What Grandma Taught Me About Running
Editor’s Note: Longtime Minneapolis Running author, Rich Rein, came to us early this week with his touching story about family, love, and loss. What follows is a written account of the inspiration and motivation he found through his late grandmother, Gloria Appel. We wish Rich and his family the best during this difficult time.
When I was much younger, I remember my grandparents patiently sitting through numerous discussions about GI Joe ranks and strike teams, Lego configurations, and even the relative rarity of various special edition baseball cards. As I grew a little older, it became the comparative merits of various soccer goalie gloves and the potential potency of all manner of fishing lures.
My immediate family picked up and moved to Minnesota at the end of 1996, and my maternal grandparents became my shoreline; my path “home.” We flew back for their 50th wedding anniversary, and it was a chance to reconnect with family in person again. My mom, Grandpa, and I even managed to sneak out for one more deep sea fishing adventure in the Atlantic (despite me showing up with a pierced ear and bleached blonde hair – unconditional love at its finest).
After my Grandfather passed in 2001, my Grandma and I talked once or twice a month by phone; eventually, it became once a week or more. My grandmother never professed to be a die-hard track and field fan, but she always asked about my running exploits (and then listened intently to my replies). As my mother joined my youngest sister and me in our brand of “Family Fitness Fun,” my grandmother continued to marvel at the miles – always asking, always smiling.
A Once in a Lifetime Opportunity
In 2015, I entered the lottery for the NYC Marathon and was granted the once in a lifetime chance to participate. Looking back now, I truly believe there was a higher power who had a hand in my name being drawn. The race afforded me the opportunity to spend my marathon recovery days with family, sharing “cigar time” (a finger or two of the finest scotch) with my Grandma while we told stories and marveled at the gray hair now showing up in family pictures (and a bit about how crazy it was for her to imagine me running through the streets she had seen so many times before).
The Ugly C Word
In February, my fire department again fielded a team for the American Lung Association Fight For Air Climb. This event had always held some special meaning to me, as my Grandma had previously battled and overcame lung cancer. Unfortunately, I learned just before this year’s event that what had initially seemed like a bout of pneumonia was much worse: her cancer had returned with a vengeance, this time focusing on her good lung. As I struggled to catch my breath in that stairwell, all I could think about was her own feeling of helplessness as she struggled to catch her breath.
Thankfully I was able to have a few more brief phone calls with her in the past few weeks, and of course her first words were always asking how I was doing, and for her update on my son’s latest funny antics (she and I have both been convinced for a few years now that Liam is already quite a bit smarter than either of us are).
My grandmother’s battle with cancer ended last Friday. The publication of this article will find me in transit back to the East Coast to celebrate the multitude of ways in which my Grandma has influenced each and every member of our family. A few weeks ago, my youngest sister was able to help my mom drive out to be by her mother’s side. While they were spending time going through more photo albums with Grandma, they came across a photo of her running. We had always heard vague stories of my Grandpa’s running prowess in his more formative years, but now we had photographic proof of one more layer of her influence. We truly come to this running thing honestly!
What Grandma Taught Me
If I have learned anything through all of this, it is that we all need to do a better job of grabbing onto the opportunities which come our way – whether it is a chance to flip through old photo albums (do most people even still have those?), to willingly strap on 80 pounds of gear and step into a stairwell, or even to fly halfway across the country for a marathon and some scotch. One foot in front of the other, savoring every mile.