Loss has never come easy for me; be it in cards, a high school sporting event or on a personal level.
I have always done well to suppress the feelings rather than deal with them. Somehow I think that if I do not confront the feelings, then the loss never occurred.
Losing Sally Meyerhoff rocked me to my core. She was so full of life, spirit, hope and personality that I envied her. She owned me from the moment that I met her.
Sally and I first met shortly after her arrival at Mountain Pointe. She had the audacity to interrupt an amazing lecture I was offering my students to deliver a goody bag to a teammate on the day of a meet. She knocked at my door, entered and asked to bestow the treats on her comrade. I didn’t say a word. I attempted to pierce her soul with my glare; instead she pierced my heart with her smile and innocent confidence.
Sally and her teammates delivered goodie bags again a couple years later. The first State Championship of my tenure as athletic director came in the fall of 2000, with Sally winning the individual honor, and team under Geoff Owers’ direction, taking the trophy. Shortly after crossing the finish Sally turned to assist runners as they crossed into the chute. Her family: mom, dad, brother, sister, aunts, uncles and cousins joined in. I watched in awe as they helped everyone.
That day a race official came to me and spoke of disqualifying Mountain Pointe because of their presence in a restricted area. I thought to myself, good luck, my money is on the Meyerhoff Clan.
Last year for the first of Sally’s Run I feigned a leg injury even though I was suffering from a broken spirit. I parked as far away from the start as possible and returned to my truck twice before finally making to the venue just before the gun. As I approached, Tom Meyerhoff, Sally’s father, grabbed me, hugged me and squeezed the life back into me. As the race started with the Meyerhoff Clan out-front I thought again of the race official’s threat and I chuckled to myself through the tears. My money was still on them.
When it came time for this year’s event I found myself retreating once again. Cindi Meyerhoff kept in touch asking me to spread the word around Mountain Pointe. Cross Country alum parent, and current staff member, Barb Neal prodded me about signing up. My wife, Heather, told me to sign our 6-year old son, Maddox, up for the kids run and talked to him about running in it.
Heather’s conversation with him led Maddox to ask me about Sally.
I found myself retelling stories that I had kept locked away. I spoke about her championship spirit, her congenial nature and her path that led her wherever she wanted to go without restriction. I did it without crying, which is tough for me, you see I went to the Mike Schmidt and Dick Vermeil school of public speaking and have a tendency to weep; a lot.
A few days went by and he asked if he could run the 5K with me. I was energized at his request. He had already checked with mom and she thought that it would be a good idea as well. When I sent a photo of his race bib to her phone on Friday she replied back that she was excited and nervous. So was I.
Race morning found us at the start line early. As we got out of the same truck that was parked so far away a year ago, Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run” blared from the sound system. Having taken my daughter to see Springsteen and the E Street Band just 36 hours before I felt a warmth come over me. Bruce talked poignantly Thursday night about living with ghosts. As a prelude to “My City of Ruins” he spoke how all of us were missing somebody and I thought of Sally.
Saturday morning hearing The Boss’s words again, my thoughts returned to Sally. I missed her, but I wasn’t alone.
I again ran into Tom and he once again grabbed me and squeezed me as hard as he could. With my head buried into his chest I told him I loved him. Cindi grabbed Maddox and took him over to the prize table. I cried a lot, and can only imagine what onlookers thought as I walked hand-in-hand with my son, tears rolling down my face and him without a care in the world.
Prior to the start I told him that along the way he could stop and walk if he needed to. He said that Sally wouldn’t walk during a race, so neither would he. I chuckled and thought pretty big words for a little boy who has never run more than two miles in one outing. We took our spot at the back of the pack and waited with Barb for the race to start.
As we headed down the canal I kept glancing to my left to see him moving along. I tried to speak without creating responses so that he could conserve his breathe. As we headed down the first hill I reminded him that we would have to go back up so not to use up all his energy. As we settled into a pace appropriate for him I was overcome with a sense of calm. He seemed natural running and talking, and our conversation drifted from meaningless speak to did I think mom got a good picture of him at the start.
He finished strong passing adults as we ran towards the line. With a proud dad holding his hand and a proud mom snapping photos from the side, he crossed the mark at 33 minutes.
Maddox’s excitement was heightened as he talked about maybe winning his age group. As we waited for the times to be posted he advised people that he only walked when he stopped to get cup of Gatorade.
Once the results were posted he realized that he finished second in his age category. A 7-year-old beat him by 11 minutes.
When we turned from the board I told him I was proud of him and that in all the races I have done over the years this was the most enjoyable because it was the first one I was able to do with him.
His day got better when his name was pulled during the raffle. He won a $50 gift certificate to a local running store and the remaining runners gave him a big cheer when he collected the prize.
He told me I could have it since they probably didn’t have kids’ shoes. I assured him they did and that it was his because, even though dad bought the ticket, he earned the reward.
After saying our goodbyes to people we knew, he turned to me and asked if we could run another 5K next weekend. Then he asked if Sally would have been proud of him.
Yes she is Maddox, yes she is.
• Ian Moses is the athletic director at Mountain Pointe High School in Ahwatukee.