The 2012 Olympic Marathon Trials are being held in Houston, Texas, tomorrow morning. The crème de la crème in the running world are all toeing the line for the chance to win a place on the Olympic team. And there are plenty of favorite elite runners out there hitting the road. For the men – Ryan Hall, Meb Keflezighi, and Dathan Ritzenhein are being pegged as the three to beat. For the women, it’s Shalane Flanagan, Desiree Davila, and Kara Goucher at the head of the pack. But here’s the thing with running – you can be the top of your class, the elitist of the elite, and you can still have a bad day, hit the wall, and fall behind. You just never know.
But with all the talk about these great runners making their play at a spot to compete in the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, England (six will advance to run in the marathon…three men and three women), it got me thinking about who my heroes in this sport are. There are so many greats to choose from – past and present.
But when it comes down to it, I owe a lot of my passion and a lot of my love for this sport to one man:
This…is my grandpa, Howard A. Brady.
From as far back as I can remember, my grandpa was a runner. When we visited him in Minnesota over summer vacations, he would still lace up his running shoes and go for a run. When he came to visit in New York and Alabama, he’d bring his running gear (something I have now taken to doing when I travel) and head out on unfamiliar roads and get his run in.
The thing is, my grandpa wasn’t always a runner. In fact, he took up the sport quite late in life. He was in his fifties, in fact. And to me, this just proves that it wasn’t just dedication to running, it was a love of it. When I talk to him on the phone (he is still in Minnesota and I am currently in Indiana) after my races or whatnot, we always talk about running. He once told me that he preferred to run on hot days. He loved to sweat it all out. I too share this love of the hot-weather run! Cold weather and I don’t get along. He has a gift for storytelling, and hearing some of his race stories can be downright amusing. One of my favorites came out of a marathon he ran in Berlin, Germany. I can’t even begin to share it here. It’s a story best left told by the man who was there.
My grandpa has done amazing things in his running career. He has regaled me with stories of his races…and he has done every distance from 5Ks to marathons. When I was visiting this past summer, he took time to show me what racing shirts he still has in his possession, his race bibs, his awards, medals, etc. I totally understood his passion for the sport, because the way he talks about it…it shows how much he loved it. And…how much he misses it.
Now 90 years old, he hung up his running shoes a couple years ago. And, though I didn’t come to the sport right away, I have picked up the torch and started on my path in running. But it was my grandpa who truly showed me what it was like to love running. I didn’t realize it as I was growing up, but knowing he was out their pounding the pavement was inspiring. And that inspiration lit a spark in me that has since flared into my own passion for this sport.
Running and I used to have a passing acquaintance. To me, running was more of a punishment than something to do for pleasure. I was a relatively active child growing up, playing softball, basketball, taking karate lessons, and just heading out to the neighborhood streets with all the kids and playing a round of kickball. With the exception of karate, these sports did involve some running. But, for the most part, running was used as a punishment. If we lost a softball game, my coach would make us run laps. We’d have to run sprints in basketball, which was grueling to say the least. In gym class, we’d have to go for runs around the gym or the track, sometimes to warm up, sometimes for the physical fitness test…but it was never something I got excited about. It was more disdain than anything.
I’m short, so my stride isn’t long. That means when I see all these lean, lanky, running machines at races, I often look at myself and wonder how I came into this. I am not built to be fast. But, I have proven that these short little legs can carry me over the distance. Then again, I didn’t get into running to be the first across that finish line. That will never happen. I got into running because…I just started running. For fun. Not for any other reason.
And I think that’s how it was for my grandpa. He took up running later in life and got in over 30 years of miles on the road. He’s run races in a variety of cities, states, and countries. He still tells me how much he misses running. And I can understand why. Because when I can’t get in a run or have to take time off, I miss it too. When I got injured during the summer and couldn’t run from May until August, there were times I would just sit on my couch and cry because I just wanted to get out and run. Missing the sport is probably an understatement for a man who was so passionate about chasing his own pavements.
Every race I run, I run with my grandpa in mind. When I lace up my running shoes to get in a quick run during the day, I do so with my grandpa in mind. He’s the reason I chase my own pavements and strive to be a better runner.
You can throw names of great runners at me, heroes of the sport, Olympians, elites, the fastest-of-the-fast in distance running, but my running hero will always be the man who inspired me to run in the first place – Howard A. Brady – my grandpa.