Monday, August 24, 2015

Things I'd Never Thunk Before

I've loved long the Wizard of Oz but somehow it didn't occur to me till the day before I headed to Kansas City to make that organic media connection. In the first team I put together after brain surgery about 8 months for an ultimate tournament, we went costumed as characters from that movie with me taking the scarecrow, the missing brain jokes already well set in place. Still, it felt incredibly right to be coming to do a race in Kansas which was the launching spot of Head for the Cure. I've done it all 3 years they've come to Austin and so somehow it felt right to meet up in each other's home. It's a bit amusing that the night before the race I was up due a tornado watch/warning both brought awake and mesmerized by watching lighting. 

But  I've kept calling my teams for races, the scarecrows. There were some lines that stood out to me that are entirely self applicable like when that cute redhead comes crashing some things down with conviction into the picture, bringing color into a scene in a way unexperienced before. She frees the scarecrow from a mess he's gotten himself into for lack of that brain and he is her first companion on a new road. A tinman looking for a heart and a lion looking for some courage round out a fantastic crew.

The dialogue between these characters captures some part of this journey, my own road, even if I've never quite caught up
to the yellow bricks. A cursory reading of this or perhaps a simple conversation with me answers the question that redhead asks the scarecrow of how he can talk if he hasn't got a brain when he replies "Oh some people without brains do an awful lot of talking."

That scarecrow would ask for brains instead of a heart for a fool would not know what to do with a heart if he had one. The woodman thinks the heart is better since it and not the brain is what makes one happy. There is of course the reality that hearts will never be practical until they are unbreakable but there are parts of life where practicality is much over rated. That dance between the brain and heart hasn't been settled by much of humanity ever but there's a line about the interplay of the two that I always grasp a little better at these events, "a heart is not judged by how much you love but by how much you are loved by others."

As I helped with packet pick up, I watched teams take pictures in memory of, in honor of, I got a few more details about the founder of CEO whose been doing this for 13 years because his brother passed away from brain cancer. There is no way both my damaged brain and breakable heart couldn't absorb that the thousands of people who were here raising the better part of half a
million for brain cancer research, this is why we fight, why we do this events so that putting one foot in front of the other, we keep trying to defeat brain cancer step by step. For those us that aren't great at math that meant that's about $100 for every participant to as is their logo step by step. It was a humbling experience to see thousands of people taking thousands of steps. That 4 letter word that often goes through my mind, hope came shining through knowing that brain cancer has got quite the crowd to take on. The demons of brain cancers can only win for so long against these type of angels. 

To see a race like that where people find the balance of smiling and crying over a disease that made judge exactly how much they love those affected. The shirts, the signs, the tears, the hugs, whether they be in honor of, in memory of or besides those affected shows while this may be a rare cancer, it's affected some very special people in a very random meaningless way. But the people who fight back show exactly how much those affected mean period but especially to them. 

There were individuals there who I met that remind you that some people's paths are very different and difficult in their own way. There was a woman who was a mother of 5 facing her own diagnosis. She was there every moment of packet pick up and helping set up long before the crack of dawn. There were also moments of hope, a new technology that wasn't
around back when I had it that is being picked up in more places of a lot less "invasive" brain surgery with MRI's that are active through machines and people go home in less time, with less drugs. Both the technology and that it was lit up in emerald green skull brought a big smile to my face. 

When race time finally came, I got to do it with the double nervousness of having spoken immediately before and then getting up to the start line. I gunned out too fast for the 1st mile toned it down in the second and sped up in the 3rd. I would take 4th over all. I'd missed stopping my watch by a few seconds but I knew it was going to be close to my fastest 5k, certainly my fastest in almost a year. Even a guy with a damaged memory recalled that back in March of this year, both of my parents and Kiana had all gotten their fastest 5k ever and all placed in their age group at the Head for the Cure in Austin, when they'd been kind enough to extend their mission well beyond their hometown to mine. Now as I got to be in theirs, it would turn out that I'd be 1st in my age group and get my fastest 5k ever at 17.35, one second faster than any I'd done before. I'd done that course next to Kiana and then we'd gone back and finished with my parents. I was in Kansas without them or was I, some rainbow had to connect us because we all now have our PR's in my mind, or at least in my heart, on the same course. 

