Running

Doing It For David

If you remember, back in 2012, I trained for the New York City Marathon and raised funds for the Tug McGraw Foundation, a cancer charity that supports brain cancer survivors and those with traumatic brain injuries to have a better quality of life.  I chose this charity because not only did I have a good friend who also raised funds for them and spoke very highly of them, I wanted to mix my Mets fandom in there somewhere.

Of course, I knew many who were afflicted by brain cancer and traumatic injuries to the brain as well.  I had a friend who was running the marathon because her father had a traumatic brain injury.  Not only did my uncle pass away from a malignant brain tumor, my friend’s nephew passed away just a few days before the non-marathon (which was never run, because of a bitch named Sandy).  And my hero Gary Carter passed away earlier that year due to brain cancer.

When Gary Carter was alive, and playing with the Mets, I remember I made my mother donate something like 75 cents to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Foundation, to get the signed Gary Carter poster I coveted.  Carter’s mother had died when he was a child of leukemia, and he made it his life’s mission to support and promote a cure by being active in the charity. He even had his own fundraisers, mostly golf tournaments, and I remember reading about these tournaments each year in the Mets Yearbooks when Opening Day would come around.

We know there have been many technological advances to treating cancers since Carter’s mother passed away.  But there is no cure. Whether we like to think about it or not, it impacts every single one of us.

And cancer sucks, big time.

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Leukemia impacted my family as well.  My dad had an older brother (half-brother, technically, but no one worried about those semantics while they were growing up.  They were brothers, period) who passed away several years before I was born.  So technically, my dad wasn’t my *dad* then, so I’ll just refer to him as Mr. E periodically for these purposes.

This was my Uncle Larry.  I didn’t have the opportunity or the pleasure to know him.  I’ve seen enough pictures of him to know what he looked like.  I also knew his wife Mary Lou, who is still close with the Cooper side of the family to this day, and his only child, David Alan Hicks, whose name I believe honored not only Larry’s best friend but my Pop Pop, who looked after Larry like he was his own.

I am a Mets fan because my dad introduced me to baseball as a very young age.  I was about seven years old, and I sat down and watched a Mets game, or what I found out was to be a Mets game.  I was in first grade.  I decided to root for the guys with the big blue letters on their uniforms because D-Man was.  That night, I had to write a “theme” (think: A Christmas Story) about what my likes and dislikes were (I believe likes included: cats and chocolate, dislikes included: spinach probably – but only because my mother force fed the frozen watery stuff to me. I’m a big fan of spinach salads, as an adult who works in wellness).  I also had to include what likes and dislikes my parents had.  A big “like” for D-Man was the New York Mets.  I had no idea what baseball actually was.  But my first grade teacher did.  And she wrote on my paper that her dad was also a Mets fan.

Back then, the Mets were bringing people together, even before social media did it, or made it easier to that end.

My dad took me to my first game on May 6, 1984, versus the Houston Astros.  It was a Sunday, and I got to see Dwight Gooden pitch against Nolan Ryan.  Of course, I have no idea how significant that match up until MUCH later.  But I also knew that I loved Gooden, just the few times I watched him on TV.  And begged my dad to take me to a game, which he was more than happy to oblige.  I guess he lucked out with me, that he was able to enjoy a pastime such as this with his only child, a daughter, whose mother would rather she take ballet classes and comb her hair properly and go shopping.

The Mets lost that game.  A score of 10-1.  But hey, 30 something years later, I am still attending games, usually with the Mets on the blow out bad end of the game.  So I guess it didn’t mar my decision to be a Mets fan one way or another.

And I’m sure my husband, Ed, whom I met in 2009 after meeting the Mets 26 years prior, will appreciate that this game was 25 years and 364 days prior to us getting married.

