About Dad

19 May

Unlike some of the people who can run a full marathon in less time than it takes me to run a half-marathon, I was not born with running shoes on my feet.  We didn’t have track and field at my high school although there were a number of other sports.  We took our swimming very seriously, and in the winter I played hockey (lawn hockey – hockey as we know it in North America has never gained a foothold in South Africa, despite some mild efforts).  I started running relatively late in life, when I was 26.

What happened was that I decided to quit smoking.  I had been a smoker for about nine years, and I had been on thirty a day since the age of 23.  My parents used to despair – they had lost family members to cancer and they literally feared for my life.  And the habit was just getting too expensive for me to afford.  The true reason for me quitting, however, was that I woke up one morning and simply got tired of being a smoker.  So I made the decision to knock the habit on the head.  My co-worker Gary, who was himself an avid runner, suggested that my efforts to quit should be accompanied by changes in my lifestyle.  And so I started eating better and I commenced a very gradual running program that Gary provided.  By the time I moved to Canada four years later, the smoking habit was a distant memory, I was in much better shape, and I was hooked on running.

When I had the kids, I stopped running.  No time, no sleep, and a sense of being a bit overwhelmed put a halt to all activity.  For seven years I occasionally tried to get back into it, but there was always a reason for it not to work.  Finally, a year ago, I got the email from the Geneva Centre for Autism, inviting me to run for charity, and just like that, I was back.  All I needed was the right motivation.

Throughout my entire running journey, I have had my Dad with me in some form or another.  Dad was a runner himself – at his prime he was one of the best marathoners in South Africa.  For several years he ranked among the top five marathoners in the country, and although his activity did slow down as he got older, he never lost the passion for it.  When I started running he was thrilled.  He was full of advice and anecdotes, all of which I accepted eagerly.  As I trained for my very first half-marathon in 2001, he followed my training with interest, and when I called him after the race to tell him all about it, his enthusiasm was immense.

Dad was there for one of my races – my first-ever 10K in Toronto.  He and my Mom were over for a visit, and on race-day we all bundled into the car and headed for the start line.  I was telling Dad that I wanted to finish the race in less than an hour; he was giving me advice on how to pace myself.  When I crossed the finish line – in less than an hour – it lifted my heart to see Mom and Dad standing at the finish line cheering for me.

Dad died five years ago, and there is not a day when I don’t miss him.  He was a fantastic father, and for the brief period of time he knew George – who is the reason I run today – he was a fantastic grandfather.  He is still with me when I run – sometimes, when my runs are going well, he wanders off for a bit, probably because he knows I’m doing OK.  But when I am on my long runs and I’m starting to hit the wall, I’ll suddenly feel a boost in my energy and I’ll know that Dad has shown up to help me.

When I run my half-marathon for autism in September, there will be two people in my mind.  George – my beautiful boy, the reason I got back into it.  And Dad, my role model, the person who always gave me endless support and encouragement.

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