While I'm back at the  place called home, no place like it, and not in Kansas anymore, like the cute redhead who thought chasing wild adventures might be worth but eventually realized everything she was looking for was right in her backyard, I keep being grateful for the travels with and to some great company. When you're on these epic rides you wonder and hope they'll never end but realize that even if they only go for a chapter or two, you realize you aren't and shouldn't be capable of shutting down some of the emotions that come with goodbye. Still the trips, the chapters are unforgettable and perhaps that's one way to have the courage to grasp forever with your heart and mind. And that is exactly why and how I hope we keep heading for the cure. 

Monday, August 17, 2015

Defying Reruns

I continue to receive some very kind messages from people from elementary to strangers regarding the E60 piece (I've never really met a stranger so they don't stay strangers long if they chat). It's a bit overwhelming each time it airs that more people write on my Facebook wall than any other day except my birthday; on both I respond since I know it doesn't take much effort for someone to do so but it also takes as much for me to respond.  I still haven't had a chance to watch Remember Me in its entirety because every time it's aired I've had either a previous committment or Kiana was with me, my biggest commitment. I think ESPN sent DVD's at some point and then I'll take a look at it and it will be then I decide if/when Kiana will catch it because it deals with some heavy stuff and even if it's age appropriate generally, it may not be the right time for her to hear all of the story told therein. Still if imitation is the highest form of flattery, I can only say I was flattered to receive a picture of an entire family who painted their toenails together in the same shade as Kiana and I did our first time.

I did watch the preview which starts with a line which is borrowed from another piece that was worked on a couple of years ago for a joint project between my hospital and Livestrong. For the record while I have been in far too many media things, that one is my favorite video of the ones I've seen and its one Kiana has defintely seen. That line, "can I keep running and am I still fit to raise a kid because one is how I get through the day and the other one is why" is the opener of the E60 preview but the closing of the other continuing the highest form of flattery. The reason that piece is my favorite though is for a simple reason, not necessarily artistic or delivery but because I think it's the only piece after the marathon win that doesn't at all mention any race. You see the races isn't why I run; they're the reward. Or perhaps they just show the ancient fight or flight syndrome... I find comfort in that there are very few human beings on the planet who could both outrun me and beat me up. There's plenty of both but very few who can do one and not do the other.

Like in these blog entries there are some quiet nods to significant with medals and trophies and clothes in the background but it's literally just about the fact that Kiana and I run as point of connection. Sometimes nods are the best things because like dancing can be a way to be alone in a crowded room, the right nod in a public place is a way to whisper while shouting, or is it to shout while whispering, even in a crowd, you are special to me. But while I see the races as the reward I do live for the day to day or as my grandfather would put it, one day at a time, I get tired when I do two.

What always had and likely will always remain my favorite activity, running. While the most read blog entry ever will almost certainly be the one that I read about the Gusher marathon the day after it happened, my brother declared his favorite and best written one the one where I was correcting something about the piece. Still, I've heard enough messages and commentary where I've mostly put it together as it has run on ESPN and rerun ESPN2 (I don't have cable) and ABC, I've been making the joke that I'm not really into reruns (though with that said the very first interview that aired on me putting off brain surgery to run a marathon was on the local ABC so the universe circles back around). But within that rerun joke, there really is a truth about my approach to life. Even with a damaged memory, it's rare that I do anything twice. I have read two books more than once in my entire life, the Bible and the Lord of the Rings. I have bought two movies in my entire life, Amistad and the Lord of the Rings. I have downloaded 3 episodes of TV in my entire life but they all have been from Doctor Who.

I try to not be a guy who holds onto much, focusing on the future no matter how bleak and not onto the past no matter how grand. I have made it a new year's resolution to own less stuff at the end of the year than I did at the beginning each year but as I clean stuff out there are some things I wonder when I finally get ready to get rid of them how they lasted so long and others I can't seem to get rid of. I dealt with a couple of pieces of jewelry this week that I've probably kept for far too long, both necklaces... one that was perhaps the most impulsive piece of jewelry I've ever purchased back in college, the other the one most thought about about that girl recently blogged about. Only one of the two was kept, the other not, both somehow acts of hope in my heart.  What we hold on to things says something about us to me. This is especially true of sentimental things or "practical things" that we've never used whether that be in the kitchen, the garage, any room really. I think what we choose to keep, what we can't imagine getting rid of, shows something about our nostalgia or a way we hold onto a vision, a hope that the better version of ourselves will actually use those things when we get there somehow.

