15. Changing Course

15. Changing Course

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Runners

Changing Course

Running gives freedom. When you run you can determine your own tempo. You can choose your own course and think whatever you want.
 ~Nina Kuscik: marathon runner

I quit running on November 26, 2005. My last run had been a rolling five-mile loop along backcountry roads in the drizzling rain. Occasionally a house broke the tree line or a car sped past, but the world was silent, calm, mine. My legs were light; I had shed my life’s stresses and worries at the door like an extra layer of fleece on a warm day. They were, however, waiting for me when I returned.

I opened the front door 50 minutes later. My brother, Kevin, greeted me. He sat in the green, overstuffed recliner in the corner, the same chair he had slept in for the past several weeks. “Did you have fun?” he asked. He couldn’t lift his head off his chest, only raised his eyebrows and glanced in my direction. Kevin was dying of cancer. Lung cancer, actually, but tumors had taken his eyesight, moved to his brain, and had begun burrowing into his spinal cord. The scar from last spring’s brain surgery stretched across the top of his shaved head and frowned at me. Scabs from the summer’s radiation oozed and puddled on his scalp. The doctor had sentenced him to fourteen months of life; he was in his sixth.

The smile smeared across my face vanished. Guilt pinned me to the floor. The exhilaration, the high from the perfect run, drained from my body and seemed to pool at my feet, mixing with the rain-water that dripped from my shirt and hair. I managed to mumble, “Yeah, it was good.”

I quit running that day. It wasn’t fair for me to lace up my Brooks when my thirty-six-year-old brother could barely cross a room without wheezing. So, for seven months, through chemotherapy, radiation, and doctor visits, I visualized running up and down the hills along Route 522 on our way to Geisinger Hospital in Danville, Pennsylvania. I lay in bed at night listening to Kevin’s raspy breathing while I thought of the various marathons and road races I’d finished over the years. Thoughts of running nagged me, but I refused to give in and take those precious steps out the door that led to a run, an escape.

Kevin, however, was running a marathon that promised no medal at the finish, only rest and relief. He passed away on July 7, 2006. There were no grand revelations, no life altering ah-ha’s, just loss. His life ended and mine trudged on. I needed comfort; I needed to run, to leave behind the grief and hopelessness wrought by the cancer.

My first run came a week after his passing. I ran the same loop that I had ended with seven months earlier. This time I ran it backwards as if I were searching for a pair of lost keys. I was searching for the passion I had left on the slopes and sharp bends. My legs were heavy and slow, but the pain let me know I was alive. It was hot and I cried through the first mile and a half.

I run slower now, and most runs start with thoughts of my brother, but now I run because he can’t. Running never leaves us. It just changes course sometimes.

~Jennifer Freed

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