Why write? Most people are content with talking or texting. Writing takes effort. Writing adds an anchor to your words that can come back to sink your ship. It is because of those who dare to write despite the pain that inspires me to follow their lead.
And you – those who bother to read my scribbling. You matter most of all. A story to explain.
About the five-mile mark of the 2011 Hospital Hill Marathon I ran into an old friend I had never met. As I trudged south up the Oak St./Gillham hill, a male voice behind me called my name.
It is unnerving how much more comfortable you become with being called “Mister” as the hair atop your head departs and those hairs in and about your earlobes grow long enough to part.
I had been matching strides with a healthy brunette who looked to be in her early 30s. I felt her approach on my right and something about her gate appeared familiar. When you run enough of these local races, you begin to get to know the cadence of some of the other runners – especially those who often finish with about the same time as you.
A ponytailed blonde with a great backside had been my escort a few races back and this lady moved with similar determination. At first I thought her to be that same dame. But a shock of brown hair fell from her neck and bounced against the back of her bright pink top. Her most striking feature though, was that she wore one of the sexiest inventions known to running man – the running miniskirt or “skorts.” This incredibly alluring piece of running apparel draped over the athletic thighs and buttocks of a shapely female immediately adds two points to anyone’s rating system.
The male voice behind me calling me by my father’s name snapped me from my skorts fantasy. “Mr. Hall,” he said again as he pulled alongside me to the left. “I love your column! I’ve been reading you since 2000.”
I have no idea how this well-read, vastly intelligent and immediately likable young man was able to recognize me from viewing my not-so-great backside. I had seen Chris Alvey, the mother of one of my son’s cross country teammates, taking photos a few blocks back. She and I exchanged hollers as I loped past. Maybe he heard Chris yell my name. Maybe he has a great talent for placing the back of a person’s head with the front. Whatever the reason, this completely engaging and handsome 30-ish lad knew I was the guy who writes Off The Couch.
“My name is Uncle Vernon,” he continued. “My friends call me Todd.” Uncle Vernon was a frequent contributor to the Comments section of my column on KCConfidential. It is always interesting to learn that real people exist behind their Internet names.
“I loved your Boston Marathon stuff,” Uncle Vernon said. “As a matter of fact, I was thinking about you just this morning before the race while I was sitting in the porta-potty.”
To those who have not read my Boston Marathon story, this comment might at first sound odd. Believe me, it is. But go read my Boston Marathon stories and you will understand Uncle Vernon is not the pervert you might believe him to be.
“It wasn’t nearly as cold in the porta-potty of course as it was for you in Boston,” he continued. It sure wasn’t. It was now past 7:30 AM and the morning sun was warming the Hospital Hill crowd to what would soon be a toasty 90-degree day.
Just then the striking brunette in the killer black skorts turns toward us in mid-stride as she hears Uncle Vernon and me reminiscing about my Boston columns.
“Are you Greg Hall?” she queries?
Damn, I hope Miss Skorts 2002 is not a mindreader.
“Uh, yeah,” I stammer with more than a hint of guilt.
“Do you remember my husband, Andrew?” she asked. “He emailed you after he read your Boston Marathon story. He is recovering from cancer and he wrote you to tell you how much your story meant to him.”
Did I remember Andrew’s email? You mean the email that I read about 40 times and cried tears of pride in the human race after 39 of them?
“You’re Andrew’s wife???” I answered in shock.
“Yes,” she smiled as the three of us huffed along and down South Gillham.
I received a number of emails from readers after I posted my tale from Boston. None moved me like the two Andrew sent me. Here are the notes Andrew sent me back in April…
Congratulations on running a great Boston Marathon! You ran an incredible time. My wife qualified and ran it in 2009 (I am much too slow…) and for me, as a spectator, it was the greatest sporting event I have ever attended. The way the city and surrounding suburbs support the race makes it an awesome experience even for those of us camped out 200 yards from the finish to cheer the runners.
As an aside, I am a frequent reader of your columns and have never commented/emailed before, but today’s column about your pre-race thoughts and emotions struck a chord with me. I have ran the Chicago marathon twice and not quickly (4:25 pr). I had hoped and still continue to hope to run more but was “unexpectedly” diagnosed with stage IV cancer last August. I am only 38 with two young sons so I have no choice but to battle, which I am doing. I truly hope to be in a position someday to again experience the pre-marathon excitement and jitters you so perfectly articulated.
Andrew followed this email with a second after I posted Part II of my Boston story.
Just read part 2 and it was awesome! Tough break on the band aids – when that happens to me I call it “CSI my chest.”
I ran outside (i.e., no treadmill) on Sunday the first time since the day before my diagnosis last August and it was the most emotional run I have ever had. I fully intend to run a marathon someday down the road God willing. I am going to hold onto your articles for inspiration.
I am merely made of flesh and blood. To think my story from Boston could help inspire a young father to aspire to beat Stage IV cancer and complete a future marathon made me weep. I struggle even now to see the monitor through watery eyes.
Somewhere around 3,000 runners tackled the 2011 Hospital Hill half-marathon course. What are the odds of me running into Uncle Vernon and the pretty and swift bride of Andrew not only in the same race but on the same hill? A force far greater than man – maybe it is simply called life – was in the works for all three of us to be together on that day at that time. The bond we shared was my column. My insignificant little Off The Couch column that has bounced from newspaper to newspaper and website to website over these past 17 years.
I received the following note from Andrew just this weekend after the Hospital Hill run.
Great run today! People like you and my wife amaze me with how you can not only tolerate but kick some tail in the heat. Still can’t believe my wife ran into you – if I had known she would see you I would have told her to tell you that I am following OTC wherever it goes. Finished up “spring” chemo this week and get scanned Tuesday to see where things stand. God willing, I will be back to the pavement soon.
Why do I run? Skorts.
Why do I write? Three good reasons – Uncle Vernon. Andrew. You.
Greg Hall, [email protected]