Crossposted from my running blog, Built For Speed!
I'm going to Tennessee!
I've signed up with Team In Training to run the Country Music Half Marathon in Nashville in April 2008. Only a half marathon this time, but a half marathon laden with meaning, emotion, expectations and hopes for the future.
When I ran the Walt Disney World Marathon in 2004, I had something to prove. As I mentioned to many people at the time, until I began training for it the furthest distance I had run was one mile. In high school. Because I had to for the Presidential Fitness Challenge or some other program that required high school students to run a mile. Within five months, the Team In Training program got me to the point where I could complete a marathon-- and I did. Sure, it took me forever to do it, but I made it 26.2 miles under my own power and raised over $5,000 for The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
This time... this time there's a lot more to the decision. I recently found out that 2008 marks the 20th Anniversary of the Team In Training program. Over the past 20 years, people like me have run marathons, completed triathlons, ridden bikes, gone hundreds of thousands of miles and raised over $800 million dollars for blood cancer research.
One day in August some 20 years ago, I met a guy named Hal Rather at the National Junior Classical League convention at the University of Colorado, Boulder, all thanks to a guy named Scott Clemons. Scott was hosting that year's "That's Entertainment!", the annual convention talent show. I didn't know Hal; he didn't know me. Scott knew us. And he needed material for the show. So he handed us a stack of blank paper and said-- as best as I can recall-- "I need more material for tonight. You guys are funny. Write me something funny."
So a friendship starts. There were other people in the room, other funny people-- Laura, Lucy, Joe, Jenny, other faces and names are flashing but not connecting-- and we threw together a ton of material that afternoon then headed off to eat dinner and go to the show. There'd been a running joke concerning one of the nightly dances at Convention that year-- it had a cowboy theme, and there was a country & western band, and smartasses like us who'd seen The Blues Brothers one too many times kept asking the band if they knew the theme from Rawhide.
They did not.
Hal and I did. We figured that out walking from dinner to the dress rehearsal. By the time we got to the venue, we were ready to go- we had a setup and we had a two-person a cappella rendition of the Rawhide theme. We pitched it to Scott, he bit, and... and because Scott didn't come back to Convention after that, we wrote and hosted that show ourselves for the next three years.
I don't remember exactly when I found out that Hal had leukemia. Sometime in late 1991 or early 1992. Hal had spent most of the previous year abroad at the University of Copenhagen- in fact, Hal is the only person I know who spent each year of college at a different institution. Ironically, he was at Boston University the year before I met him. Then he transferred to Vanderbilt University in Nashville. For his junior year, he was in Copenhagen, and when he came back to the US he was at the school at which we'd first met, University of Colorado at Boulder. He left Boulder early to go into the oncology unit at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. I don't remember the specifics of what he had, and for the purposes of this post specifics aren't necessary.
He died on August 4th, 1992. Hal was a funny, sharp, vibrant guy, as funny and sharp as I've ever known (and I'm around some hilarious people on a regular basis). I'd known him four years, almost to the day. I was at that year's NJCL convention when it happened, flew to Nashville and arrived a couple of hours before the funeral. And then I help carry the casket to the gravesite, and watched them lower his remains into the ground. But Hal wasn't in that box. He'd already gone on to the next adventure.
I have not been back to Nashville since. Not deliberately; it just never happened. Twenty years is five times as long as I ever knew Hal Rather, and yet I think about him all the time.
There's another story, another victim of leukemia, that factors in here. My wife's Aunt Denise died of leukemia at the age of 39.
I'll be 38 this December.
It's time, y'know? It's time to go back to Nashville, to where the journey ultimately began. It's time to raise more money and run more miles. Please help me by donating whatever amount you can. The link is right over there on the left. You can donate online, and donations are tax deductible. But more than that, donations fund research. Research yields treatment. Treatment prolongs and saves lives. And lives, even one life like that of a 22 year old from Nashville, can change all of us just by being lived to the fullest.