It would be hard to find a man who loved sports more than my dad. Sports have been a part of my life since my earliest memories, and my dad was a big driving force behind that. I spent endless summer nights cheering on the Orioles from the seats at Camden Yards. We rooted for the Washington Redskins, and later the Baltimore Ravens. My dad has always been a Notre Dame football fan, back to the days when he served in the Army in Japan and my grandfather would mail him the newspaper write-ups on the games. Life pretty much stopped whenever the Olympics were on, as we watched pretty much every event that was broadcast. Figure skating, tennis, skiing, track & field – If it was on TV, we were watching it, and cheering for our favorite athletes.
My dad also encouraged our participation in sports. I can remember family bike rides on weekend mornings when I was really young, snacking on trail mix as I relaxed in the seat on the back of my parent’s bikes. I played youth soccer, and even spent one brief season playing basketball, before I discovered my love of gymnastics. My sister followed me into the sport, and for the next 15 years our lives revolved around endless practices and competitions. Gymnastics wasn’t a sport that my dad really knew, but he supported it wholeheartedly. I can’t recall he or my mom ever missing a competition. He celebrated my successes, comforted me when I failed, and nursed my many minor injuries along the way.
My Mom & Dad with me at Division III Nationals during my senior year in college.
When I made the unlikely transition from gymnastics to distance running, my father was once again by my side. My first real race was the 2013 Baltimore Half Marathon. It’s funny to think back on it now, but at the time, I found the distance incredibly intimidating. I even ran a 14-mile training run prior to the race, just to assure myself that I could make it the full distance. On race day, my mom & dad were out on the course, cheering me on. My dad even snapped several photos of us along the way. For the next few years, my dad made it to as many of my races as he could. He waited for me at the finish of my first marathon, even after it took me more than an hour longer than we expected due to poor training. I went back and ran the Baltimore Team Relay every October, and my dad was always along the course, cheering for my teammates and I. He appreciated all forms of athletic achievement, and I could always feel his pride in the effort and hard work that I put into my running.
In 2008, my father passed away unexpectedly, and my world dimmed. My twins were days old, still in the NICU, and in all of the chaos and confusion and the heartbreak, I don’t think I fully processed the loss of my dad. I was just trying to make it through, to survive. As the months passed, I slowly came to terms with the new normal in my life. There were days when I barely thought of my dad, and life went on as usual. There were days when I would experience a crushing sense of grief, and I couldn’t stop the tears. Eight years later, I still experience those moments at times.
I often think of my dad when I’m running. Partly it’s just because I have more time to think when I’m out on a run. I think, however, that it’s also because athletics were something that we shared. My mom loves sports, and she’s incredibly knowledgeable as well, but sports were the connection I shared with my dad. Running has become such an intense passion of mine in recent years, one that I think few people truly understand. My dad would have. I drove home with my husband after Worlds End, and I felt so amazed that I had actually succeeded on that course, and all I could think was, “I wish my dad had been here to see it.”
I know that everyone has their own beliefs about death, and what comes after. I grew up believing in Heaven, and to this day, I believe that my dad and my other family members are there, and that they keep an eye on those of us still moving through life. I even believe that my dad is still cheering for me, in his own way. My father spent much of his life working for CSX, a transportation company. In the years that have followed his death, I have found myself passed by CSX trains on many of my runs. You may scoff, but even in the vast majority of my races, I will hear a train and look up to see the navy & gold CSX locomotive chugging by. It never ceases to bring a smile to my face, and it always reminds me that while my dad may not be physically there on the sidelines, he’s still with me, cheering me on.
Thank you, Dad. I love you.