If you're with me this long, you've probably realized what the blog has been in many ways, a way to hide in public which people judge as honesty. I am not sure that honesty judgement is entirely since some things are easier to share here than would be eye to eye but if you've got a damaged memory, actually lying is an even worse idea than usual. A few people with sharp intellect have noticed that "the guy in the media" is a little more polished than the one here, I assure you I'm not the one who did the polishing. Obviously during interviews you try to stay sharp with but that's a different relationship than the best ones... because aren't the best relationships the ones where you can talk for hours, where you call at the end of the day just to talk about nothing. They are also the kind of people that you love being around without a word without a sound and you realize they're really something.

But the question continues to pop if the Gusher marathon is still my favorite race. The answer is no, it wasn't for long, because for me my favorite race is always the next one. For me this race happens to be Head for the Cure in Kansas City this Sunday. I've been asked to speak and again in my speeches I always try to change it up to something relevant (elementary crowds, high school crowds, college crowds, running crowds, medical crowds are very different and yet all human and so connected in someway). It is perhaps my favorite compliment from a place that has invited me back 3 years, a college pre med professor at the University of Texas. It wasn't that his students said something but that his TA said, he's gotten better every year... it doesn't feel that way with the nerves in front of a crowd but it's awfully nice of her to say. But the crowd is one whose there to raise money for brain cancer research. A standard line which I only used in front of cancer crowds till this year was "Statistically speaking, I'm not likely to make 40. But my math teacher used to say statistics are like bikinis, what they reveal is interesting but what they conceal is vital." While I've tweaked what I said after that in many ways, this weekend is a new one "There are too many of us here who are in memory of someone to deny some horrible statistics but the work we do here will defy those, hopefully change them and the fact that we keep moving will help us look better in bikinis." I hope that's well received as I fly into Missouri and hope for good company. (I wonder if anyone reading this skips my speeches since I always give the best punch lines away in my blog in advance?!? Or maybe they skip them because the punch lines were that bad to begin with).

And not too long after that, what to me is an even bigger sign of progress. From my first marathon period to my first one behind her was 4 years. From my first 5k as an adult to my first one beside her was 3 years. From my first Spartan to one next to her was a little over 2 years. And I'm not sure it's appropriate to say this about one's little girl but the picture they caught during the spartan, my kid is a bad ass.

And the last weekend in August we will be doing our first trail race. My first and only one was in June and her first one in August will be a little under 3 months apart... It will also be her first 10k. If that's not progress, I don't know what is. All my medals earned on my own are in a box... all the ones earned behind her are hanging in her room. But somehow I couldn't quite treat the first set of medals that we earned side by side in the same way. For the first time ever, I got a medal hanger showing the two steps that have gotten us this far, we train and believe together. I'm not a guy who goes far into the past so I didn't open up the box with old medals but these two and any we earn from  here forward will hang there, right in the living room, the common area, reminding us of our shared time and space.

I imagine that E60 reruns are over though theoretically it will be online sometime in the future. I know that reruns can matter. In fact my favorite TV show, Doctor Who, is one that I got introduced due to PBS reruns on a day I needed to iron. (Speaking of the two, I noticed that one of my favorite episodes-one of 3 tv shows I've ever purchased-Listen Season 8.4 aired on the same date as the E60 piece 8/4.) It's one of my favorite because a comment someone from church said to me was that I seemed poised during my interview. I've been called that and stoic before races, speeches, medical appointments and certain relationships with anyone I love and am wondering just how badly I'm screwing it up. That idea that I'm without emotion, well it's not true at all. Before each and everyone of those if I had to pick one word to describe my emotional state, it wouldn't even be nervous, it would be scared. Very scared often and it's questionable whether the perception of success or failure would be the bigger relief to those fears. But as I sit there scared, I try to remember the speech he gives a scared little boy, pretty much what I have been for the better part of 5 years:

Let me tell you about scared. Your heart is beating so hard, I can feel it through your hands. There's so much blood and oxygen pumping through your brain, it's like rocket fuel. Right now, you could run faster and you can fight harder, you could jump higher than ever in your life. And you're so alert, it's like you can slow down time. What's wrong with scared? Scared is a super power. It's your super power. There is danger is this room, and guess what? It's you! 

