Inspiration for propulsion

The pond iced over last night. All morning I sat in my sunny porch and ruminated about getting outside, but the sight of the ice and thought of frigid temperatures were holding me back. Plus, there was sad news online: a guy I “knew” only through Facebook had died. It was not unexpected, but his passing added significant weight to my decision to run today.

His name was Darrell Henry, and he lived in Arkansas. He was a runner and an inspiration to a lot of people all over the world. Darrell had suffered many physical challenges: a brain tumor, significant bouts of cancer and related complications, plus removal of a large part of his intestine. But he never stopped running, or wanting to. He was very open and frank about his ailments and his ongoing treatment. Hundreds of people knew when he had chemo, when he went back to the hospital for fluids, how he struggled to keep food down in the last few weeks, how the once-strong runner struggled to stand and walk.

In recent months I’ve also watched someone close to me go through cancer treatment. Driving to radiation appointments was all I could do to help. The disease as well as the treatments can be physically and psychologically damaging but now I grasp the importance of finding a way to look past the immediate treatment and pain, to have something like running to look forward to. If you stop making plans, I guess, you stop living.


Friends of his made t-shirts with this logo on it.

Darrell had been a marathoner with great philosophical insight about the act of running, plus a burning desire and need to run. He brought together a great variety of people who enjoyed his quips and took inspiration from his experiences. I often had to reconsider my petty excuses for not lacing up my shoes when he’d post something like this:

“The best remedy for throat, inner ear and jaw pain from chemo? Hill repeats. Find a steep hill and run up and down that thing till the pain from the act overshadows the pain from chemo. Punish yourself harder than life can, and life will cease to cause you fear.”

One woman posted a long exchange she had with him in which he described a terribly difficult race with cold winds and hills — while he was having chemo treatments that made him ultra sensitive to cold. He thought about laying in a ditch out of the wind, he said, but instead used the wind to pull himself to the top of the hill. “I did what I advise others to do,” he wrote. “Fall forward one step at a time until you’re finished. That’s running isn’t it?”

Here’s a post of his I found that pinched my heart, because we all have those trails we dream of escaping to, but he had so many more reasons to want to escape the confines of his medical bondage: “In the past week we discovered I have a blood clot that nearly affected the entire length of my left arm. Fairly common with chemo, plus it happens with ports. Just part of the game. A few days later I developed an intestinal obstruction … I can’t exert myself in any way for a week or two because of the clot, so I’m doing something I did in the hospital following my colectomy. Closing my eyes and daydreaming of a trail in the national forest that I love to run. I’ll be back there soon.”

My struggle has always been mental: overcoming the comfort of my status quo, like putting on multiple layers of shirts and socks to go out on a cold day. His, I realized, was the opposite, it was making his damaged body do what his mind never stopped wanting.

So I went out to my favorite trails today and enjoyed a beautiful run with Darrell in mind, like thousands of other runners who knew him. I have so little to overcome and so much to be thankful for. The colors may be dull this time of year but the feeling of strength in my legs and air in my lungs made this one to treasure. It was better than falling forward one step at a time by a long shot.


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