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What I do know about my Uncle Larry and Mr. E is that they had an incredible bond.  They were about 10 or 11 years apart in age, but that didn’t stop them from hanging out together.  When Mr. E was six years old, the Dodgers and the Giants both left town for the west coast.  For the next five years, there was no National League baseball close by, and my Pop Pop would not STAND for rooting for an American League team (according to Pop, New York was a “National League city,” end of story).  When the Mets came around, and they went to the Polo Grounds, though Larry was a St. Louis Cardinals fan like my grandmother.  Shea Stadium opened was considered “state of the art” and all that jazz.  Mr. E was 10 years old when the Mets came into existence, and was 12 when they moved to the home we know now, in Flushing.

As I write that, I find it ironic that I became a baseball fan when I was seven, and my dad didn’t even HAVE a team to root FOR when he was that age.  He became a fan at the same age I was when I went to game seven of the 1986 World Series.  That’s something we’ll never get over.

But in the Kevin Bacon six degrees of life scenario, I am a Mets fan because my grandfather and Uncle Larry took Mr. E to baseball games and really got him to understand the nuances of the game.

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So I guess that I have Uncle Larry to thank for my baseball affiliation, since he got my dad into baseball, and I highly doubt I’d be the crazed lunatic fan of this sport if he was not one himself.  Yet, like my Pop Pop who passed away when I was three years old, he serves as a ghost in my life, someone I’ve heard so much about and would have liked to have known, but sadly did not get the opportunity to do that.

Larry and Mary Lou’s son, David, was himself about five years old when Larry passed away.  I never got to talk with David about his memories about his old man, basically because I didn’t know David all that well.  That is truly my loss.  But as many people who read my site or know me personally, my parents split up when I was in middle school.  And as things usually happen in a divorce, some familial relationships suffer as a result.  For years, it was my relationship with the Cooper side of the family.  There were literally cousins and family members that I did not know at all.  It wasn’t until I was in college, and after I graduated that I got really curious about my family.  I started asking questions, and got to know Mary Lou and my Aunt Babe and started a relationship with my cousins.

Christmas Time, 2007. One of the last times all the cousins were in the same room.

Christmas Time, 2007. One of the last times all the cousins were in the same room.

David was 10 years older than me.  I remember him when I was old enough to start having memories.  There’s a picture somewhere in my mother’s scrap book in Jackson, NJ, that has a pic of David, Michael and me.  I’m guessing I wasn’t quite a year old.  Michael is three months older than me.  David was 10 years older than both of us.  So I guess David was about 11, and Michael and I were roughly a year old.  I have a close relationship with our mutual cousin Michael and his sister Chrissy, then there’s my dad’s brother’s kids whom I also have a relationship with now.  David was married and lived pretty far from me, and I didn’t know him as an adult.

If I remember correctly, my dad stayed in David’s life to the extent that they themselves went to baseball games at Shea Stadium (I know that my dad did that to bond with my mom’s little brother, my Uncle Mike, around the time they got married).  I also know that David was a huge Nascar fan.  So is Mr. E.  I went to a race once in Dover, Delaware, just to say I went to one.  The next year, I had a big final to do for my masters, and decided it wasn’t in my best interests to go.  David took my ticket instead.  He was a huge Dale Earnhardt Jr. fan, like I am.

 

 

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Michael’s sister and my beautiful cousin Chrissy took up running and decided to run a marathon a few months ago.  Like many who run races, there’s an emotional meaning behind it, and it keeps one focused while they train.  Chrissy ran to raise funds for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Foundation.

She decided to do so after David, our cousin, was diagnosed with a very aggressive yet treatable form of leukemia.  The same type of cancer that had taken his father from us over forty years prior.  Chrissy kept her running journal on a blog called Do It For David!

Chrissy was able to finish her race and raised a respectable amount of funds for the foundation.

Training for a marathon is incredibly emotional (not to mention physical, of course).  Believe me when I tell you, it consumes your life, everything you eat, drink or think about.  To tie that training into a family member who is diagnosed with a scary disease is something unfathomable to even me.

My family lost David Alan Hicks on Tuesday, December 23, 2014.  Chrissy has closer memories with David in her life than I did, and she was able to craft a very meaningful and heartfelt tribute to our cousin, who unfortunately was just too weakened to fight the blood cancer anymore.