And sometimes that superpower gets you through at least till the next scary moment... See, sitting through so many doctors appointments has never made them normal, at least not to me. Most (all?) of us are unaware of our mortality at a young age and then as we get older, we're in denial of it some of us literally to the point of death. But when you've sat through all the medical appointments I have and when you're on maximum medication cause of a damaged brain, I am not capable of compartmentalize or not face the reality that I'm going to die. But in that next race, that next speech, that next day, I am thankful that I've gotten to defy it one more time and that day, today, becomes my favorite and I work as hard as I know how at making sure it's not a rerun.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Search While Moving

You can be certain than any entry I write past midnight is nothing more and nothing less than a damaged brain which can't find sleep. It is not an attempt at eloquence or inspiration but rather what it's always been and says right up top, an incredibly raw and uncensored blog of how a guy hopes and hopes with brain cancer and life changes. I imagine my days of sleeping with the media are over and you look back and wonder whether their portrayal or the way you see yourself, which one is more inaccurate? Which one is the one that's being more artistic in their license of not letting facts get in the way of a good story?

There have been many kind words sent from all over... I don't know how to take the compliments. I know when kids learn to take one foot in front of the other without help we clap for them. When they learn to be a little less self absorbed and share life instead of living for themselves we know they're growing and growing up. But if when you are an adult and you sit and take those entirely for yourself and live for yourselves, isn't that the very definition of what cancer does? So how do you say thanks for praising me for things my 8 year old daughter has been doing right for years?

I was out running a watch free run for me with a friend yesterday on the trail. He couldn't get his watch to work as we started and it would take half a mile before the GPS signal came in and started telling us our distance and speed. He said he doesn't like that the watch takes longer unless he's sitting there doing nothing and he wished it did a better job of searching while it was moving. It took a millisecond for me to realize that's all I've been doing all along... searching while moving, uncertain what I'm searching for, uncertain where I'm going.

I was organizing some old pictures of many things and memories flooded from the last few years. Coincidentally I found the very last picture that someone took of Kiana and I a couple of weeks before the seizure... before I'd be the guy known by the scars. I think her smile is fuller now, mine's somehow both happier and sadder than it was then.

I finally caught some of the E60 piece while someone had me a bit trapped... I don't know what to say about the media pieces but was intrigued by the title, Remember Me... on the title alone I've already addressed that.  I'll let people who speak to their overall impression with that but there were pictures there of the person who I once thought I'd live and die next to, Kiana's mother. It was a bit surreal to see that but a few years removed only somewhat uncomfortable. There have been times where you feel the strong abandonment emotions, where you're tempted to vilify someone a bit more, but you recognize that when push comes to shove, if people aren't there when you feel you want them or need them, then maybe they weren't there all along. Plus we all find a way to justify our actions far too many times and when anyone lets me down, I try to justify theirs. They asked a question about it during the interview and I blew it off...

Perhaps because it was more recent, perhaps because she wished me a happy birthday, I found pictures of a girl I absolutely fell for since that break up; is she the one who the George Clooney girl label most aptly applies to or the one who it least applies to? Saying I love you is something I rarely do, one of the few places where I use my resolution to bite my tongue.  But she was someone I said it to. She was a girl who literally had no plans to do a race that I got her a bib too with less than 24 hours notice but she did it anyway, untrained, uncertain but finished beautiful and smiling. It was a race like too many of my races where there had to be interactions with my thoughts about cameras and the only reason I was able to breathe and sound relatively calm was because she wasn't too far behind the camera. Funny a picture caught on her phone (or was it my phone) that she took meant more to me than any media piece has... But she left more unexpectedly than I had hoped,  and you sit there and wonder how disappointed you are may well show just how damaged you started. You try to remember that your brain performed better measurably... and while people want to believe you can do everything yourself, the human system, the universe itself shows that the right balance and connections are what creates the best life itself. And in your frustration and sadness and anger, you wonder if she was a bigger disappointment than that last heartbreak because whatever you criticize about her, she knew what she was signing up for at the beginning and left anyway... but you look back and realize that race she did last second was a great memory even if it will always be associated with that kiss you had after the race. That relationship which gave you hope when hope was gone ended to quickly but aren't all good relationships that end much too short when they end? But what about that moment where she made the cameras seem irrelevant, was what made you love her? Still would any of those moments have even happened without cancer, was that relationship just one more cancerous element in your life? And you feel the disappointment, even if you try to forget or pretend to yourself that you hate her, you know that's just misguided emotion and a poor use of energy...besides isn't hate too strong of an emotion to waste on someone you don't like? So you justify it in that she's moved apartments in a very short time, she's still just landing at a new stage in life and you were just interesting to her as a passing fad till she realized and found where she belonged even if you never get to share it much. And somewhere quietly happily and sadly you hope she always does well.

