February 16, 2018 I will toe the line at The Outlaw 100. It will be my very first attempt at a 100 mile race. I will be wearing bib #12. That number matters. It matters a lot.
Here is a little background…
A few months ago, I planned for the Pistol Ultra in Tennessee (in March) to be my first 100 miler.
But then a couple of on-line friends/ultra runners decided to start a new race – the Outlaw 100 in Oklahoma in February, and I could not resist the opportunity to support their inaugural race and to be a part of the very first year of this event.
When Jeremy and Alicia announced this event, I had not yet completed a 100K. But I wanted to do their 100-mile race. So, I made a decision – if I could finish that 100K (untrained as I was) in October, then I would tackle their 100-miler in February. I committed to them on line, stating that if I finished my 100K then I would definitely be registering for the Outlaw 100-miler.
But then registration opened and the first 10 spots in the 100 mile event were taken (the 100 mile runners were given bib numbers starting at 1). I had a number in mind… The number 12. I NEEDED that number.
So, I emailed the Race Directors and asked if they could reserve the number for me, pending successful completion of my 100K the next weekend. Within a very short time I received a response, and they confirmed that the number 12 was mine!!
I started that 100K in October knowing I would finish because I needed to run that 100-miler. I needed to do something epic with bib #12.
But why? Why did that number matter? Well, settle in and let me tell you why….
At some point in high school I wore the number 12… probably for basketball, but I honestly do not remember. I just remember that I wore the number and it was a “good luck” number for me.
Years later, I had kids. And as they got older, they started sports. For two of my daughters and my son, their main sport was soccer. (My older daughter only liked soccer if there were fights or other entertainment during the games. She preferred cheerleading, drama, softball, and swimming/ diving.)
One of my daughters, Heather, decided for some reason that she liked being number 12 on her basketball and soccer teams. I had never talked to her about liking the number. But for some reason, she did, and she always wore that number, every chance she got.
My kids have all grown up to be amazing adults. All 4 of them have faced challenges, and adversity, and all 4 of them have risen above those challenges with strength and poise. They have made me very proud.
And, yes, I have faced my own demons and challenges and certainly more than my fair share of adversity in this life… and maybe someday that will be a topic of one of these posts. But not yet. Not today.
Today is about Heather. Because one of my kids, my number 12 wearing soccer player (Heather), has been challenged more than all the rest of us in the family, combined. And because a 100-mile race is a challenge, and because it includes built-in toughness and adversity, it seemed only appropriate that I wear her (our) number for my first attempt at the 100-mile distance.
I know, I know. We all define “adversity” as something different. The fact that I believe she has been through Hell and back is just my opinion. I know that. You may disagree. But if you know her story, then I think you will understand….
You see Heather was like every other high school girl. She played sports, she was on Student Council, and she had a high school boyfriend.
I didn’t like him.
His mom and dad were reputed to be drug users, and he did not even live at home. He was older than her (a senior when she was a freshman) and he was a star athlete…the kind of guy that you see in movies, who uses the freshman girl and then discards her and moves on. But Heather loved him. His name was Anthony. When I met him, he was respectful and polite and charismatic and I honestly could not find any legitimate reason not to like him. He was a likeable guy. I was still not happy about the relationship, but she was in love and I knew that nothing I could do or say would change that.
Against the advice of most adults around them, when Heather became an adult, she and Anthony decided to get married. She was playing college soccer for a community college team that was top 4 in the State of California, in the best shape of her life, and prime for a scholarship to a 4-year university. But at he age of 19, she decided to give that up, get a job, get married and settle down.
I was not happy. I did not like the decision. But it was not my life.
Heather finished out that first year of college soccer, but then moved in with Anthony and they planned their wedding. October 23, 2010, they were married. It was a fairy-tale romance and he was her Prince Charming. The wedding was beautiful. They were a beautiful couple.
A few weeks later, December 4, 2010 was Anthony’s birthday. We were all together that evening to walk down Christmas Tree Lane in Fresno where the lights and decorations are one of the biggest attractions around, during the holidays. Afterward, we enjoyed hot chocolate and wine, at Joel and Michele McNair’s nearby home (my now in-laws).