I didn’t know much about David except that he was truly a decent man, a good person, who loved his wife, Lori, his daughter, Courtney and his mother, Mary Lou, who is just about one of the nicest people you will ever want to meet.  Please keep them in your thoughts this holiday season.  He also loved his Nascar, but I also know that my family loved him very much.

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When George Harrison (you know, the Beatle) passed away, the first person I called was my dad when I found out.  I left him a message.  Mr. E, who had taken up the guitar again that year after probably a 30 year hiatus, would tell you that Harrison was his favorite Beatle.  He would also tell anyone who wanted to hear about how he first heard the song, “I Want To Hold Your Hand” on his transistor radio, and the energy from the radio parted his hair down the middle.  When he watched the Beatles make it to the Ed Sullivan show, he sat in front of the TV, wanting like millions of teenage boys did who also watched that night to play the guitar like George, bang a drum like Ringo or have a hair cut like John or Paul.

When D-Man called me back several hours later, he left a long message about how George was at peace now, he wasn’t suffering anymore, and that he was a spiritual guy.  If anyone was going to find peace in the afterworld, if there was one, it would be George Harrison.  But in the middle of all this, my dad said, he felt like part of his youth was gone.

I know that when my favorite Mets player from the 80s era, Gary Carter, had died, I had a podcast the next night, and I cried on the air. (There’s no crying in baseball, Coop!!)  I also know that I thought of my dad and what he said about his youth being gone with the passing of George Harrison.  I knew what it meant because when Kid died, a part of me did too.

I can’t be with my family today, physically, but I can understand the loss they are all feeling today as they say goodbye to David for the last time.  My dad was very young when David’s father, his brother Larry, passed.  I also remember him telling me that because they were so young, it was sad, and they had their lives to live.  Five years later, my cousin Michael and I were born within months of each other, my aunt got remarried, Chrissy was born, and my parents got divorced.  We went to college, got married, had kids, and honored lost family members along the way.

We all know that death is a part of life.  That doesn’t make it easier with the loss of a loved one.

Yet, we also know that life does indeed go on.  David may be gone, but we have our memories of him, no matter how close or far apart we may be.

In a world full of coincidences, fate, sliding doors, six degrees and other minutiae, he may not have known it, but David is in part responsible for helping me be the person I am today.  So thank you for that, David.  And as my dad once told me, we have our lives to live, and our own battles to face even with the loss of a loved one, no matter how hard that loss is.  It’s all right to be sad, and our loved ones are never truly gone when we have their memory to honor.

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The Pain Is Only Temporary

Over two years ago, my friend Phil and I went to cheer our mutual friend Sharon on during the New York City Marathon.  While we cheered her on around Mile 23, I remembered two things.  One was that she seemed so happy to see familiar faces to give her enough of a boost to carry her to the finish, about 3.2 miles from that point.  The other was that Phil and I had both chatted about the thought of doing the marathon.

I was captain of the cross country team in high school.  And I was always knew that the New York City Marathon was something I always wanted to do.

Being in New York or close to it, the marathon is a large part of our identity, it’s a large part of the culture here.  Some people might look at 26.2 miles as a steep hill to climb.  When you’re here, though, it’s something that you consider doing without question.

I don’t know if it’s like that in any other city.  But to have enough clout to shut New York City down essentially for one Sunday a year so people could run the streets freely, I’d say that’s a pretty big event.  More so than say the Thanksgiving Macy’s Parade that just shuts down one avenue in midtown.

To give you an idea of what we did in those last two years to get in wasn’t short of challenging.  I’ve run three half-marathons.  I developed arthritis in my foot.  I hurt my back a number of times.  I managed to finish a 10K after busting my ankle two weeks prior.  I also was invited to several sports shows and podcasts to talk about my fundraising efforts, and was featured prominently at several websites for the fundraising efforts of Team McGraw.