So perhaps looking through pictures for too long of things gone by is not the way to do it at midnight. But when you're seeing a media piece that feels more like a retrospective slideshow than any future hope... Anyway, I was actually prepared for some of the stuff that came day... there's always nice messages and good people you connect with both some who find you from past lives, and strangers who quickly become friends. There's always quack jobs who tell me if I eat something 14 times a day or eat/smoke more marijuana, you'll be cured in 2 weeks, 6 months etc. Though this is the first major media piece that hasn't resulted in a marriage proposal from a stranger (there were 3 girls and one guy from one media piece, my favorite one of a federal worker from Florida whose social media profile was her holding a huge shotgun giving a whole new definition to a shotgun wedding) so I guess e60 failed me ;).

What I was not prepared for actually is one of the things that's been keeping me up. What I was not prepared for was a phone call from a friend who got diagnosed with a brain tumor a few hours before it aired. I wasn't planning on watching it that night anyway but that would have made it impossible. He's still in the middle of the bunch of tests. It occurs to me that I've met far too many people with brain tumors most by conscious decision to be active in this community but this is the first in my life of someone who I met who got a brain tumor after I met them. They've been getting lots of calls. It's funny he reminds me of some of the initial stuff, he's staying at work as long as possible, staying with life. I literally worked till the day before I headed to Duke.

I had snuck out of the hospital to go running, put off brain surgery to run a marathon, I'd run till the day before I checked in and walked furiously around the hall with an IV in my arm. I've kept searching and kept moving... maybe that's what I'll do till my dying day. I had some unexpected visits with my neuro oncologist and my neuro psychologists this week but while we've got a follow up in two weeks, I also signed up for a race about a year away, the longest outlying thing I've put on my calendar since surgery...  So I'll keep searching and keep moving...

Monday, August 10, 2015

Dreams From My Father

There have been errors in media pieces about me... Early on in the process someone gave me the sage advice that it's probably wisest to stay away from watching or reading them and certainly from reading the online comments in the modern age. I have done so both to keep a perspective that an single dad with brain cancer deserves little if any praise for loving his kid while putting one foot in front of the other.

The early factual errors ranged that the marathon was the first marathon I ever ran or one of many marathons I'd won or one of several I'd done with a stroller, that I didn't start running till cancer. For the record I have ran my whole life, ran many races with Kiana, won only two ever with a stroller, a half and a full marathon. These types of errors or many other details are inconsequential to both history and my future life so I've never felt the need to address them since ultimately I don't care.

The E60 piece corrected all that and told the story more

broadly. As is likely no surprise I was out running while it was airing since it would feel weird to watch but my family was watching it and a few friends in a few places had watch parties (if you haven't see it and wish to, it will apparently be online in due time). I am humbled and amazed by both people I know and people I'm meeting and the kind words they've shared. I have some friends who are focused on details and have picked out some things that could have used better fact checking but only one stands out to me as something that absolutely has to be corrected especially by me. 

I have no idea how decisions about editing media pieces get made. They interviewed two friends and two doctors and my mother and Kiana. Only they and I apparently made it in.  I have no complaints about my mother and daughter being the stars of

the piece or my life since they are the woman and the little girl who are still raising a kid with a damaged brain remembering them with each beat of my heart. In simple honesty my hope was those others would be pointed out because I woke up from a seizure with Sean. Todd, another is the executor of my will so I'm literally entrusting him with many things if anything were to go wrong. The doctors are ones I whose hands I have placed my life. Thanks to each and every one of them I believe I've gotten at least a few more years and a lot more quality of life. Perhaps ESPN got it right in the narrative they chose for their medium and their time frame but here in mine let me say thank you to those heroes of mine.