By this point, Heather and Anthony shared their latest news with us. Soon after they got married, she had become pregnant, and they were expecting a baby in late July of 2011. Again, in all honesty, I was not thrilled.
Don’t misunderstand me – I LOVE being a grandma. But they were newly married and still getting to know each other, and now they would be bringing a baby into the equation. This just felt too soon, and just about any relationship “expert” would have agreed.
In “my” idealistic mind, this was not an ideal situation for them. A soccer scholarship would now be out of the question, at least for now. College would be difficult. This just did not seem like a wise move for their future. At least not for the future that I believed they should have.
But Heather’s future was her own. No matter what I thought was “best” she was charting her own path and doing what she wanted to do with her life. And, when all is said and done, I believe that all things happen for a reason. In retrospect, I should have recognized that. I should have known their baby was conceived so soon for a reason…
The next day, December 5, 2010, Heather went to work, and Anthony left for football practice with his AAA football team. But he never got there. He was riding his motorcycle way too fast on a bad section of road, lost control, and crashed. He died, instantly.
All of a sudden, Anthony was gone.
All of a sudden, my baby girl, became a 19 year-old widow just 7 weeks in to a marriage and 6 weeks into a pregnancy. My heart was as broken over her pain as her heart was broken over her loss. It was devastating… for her and for everyone who loved her.
After Anthony’s death I learned a few things about him that I wish I’d known, sooner. For instance, I learned that he was not living at home during his high school years because he was aware of his parents’ drug habits, and he CHOSE to remove himself from that situation. My misunderstanding had been that they had kicked him out, but the reality was that he chose to live with his church pastor and wife, in order to give himself a better environment. I learned that, unlike his parents, he was adamantly against any sort of drug use. I learned, only after he died, that he was a far better human being, in general, than I had realized.
Watching Heather deal with his death was heartbreaking. Seeing my child in pain, day after day after day, hurt. A lot. I hurt for her. I watched her try to put the pieces of her life back together. I watched her carry their baby for 7 more months. I was there when their daughter was born, and all the while I kept thinking about how unfair the whole situation was and how he should have been there to see his little girl come into the world.
I do not know the grief that comes with losing a child (thankfully) but I do understand the sorrow that comes when you see your child lose a part of herself… when she becomes someone different… when something happens that completely extinguishes part of a flame that used to radiate happiness and fun and adventure. Because that is what we all witnessed. The Heather who existed on December 4, 2010, was gone. My daughter was still here, thankfully, but she was not the same person. And I don’t know that she ever will be. I hope so. I hope she can regain her zest for life and love and fun and adventure.
She has dealt really well with the loss. Better than I could have. She is an awesome mother to her daughter, Mackenzie, and she has done all she can to be sure Mackenzie knows her daddy.
But the true happiness in Heather’s smile has faded. The bright light in her eyes has dimmed. And although she has found the strength to move on and move forward, I don’t think she has found a way to allow herself to be truly, really, deeply happy. The sort of happy that she felt on December 4, 2010. My wish for her is that someday she will know that happiness, again. That she will find true love and true joy and find a way to rekindle that bright light in her beautiful eyes.
So…. That is why I chose the number 12 for my racing bib for the Outlaw 100.
I am wearing number 12 for Heather.
This race is probably going to be the second hardest thing that I have ever done in my life… second only to the difficulty of watching my child endure this sort of tragedy at such a young age.
And the way I see it, if Heather has been able to endure that loss, that heartbreak, and withstand all that the world has thrown at her since, then my plan to run 100 miles pales in comparison, and I hope to draw upon her amazing strength when I start to falter along this journey.
And when I finish that race, my hope is that because I wore HER number 12, maybe she will be able to share in that happiness with me… Maybe she will see the effect that her strength has had on me. By sharing my little victory maybe, just maybe, it will help guide her toward finding some little tiny bit of true joy that I know still rests within her soul.
Because she, and her little princess, deserve it.
This is what I hope. And this is why I will be wearing the number 12 on February 16, 2019, when I begin (and finish) the Outlaw 100.