As part of the New York Road Runners “9+1” program, you run nine races and volunteer for one.  That’s how Phil got in.  I decided to get in how Sharon did, and that was run with the Tug McGraw Foundation, a charity that supports brain cancer survivors, victims and those suffering from neurological disorders a better quality of life.

It was not only me.  My oldest childhood friend, Kara, had brain cancer directly affect people in her life.  She also volunteered for Team McGraw.  My friend from high school, Jay, decided to run for a children’s charity.  Between the three of us, we raised over $13,000 for these respective charities.  We are far from the only folks who did such a thing in conjunction with setting a personal challenge goal of completing 26.2 miles.  In fact, most runners get in via charity.

But it was more than that. When you are running in excess of 30 miles per week (but it’s not even running five miles per day six days a week, it’s more 8 miles one day, 12 miles another then two five mile runs), it’s easy to let the mental more than physical part get to you.

To have that taken away from you after putting so much of your life into it…and when I tell you how much I put into it…I couldn’t take a part time job for fear of losing it ANYWAY because I needed time off for the race and training.  I missed two family weddings.  I’ve missed even more family gatherings.  I had to put off seeing friends for months because of the grueling training schedule.  I didn’t drink (that’s not a bad thing for me, but bad for the liquor stocks).  I ran in heat and humidity that would make a Navy SEAL cry.  When I made friends with a slight Romanian woman who did her daily walks at Central Park, she told me I was doing a great thing and to keep it up.  I lost my short term memory and common sense. All I knew was my training schedule.  I knew, when November 4th came, that it would have been all worth it.

I guess this is where we say there are no guarantees in life.  Sure, I paid a $250 entry fee to cover the costs of fluids, nutrition, safety, police presence, road closures, loss of revenue, bib technology, that were already allocated to the race.   I know $250 doesn’t seem like a lot of money, but multiply that by 50,000 runners or so and that’s a large amount of revenue to the city and New York Road Runners.  Not to mention the businesses that generate a lot of revenue because of spectators.

That’s not to say I don’t agree with the decision to cancel the New York City Marathon in 2012.  I did agree with it.  I wish they had done it SOONER, as I know several people who came in on Thursday, from outside areas, in order to fulfill their charitable obligations.  In fact, the only reason I was so defiant is that if the city and NYRR TRULY BELIEVED that it would be a good thing for the city and that it wouldn’t impact recovery efforts, well, goddammit I wasn’t going to apologize for working my ass off this year and putting MY life on hold for a few hours of running a road race that in the grand scheme of things is small change.  Especially with the devastation in my home state (New Jersey) and my adopted state (New York).

This was my story.  Thousands of other runners shared the same or similar stories.  I was shocked by the amount of scapegoating involved in the race itself.  I understand it needed to be cancelled or postponed (the reason for cancelling outright was due to city logistics, getting the elite runners back here and even weather conditions outside of, you know, a fucking hurricane at the end of October).  What I didn’t get was the scapegoating.  There were people and things to demonize.  Don’t demonize the runners.

So now, I have to rethink my philosophy on life.  My philosophy has been to help others.  To put a cause or a mission ahead of myself in order to help those less fortunate.

It hit close to home this week too.

I had been running for a brain cancer charity.  The Mets lost two icons to brain cancer, one they honored all 2012 season.

For me, it got personal.  My friend Kara, whom I’ve known since three years old, has lost two family members to brain cancer, and her father suffers from a neurological disorder.  My uncle passed away from a brain tumor.

Then I found out my friends Colleen and Jamie lost their 16 year old nephew to brain cancer this week.

Take that in for a second.  A 16 year old child (and I remember when he was friggin born) lost his life to brain cancer.  He wasn’t living in a storm-affected region, but it was still in the midst of chaos in our world, a 16 year old lost his life.

If there was a chance I could run, you goddamn better bet I was going to do it.

So now, four and a half months of hard work, three half marathons, tons of carbs later, a mission I’ve had since I was 16 (to run the marathon) was taken away from me by nature.  It is what it is, and I can’t do anything about it.