However, the correction I need to make is that there was a reference made in the piece apparently about my mother being a single mother of 3. There were zero days of my life or hers that was true. I've written about the ESPN interactions and contract many times and so I know this project went through many producers hands and got dragged out over two years so it would be easy to pass the buck and say it was their fault. I do not think that's correct, I believe the fault is mine. It is perhaps that if my daughter and mother are the stars, there was someone who was the lights and sound. And the lights and sound we usually don't notice except if they get something wrong. I've gone too much of my life without noticing because nothing has ever really gone wrong. 

You see Ascencion "Chon" came into my life when I was 8. He married my mother and is my little

brother's biological father. It wasn't long after my mother took his last name, Leon, it would also become mine. It's the Spanish word for lion and that creature and a cub are tattooed on me to represent me and Kiana. A drawing I love of it is currently one of my social media profile pics. I was born a Leo and my high mascot was the lions so perhaps this was the universe connecting some key points.

There was never a single time he called me his step son, it was always mi hijo or my name. If there was a single time where his attention and affection was different for the one son who shared his genes and those who came by marriage, I never noticed it. He was the vision of what Hispanic fathers, myself included, were expected or dreamed of to be: a quiet stoic provider who provided discipline as necessary and affection in a quiet contained manner.  Perhaps we've raised the bar since then but he was hitting that one and more which is praiseworthy.

When I turned 15 I met my biological father, adolescence has enough identity issues for most of us and this certainly caused some internal confusion. For the first time in my life and for far too many years, I stopped calling him "Papa." I would use his proper name or skip addressing him altogether. Here was a guy who had done right by me all along and this was beyond adolescence independent
rebellion. It was just wrong.

I was not living at home then nor have I ever gone back for an extended stay. So the fact that my space was hours away created far too easy of an escape. Like at all points, he provided in many ways including a quiet presence that was there everytime I can imagine. At my high school graduation, I was a condescending kid who thought since they'd never gone to college and I was going to, I obviously had to be smarter. He hugged me just as tight and meaningfully as anyone with a triple Ph.D ever could hug anyone. I'm 35 years old and he's 70 and he's still working and I am not... Tell me again what that college diploma achieved that his hands haven't outdone?

It's been an interesting ride though though I believe my days of the media trying to get to know me
are over now, right? I know in those venues, we commend those whose eloquence or drama or presence sits well but perhaps us extreme extroverts should be quiet more often and listen to the wisdom in the quietness of guys like my dad. They save their smiles and words that like some of things with more rarity therefore have more meaning and value. One of the biggest ones I saw was when he was there shortly after Kiana was born. It's a fair question as to whether he or I was beaming more that day.

Like incredibly dependable lights and sound, his presence blinked less than statues. I know the flashing and new gets plenty of attention but there's something to be said for solid dependable structures. The first race that I did with a stroller was to get my mom to do her first half marathon at age 60. I'd finish second and go back and finish with my mom. It was a miserably cold weather day; there'd be a newspaper article about me, Kiana and my mom. He would go unmentioned but guess who it was that made sure we were safe at the beginning, in the middle and who it was that kept Kiana safe and warm while I went back to finish with my mom. Only one of the wonders of the ancient world remain and I'm guessing it was built by guys like him.

On the day I had a seizure and would start the brain cancer journey, he was there at the hospital a few hours later. My mom was worried and expressing it freely... I tried to calm her and myself down. He succeeded with both.

And when he had built enough faith in mine and my mother's and Kiana's abilities to do races on our own, he went from guardian to participant. I was proud of my mom for doing her first race at age 60 (I mean 29). I was proud of Kiana doing her first 5k at age 7, and my brother for his first race in his 20's. My dad finally joined us just a few months shy of his 70th birthday and finished it with a solid sprint and would get faster the next month and the month after that. ESPN was actually filming that last race though I guess the 4 of us finishing didn't make the piece, I may have been too late to the party to get it on camera but very grateful I got it in life.

This year we had a surprise 70th birthday party for him. I was originally going to skip it because he's built like me, fairly uncomfortable in receiving attention for the mere act of staying alive and certainly uncomfortable with parties thrown for it. Someone I love kept insisting I should go, that it would mean a lot to him. In the end, I went and hugged him and told him some of the things in here though not nearly enough and certainly awkwardly because you know father to son appreciation is somehow still not manly for those of us who are insecure. Like myself he hadn't had many birthday parties in a poor childhood but I've smiled big at many parties and many pinatas, but I'm fairly certain that seeing him hold that stick and swinging at 70 elicited the biggest smile I've ever given at that type of event.

