Article by: Michael SelmanReproduced with permission of the author
With the Thanksgiving holiday upon us, we had a most interesting speaker at our running club's meeting this month. His name is Rod Spence. One of the founding members of our club, back in 1982, I had never met him before this meeting. Other founding members were also there, to hear him speak, but I had never met any of them either, despite being an active member of the club.
From his first words, one could sense that being in front of this group, talking about running, was a very difficult thing for him to do. You could feel a special bond, a special warmth as he fondly recalled how close competitive friendships had pushed him years ago to a sub 5 minute mile, and a sub 36 minute 10K. He consistently emphasized how much he loved running. But his words were hinting of sadness, and even a little bitterness.
Those close battles with his friends ended about 10 years ago, when he was first forced to take some major time off, and then came back with a vengeance. His 10K times dropped with a new type of training, and he eventually got good enough to easy beat his prior times. But there was still a sadness in his recollection of the better times.
He was retelling about, when he was still in the 36 minute range for 10K, he had started doing mini-triathlons locally, and had done respectfully in some half Ironman's. The next logical goal was THE Ironman, and he was in intense training. One evening, while he was biking with his daughter's fiancÚ, he noticed 2 large pebbles in the road just ahead of where he was riding. He swerved to avoid the stones, but caught one of them flush, and the next thing he knew, he was airborne, and heading towards a ditch.
He ended up flat on his back, and his next memory was of being airlifted to the hospital.
His better times were established from a sitting position, a paraplegic since that fateful day. His talk last night was from a wheelchair. He recalled how, while he was in the hospital, all he wanted to do was figure out a way to get out of his bed so he could kill himself. He so loved running, with every bone and muscle in his body, that he could just not see life without it. he fought back tears as he recalled one day, after the accident, while he was driving, he saw a runner training on the side of the road, and just lost it. His own sense of loss was that great. He choked up again, as he explained that one of the things he missed most was the comroderie of a run with friends. It's a bond that can't be replicated any other way.
But in time, he learned to accept it. He later got involved in wheelchair athletics, including wheelchair racing, and tennis, and has found positive outlets for his personal needs. He works with disabled youth now, a venture he would have never tackled before the fall. But he still hurts badly, over 12 years later. Coming back to his club, to retell his story to a room full of able bodied runners, had to be difficult for him.
His message was clear, without spelling it out for us. Enjoy every run. Don't sweat the small stuff, like shinsplints, sciatic, compound fractures, or any other minor inconvenience. be thankful for what you DO have every day. It may be gone forever tomorrow. It took a lot of guts for him to come and talk to us this month. In doing so, he probably relived every highlight of his running life, and realized again how badly he missed it. The whole time he talked, he was choking back tears, not because he was feeling sorry for himself, but he was just hurting for missing is passion in a room full of people who can still enjoy theirs.
Today, Rod is living what some of us might consider our worst nightmare. Yet there he was, in front of the room, telling the rest of us how thankful he was for what he has today. The resilience of the human spirit that evening moved us all. Finishing a marathon would be a stroll in the park compared to what Rod Spence has accomplished.
There are some people who run. There are other people who are runners. Rod was a runner, in every fiber of his body. A runner's heart never changes. He is still a runner to this day. I am so glad he came to talk to us this month. I know that I have appreciated every run just a little bit more because of it.
Michael Selman Roads Scholar Atlanta Georgia USAMichael Selman is a freelance writer who has appeared in publications and web sites throughout the world, including Runner's World, Footnotes, and CoolRunning.