But what you can do – what we all can do – is volunteer. Get on lists, go to your local Red Cross, no matter what your denomination is, go to your local churches or synagogues.

Several of us did our part.  Don’t demonize people who were going to run to do their part for the spirit of the city.

I told one of my friends that 2012 hasn’t exactly been a great year for me.  From a sports fan perspective, it’s sucked.  The Mets are irrelevant, the Rangers lost to the Devils in the Eastern Conference Finals, now there’s a hockey lockout (and the Rangers are the closest team I have to ever winning a championship in my lifetime), the Jets suck, and now the Marathon can’t be held.  This one stings because it was the year I had looked forward to.  I also couldn’t find a full time job and had to start my own business.  I was so not ready for that (that’s actually been a bright spot for me, the business).  I left an apartment I loved because my husband and I needed to cut down on home expenses.  Now Hurricane Sandy has trashed the shore line I grew up in and has damaged a city that I have adopted as my own.

What’s next? Are the Mayans right?

The one thing I had to look forward to was the marathon.  And now that was taken away.

I’ve spent my life looking at the bigger picture of things, and have always taken things well even if they haven’t worked to my advantage.  I realize that the world isn’t all about me.  That’s something I learned early on, actually.

But this one, this one is going to sting for awhile.  I spent over 20 years getting mentally prepared for this, and I’m not doing this again.  I don’t have it in me.  I will have a big part of my life that’s unfulfilled because of it.  That may be hard for some of you to get and may tell me to get over myself.  Those who know me and love me will understand that about me.  I don’t really care.  I’ve spent most of my life looking at the larger picture, and now I’m allowing myself to grieve for everything that I’ve lost (not just from the marathon, but my memories of the shore and childhood) but for something that was out of my control.

Yet while I thought I had broken my foot (it was arthritis), while I was chugging along at mile 16 of 20 on some training runs, one thing I kept telling myself is that it was all temporary.  The pain is temporary.

With the craziness going on all around us, we’ll learn that we’re resilient, and that the pain will be temporary.

The pain will be temporary, even if we have to tell ourselves this every day for awhile.

Running on Rangers

We’re hitting the home stretch of regular season hockey games, especially for the Rangers as it seems they are playing a game every other day.  Originally, I had two games to go to: Sunday, March 11, and Friday, March 23.  Also odd because I rarely do two games in a month, much less miss a month of live games.  That’s what happened this year.  I had tickets to the Rangers/Devils game in February at home, but I sold my tickets for a hefty ransom.  Hey, if I can make some money off the supply/demand issue at those games, I’ll take advantage of it.

But then I had a friend who came into town this weekend.  Our story is kind of funny, like many in this world.  We went to school together.  We had a lot of the same friends, but I don’t remember hanging out with her solely.  (If I did, I apologize, ha ha).  I didn’t know she was a Rangers fan till a few years ago, when we reconnected on Facebook, as many are wont to do, especially due to our mutual friends.  Another layer that added to our friendship was that we were long distance runners; I’m still a novice, she’s definitely more experienced (not to mention, faster!) than I am.  She gets the intensity that goes into both the fan perspective and being an accidental athlete.

This is my friend Aimee. When she found out she was chosen in the NYC Half lottery, like I was, she needed a place to stay.  ***HI!!!***  But it’s all good.  I love having guests and if I can help them save some money and stay in a cool neighborhood, that works for me (they also need to like cats though but that’s no problem for Aimee – she has three).

Anyway, a few weeks before the half, Aimee realized that the Rangers were playing a home game the night before the race.  She decided that though we like to keep things low key the night before a race, she rarely makes visits to the city anymore for games, and she couldn’t give up an opportunity to go to a game when she happened to be in town.

So then, there were three.  Three games, for me, in the month of March now.

