Run with It

Run with It

From Chicken Soup for the Preteen Soul

Run with It

Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.

Theodore Roosevelt

The first time I saw Jeff was when my best friend, Brian, and I were in the fourth grade. When our teacher introduced Jeff to the class she explained that he was sick and that he might not be able to be in class all of the time.

Jeff was completely bald from cancer treatments, and he wore a hat. That was one reason that he and I bonded right away. Being the tomboy that I was, I liked wearing a hat—only I wasn’t allowed to wear one in class. Jeff was allowed to wear his hat all of the time. Other than that, he was a normal friend to both Brian and me. Some things he couldn’t do as well as the other kids because he had tubes in his chest for his treatments, but we never thought of him as sick because he didn’t act that way.

The only time that we would realize that Jeff was sick was when he went for his chemotherapy treatments. We’d notice the difference, but we’d just sort of think, Yeah, Jeff’s not feeling really well now, and then it would pass and things would be back to normal. Jeff, Brian and I were really sports-oriented, and we became best buds. We would swim, run and jump on the trampoline. As fourth grade progressed, Jeff got better and better. By the end of the school year he went into remission; the cancer was all gone.

Brian, Jeff and I spent tons of time together during the summer between fourth and fifth grades. We loved being outdoors, running everywhere and staying over at each other’s houses. Before school started, Jeff went away on vacation with his family for a few weeks.

Then came the night that I will always remember. We were eating dinner when the phone rang. It was Jeff’s mom, calling to say that Jeff was in the hospital. The cancer had come back. My reaction was, Wait a minute. What’s going on?

Jeff and I talked on the phone the next day and he sounded like his normal self. I couldn’t really imagine him being back in the hospital. Then, a few days later, my mom took me to visit him. When I walked into his room, Jeff looked really weak. His mom was talking about a trip to California for a bone marrow transplant operation, and how important it would be for Jeff. Even though everyone looked very serious and sad, the thought of losing Jeff never crossed my mind. I just thought he would get better.

During the next few weeks, before the operation, Jeff was allowed to play with Brian and me but he had to wear a surgical mask because he had to be careful of infections. I realize now that his parents wanted him to experience as much of life as possible while he could. One night, they took Jeff and me to this really fancy restaurant up in the mountains, and it felt sort of like a date. We both dressed up—which was weird for me, because I never wore anything but shorts and hats.

When Jeff left for California to have his operation I told him, “Bye, see you in a month or so,” as if nothing much was happening. I wrote to him while he was there, and the letters that he sent to me talked about the things that we would do together when he returned home. It didn’t even cross my mind that I might never see him again.

Then, one night, I went to a skating party. Brian was supposed to be there but I couldn’t find him. When I got home, my dad was out in the garage working on a project. When Dad spotted me, he opened the door to the house to let my mom know that I had arrived. I walked into the house, and Mom said, “I need to talk to you alone in your bedroom, Susie.” I grabbed some chocolate chips off the counter and bounded off to my room. “Jeff’s mom called . . .” was all she had to say. I knew. The chocolate chips turned sour in my mouth, and I cried as my mom held me tightly. I’ve never been an emotional person, but my heart just sank and I felt empty. It was too hard to believe. Brian had heard about it just before the skating party, and that’s why he hadn’t been there.

That evening, Brian and I talked for hours. We had never talked much on the phone before, because we had always been doing things, but that night we talked and talked, reminiscing about Jeff. We started worrying about Jeff’s parents and if they could handle the medical expenses. And that was the beginning of our idea. We wanted to do something, but we didn’t know what.

When we figured out that Jeff’s parents didn’t need the money, we started thinking instead about something that would help everybody remember Jeff, something to honor him. Brian and I thought about the time the three of us did a run together. Jeff had loved running, but it had been hard for him to finish the run. He was really happy when he was able to cross the finish line, and so were we. Why not do a run for Jeff?

It seemed like a good idea. We knew that we would have to advertise in order to have enough runners, and that we’d have to get sponsors for food and drinks. We even thought we knew what the forms needed to look like for sign-ups.

I know now that all of this planning was part of our grieving process. All through it, we told each other stories about Jeff. Right around that time, his parents donated a tree to the school and we all planted it in Jeff’s memory. It was tough on his parents, but it really helped all the kids. Everyone got to shovel some dirt around the tree, and Jeff’s parents held hands with each other and cried.

If we’d been old enough to know what was really involved, we probably wouldn’t have started it. But we were just some kids with a great idea, so we went for it. We took the phone book and started calling Coors, Pepsi and Mile-High Yogurt—anything we could find. “We want to do a run, and we’re looking for sponsorship,” we would say to whoever answered the phone. “Who can we talk to?” I wonder if the people on the other end could tell that we were only fifth-graders!

Then one day, Mom came to me all excited. “A man from Pepsi called and asked to talk to you. What’s going on?” I guess we’d been persuasive enough! After I called him back and got his pledge of support, I told my parents about the run and they promised to help. The vice-principal got involved and he brought the plans for the run to the gym teacher, who was a runner. All of the adults in our lives were encouraging us.

We started writing letters to lots of companies, which was pretty funny because Brian has the worst handwriting in the world. I don’t know how anyone ever read what he was trying to say. But somehow it worked because we started receiving all kinds of gifts. The yogurt place gave us five hundred free yogurts, and other companies donated money.

The plans for the run were growing so big that we needed a professional organizer. Someone came along and donated this service for free, and that’s when things really started to roll. The entire community became involved: stuffing packets, raising money, writing numbers on racing bibs, holding meetings. Pretty soon, the whole city knew what was going to happen.

The day of the run finally came, and it was huge! Tons of people ran, ReMax donated T-shirts and there were awards for anyone who could beat the gym teacher’s time. The park where the run was held was near Jeff’s house, which was where the processional had gone after his funeral. Because of where it was held, the run had even more of a special meaning to Brian and me. And, we raised ten thousand dollars! We donated the money to the Leukemia Society in Jeff’s name.

Even now, I think about Jeff quite a lot. If something’s going on in my life that feels bad, I tell myself, Come on, get over it. Stop feeling sorry for yourself. If Jeff were still alive, he would be glad just to have the opportunity to deal with this.

The run made such an impact on my life. The biggest thing was (and I credit the adults for this) that no one ever told us “No.” We kept hearing, “If you want to do it, you can do it!” It has helped me in everything I’ve done since, and I’ve had a “Go for it!” attitude about things.

There’s a big bike ride I’ve heard about that goes from Los Angeles to Orlando, and I’m thinking about riding in it. Some of my friends think I’m crazy and they ask me, “Is that even possible?” Of course it is! You’re alive, you’re here—so run with it!

Susan Overton

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