Again on father's day, someone I love reached out to me and wished me a happy day. Uncomfortable in receiving praise for something that took cancer to get me right, I pretended that father's day wasn't a deal but fortunately channeled that discomfort into passing it onto him. That way we could be uncomfortable and yet awkwardly happy together in receiving positive feedback.

But he has been there for far longer than I have acknowledged to anyone, myself included. We've had very few long conversations perhaps why each of them are so memorable. The latest most prominent one  is where he spoke specifically about me being more open to a relationship at this stage in my life, despite the most painful break up of my life which was connected in that ESPN piece, one which would make you wonder if there was such a thing as false hope. He'd gently and yet strongly reminded me that the universe cannot provide things we are not open to. He had changed jobs, life, and literally country putting his friends and family far away to give himself, his wife me and my brothers a new chance with love of family as the centerpiece. It's hard to make an argument that there's no one like that in all of time and spice when the guy saying that has done it in both conversation and in real life.

The title from this blog is plagiarized from President Obama's book. He recognized far too late that he'd written a book about the absence in his life, his father and not recognized the presence, his mother. He said things about her when she died that he realized should have been said while she was alive. I've gotten a little more fortunate that someone from ESPN gave me a better look inside my own mind and household while we were all still standing.

My fastest times from the mile to the marathon have all been within the last 12 months. But it takes a cursory look at professional athletes to know that in all likelihood I am somewhere near my peak. Still in the first edited video I was ever a part of, I said what will likely be the smartest thing I say my entire life, "you have to work on the relationships you want to keep." Beauty, athleticism, and so many parts of life inevitably fade but almost always with focus and work and desire, two willing parties can make relationships better.

I can't imagine that this blog will ever get the attention that the E60 piece did but still, I wrote it to say thank you to the guy who came into my life and gave me his attention. Thanks dad.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

This is How We Party

I have been fortunate enough to do many Spartans in many places. There's even been videos made of them (one of the land and two by the sea). However the first Spartan, Alexander Nicholas, was a race where I was guided by a stranger whose become a good friend since and that kindness was contagious. There's been cousins, good friends, lovely ladies who I've joined for at least the cheering section of the course if not more. Last year in his hometown it was my little brother David's first race of any type and when it was announced that in 2015 it would fall on my birthday, he said he wanted me back, this is how we would party. I told him that I didn't think that far ahead but he never gave up on the dream.

A couple of cousins who had cheered last year were signed up, the first females in my family to sign up for a Spartan. Kiana had decided to try to do the adult version this time (not officially allowed till you're 14... Always a bright idea when you do something questionable to have it visible on the Internet?). I both questioned and praised the decision because of how rough her first kids Spartan had gone.

I had the advantage that I was doing the elite heat before so I was more in scope it out for Kiana mode than race mode because of that.  Still, I'm not a guy who celebrates his birthday much (though I celebrate being alive everyday). But I was born 8/8/80 turned 8 on 8/8/88 and here I got to do my first race ever on my birthday with bib #8 with several family members and friends and my daughter at 8 years old. I mean how lucky can one guy be?

Luckier than I could have ever imagined! Coincidentally this race had every obstacle I missed on my first spartan a little over two years ago and the one I most recently missed in June. On this course, I got them all! I did miss one and the course had an obstacle that required 5 burpees so I ended up doing 35 burpees on my 35th birthday... That seemed right in its own way. I finished just in time to head over to the heat my family was lining up to do and Kiana and I snuck into the back. About half of the crew it was their first time doing one and I heckled them that Kiana was going to beat us all. Either way I was going to smile at the end because the number of friends and family I keep doing races with keeps growing.

It was a tough hill and a thick crowd so it was a slow start up and a steep dusty descent after with Kiana realizing quickly that it was very different than the road races we've done together. My parenting philosophy is first you gotta give kids roots than you gotta give them wings... So attempting to be one of those first flying lessons, I told her that with each obstacle, I would be with her but I'd only help if asked. First jump in and out cold water mud pits she gets in and gets out fast... Sandbag carry, carries the bag up a hill, across it, and down it entirely by herself. The log carry I had to help not sure if it was because of the weight or the fact that it was about her size. Still there was a little wall and a cargo net that she literally climbed up and went over down faster than the adult next to her did or could have (oh wait that was me).