Originally I had planned on writing about this recap after the game on he 23rd.  Yet, the two games had such differentials that I felt the need to go over it now.  The first game was a dramatic overtime win with the help of the RUN-BMC line (Brad Richards, Marian Gaborik and Carl Hagelin) and most specifically an almost literal last second goal in sudden death by Gaborik.

 

The game on Saturday was almost a killjoy.  Former Washington Capital goalie now on the Colorado Avalanche, Semyon Varlamov, absolutely stupified Rangers goal scorers.  I forget the exact amount, but it was like 41 shots-on-goal to the Avalanche’s like 20.  I am not joking.  Henrik Lundqvist had a bad game, by giving up two goals.  The Rangers offensive unit was worse and couldn’t help their goalie.  Turns out this wasn’t the first time Varlamov has done this to the Blueshirts.  During the game Aimee had asked that question, whether he had given us trouble in the past.  Well, the answer was yes.  And the worst part was that Mats Zuccarello’s first goal was almost forgotten because of the unprecedented performance.

We didn’t let that bad news get us down for our race Sunday morning.  We had to be at Central Park before 7 am, so for runners with rituals, we need to be up earlier than THAT.  By 5 am, we were up and at ’em, George McFaddam.  And you know, the Rangers loss didn’t translate into a grumpy run for me.  My friend Chuck always says that he likes when I run angry.  I don’t know if I’m necessarily an “angry” runner.  I know when people piss me off on the course, I get that way.

The corral took over 40 minutes to even get to the starting line.  By 8:15 I was heading to the first mile.

Roughly, the first half of the course takes place in Central Park, killer hills and all.  I train there, though, so I feel like I have an advantage to some who don’t train there.  Of course, if you’re a good runner and fast, then you have all the advantage in the world!

The course brings you through the heart of Manhattan – Times Square, then runs downtown to South Street Seaport.  I admit to dragging but I knew my husband would be meeting me at designated places on the course, with some words of encouragement and photos.  Mostly, with bears.

If you don’t follow my husband on Twitter, or on his blog, you should be.  He’s one of the most generous and creative people I’ve ever known.  I often say that he serves as my personal assistant, water boy and photographer for my races.  If the shoe was on the other foot, I’m not sure I’d do the same thing.  But he brought along three bears to cheer me on — Angel, a Mets bear; Nicky, the running bear; and Gabby, the Ranger bear.

Gabby greeted me at Mile 12 with this sign.

 

I couldn’t help but laugh when I saw it (hence the picture next to it).  Needless to say I had a big smile on my face, and I knew even though I was dragging, getting to Mile 13 would be a piece of cake because I had the back wind and momentum to power me forward.

I run to a music mix of Paul McCartney’s greatest hits, Abbey Road, Sgt. Peppers, and usually it brings me to Paul McCartney and the Wings’ Band on the Run.  The second song of my music mix is Jet, and the second song on the Band on the Run album is the same.  So I hear some of the same songs twice.  Not to worry though, as these songs are welcome and I don’t get sick of them.  But I was being guided into the finish line by Jet once again.

When I saw my husband and my friend snapping my pics at the end, I was inspired.  I was inspired by the song, by the runners, by my sports affiliations.  Before each Jets game, some of the players go out, looking like planes and zooming onto the field.  So I do that.

Sometimes my teams disappoint me.  Yet I believe in momentum and that power that carries you forward into the finish line for every season, every day, in every part of our lives.  The Jets gave me a bit of inspiration, the Mets have shaped my life, and the Rangers have made it possible for me to be thankful that I am a sports fan at this point in my life.

There are things in life that give you momentum.  For me, the running has given me a distraction from the daily stuff in life that could keep me down, like rejection.  Other times, sports have given me the opportunity to connect with people I never would have, or reconnect with people I’ve known for a long time but on a different level.

 

These pictures represent the fact that sports has brought to me some of the most special people I’ve ever met, or brought me to another level with others.  Both of the women in the pics with me were brought together, on some level, from sports.  Sharon for baseball, Aimee for hockey.  Then all three of us are runners, and we are each others own support network!

Thank you New York, and thank you sports!