riding his Harley and meeting buddies at Waffle House for breakfast and coffee; he’d still be flirting with the waitresses, and they’d still be getting a kick out of him.
It’s been four years since he died and sometimes I still think of things I want to tell him or show him before I remember that I can’t. Things he’d have laughed about, help in identifying a tree, or advice on planting a garden. Our relationship wasn’t perfect but he was my Dad.
May is ALS Awareness month.
In addition to being his birth month, this is also ALS Awareness month. If you don’t know, ALS is a progressive disease that affects motor neurons. Oddly, it does not affect involuntary muscles, like those needed for digestion, and it does not affect the senses. The progression of the disease varies greatly from person to person and is often difficult to diagnose. Most patients only live a few years after diagnosis, with paralysis gradually increasing until they die of respiratory failure.
For a more thorough but understandable explanation, read “What is ALS?“
I know there are many horrible diseases in the world, but I have a personal vendetta against this one. THIS is the one that left me holding his hand while he drowned in his own lungs, mercifully under the heavy sleep of morphine. Before we lost him to ALS, it stole away much of what made him, him — including his ability to eat, his voice, his running and hiking, his motorcycle-riding, and a thousand other things.
So I continue to run for him.
I ran my third half-marathon on Saturday. As with the one in February, I dedicated it to him. It was a tough race. Hot, hot, hot, and with a big ol’ bridge we crossed twice. There were long stretches of hot pavement with traffic going by and no shade whatsoever. If not for all the cups of cold water I dumped on my head at every water stop, plus a couple of volunteers with water hoses to squirt us, I honestly don’t think I’d have finished. Knowing I had that “#endALS” race bib on my back helped me keep going when hitching a ride back sounded really appealing.
I was doing well through about mile 8 and even thought it might be possible to beat my personal best. But then a pounding heat-induced headache kicked in, and I just plain ran out of gas. The fact I’d been up since 4:30AM (because of the drive to Sunset Beach + having to be there at least an hour early for transport from the parking area to the starting line) meant that by the end of the race it had been 5 hours since I’d eaten real food. Combined with the brutal heat, I’d simply used up everything I had.
Running has taught me more about perseverance than anything else in my life thus far. I learn something every time I lace up, and I think that’s what keeps me coming back to it even after a crappy race like this.
As it turns out, I did set a personal record — for my slowest half marathon yet. The kids are learning about determination in Sunday School this month, and we talked about how much of it I had to used to keep going when I wanted to quit. They saw how exhausted I was when I crossed the finish line. I couldn’t even hold up a victory arm because that would’ve taken energy I did not have in me at that point. But I finished. And if Dad had been there, I can see in my mind the look he’d have on his face; he’d have looked concerned, since he always thought of me as fragile — but mostly, he would’ve been beaming with pride because I didn’t give up.
*Thanks to Ken for the finish line photos and, as always, for his support.