We were about halfway done when she said to me, thanks dad for letting me do the adult version. I told her we got a long way to go, let's see if you still feel that way at the end. She said okay but I don't think I'll change my mind. The spear throw was the first obstacle I would have to do entirely for her though the deal was if I missed it she had to do the burpees... I nailed it. In strict running we talk about hitting the wall... In Spartans we go over them and this time they had a six foot wall, followed immediately by a 7 ft wall, followed immediately by an 8 ft wall. I propped her up on the first two and before I could get to the other side she had let herself go down. She did the same with the 7 foot wall. I asked her to at least wait till I was on the other side on the 8 foot one before she let herself down since her fearlessness continues to scare me.

She went under the barbed wire with conviction, far more than I ever have and that's where we passed my brother and cousin who had been ahead of us. Some people get their favorite icing for their birthday; mine was definitely seeing people I love being covered in mud. The first time I did the tyrolean traverse I fell... Kiana did not, she made it look easy. She did the same with the traverse wall where I did the best I could using my hands to replicate the bottoms as the footholds. It was at that point that she said no matter how much longer we've got or what the obstacles are, I am happy we are doing the grown up one together. There must have been some mud that got stuck in my eye earlier from the course that I had to spend a few seconds getting out at that point in the course cause why else would I have been wiping my eyes?

The one obstacle that I supposed she skipped all together was the bucket carry since it was almost her height and carrying that full of rocks was not realistic. Still since teamwork is allowed in the open heats we took one with minimal rocks at the bottom and Kiana standing on top of them.  I don't know if the carry is more or less than the better part of 60 lbs Kiana weighs, but I'm not sure I'll ever have any other bucket carry that warms my heart by hugging me again so I am not sure I'd even call that an obstacle.

Still as the course was wrapping up, it was clear that my heckling of Kiana beating us all was going to be correct and we got to the last obstacle, the rope climb. Kiana has climbed a rope before but not one that high, nor while both her and the rope were wet, nor at the end of her longest race. I went in just worried at the bottom I'd have to catch her. She stopped about two thirds of the way and I said as calmly as I could, look, its okay to come down, we can just do burpees. She looked down at me (probably in more ways than one) and said look I'm just taking a breath okay. She then looked back up and climbed all the way to the top and rang the bell. I didn't realize she had gathered a small audience and when she rang it she got clapped and cheered for more than I ever have at any obstacle. I didn't join in the clapping cause my arms were still extended just in case but I cheered my heart out.

I have done races and gone back and finished with people many times. Usually when they complete their race, I place their medal on them, understanding in a great way that it really is better to give than to receive. It's a special moment where you get to encapsulate and well hand out happiness. On races Kiana had been in a stroller I'd take my medal and place it on her neck each time. There's been races I've done next to her where she got a medal and I didn't cause it was a kid's race or she'd placed in her age group. However on this race I had purposely not taken the medal at the elite heat and for the first time ever Kiana and I received our medals side by side for both having done a course. Kiana has a thing against having favorite in most things but she turned and said to me, "you know how I didn't have a favorite medal, I do now, this one's the best one." I had to wipe that doggone mud out of my eyes again.

We would cheer the rest of the family and friends in, watching them succeed in their own way even if sometimes it was against the obstacles or earning them with burpees. Kiana and I would sit and chat with other friends including some who have been and will be part of my spartan charity team. But there was a very humbling moment when Amelia Boone's mother came and spoke to me. Here was the mother of Amelia, great person who is also a great attorney, current cover of Runners world, and who has won both the world Spartan championship and the world's toughest Mudder. She comes up and says that the way I approach life and parenting was inspiring. I hugged her and said that if I did a fraction of the job she did, I would be very proud.

There would be more finishers and muddy hugs, drinks and medals, stories and calls, pictures and social media as we tried to encapsulate the memories. I sat reflecting officially one year older knowing that each day above ground is a good one in my book. But with some of it over obstacles, some of it underwater, knowing that this birthday where my brain had gotten a little reminder of the right frame of heart, well those reminders of the privilege of being there to celebrate life were gr8!