During our Cape Island Spotlight interview, Mr. P and I went on many a tangent. Due to space, I had to cut a lot of what we talked about, but there was one conversation I just could not dismiss. It did not answer any of the questions that I had asked him, so I decided to give it its own post. Hey, if running is saving someone’s life, it is the least I can do! Enjoy!
The 3 Times Running Saved Mr. P’s Life
As he mentioned during our interview, Mr. P has a birth defect that does not allow his right hand to properly function. As a child, he endured 8 surgeries. In between those surgeries, he was an athletic kid – his whole family was, in fact. He loved playing sports like baseball and football. But each of those important surgeries came with a price – a cast. A cast is a wonderful thing, but not when you are trying to play sports where you have to grip bats, throw balls and tackle people. By freshman year, he gravitated towards running and finally found the answer to his very unique problem – he could run whenever or wherever he wanted, with or without a cast. As he put it “It changed my life because my hand would never get in the way again. The hand dominated my early life, everyone was always worried about me. This was finally something that was not my hand , something different just for me”.
“In the mid-1990s I had let my weight creep up to 230 pounds. I felt like I could not run because I was too fat and I could not lose the weight because I was not running. It was a viscous circle. I considered quitting coaching because what kind of example is an overweight coach who can’t run with his athletes setting? I finally was able to get on a bike to lose some of the weight and then was able to start running again. Adding running back into the mix allowed me to drop 40 pounds and feel like myself again. It saved my life.”
In the spring of 2009, Mr. P was struck with what was originally diagnosed as colitis. He’d never had experienced anything quite as bad as this and as the summer progressed, it got worse. Much worse. Through a series of concerned friends and doctors he finally learned what he was actually battling – a nasty bout with Crohn’s that turned downright life threatening when an abscess in his colon formed a fistula. By the time they figured out what it actually was, there was a serious chance that he would not pull through. He got set up with a fantastic surgeon at Temple University and together they, along with Mr. P’s family, began a battle for his life.
He spent 7 weeks in the hospital, lost an enormous amount of weight and recalls the time period mostly through the memories of others, as he has few of his own from the early weeks of the hospital stay. Especially since we know the story ends happily, some of the stories from that time are equal parts heartbreaking and hilarious. For instance:
His good friend and fellow runner/biker, Jamie, came to visit and ask him “what do you want to do?” and Mr. P would say, “I want to run” and he would mimic the motions of running.
He told his wife (let’s take a a quick detour here and give a word of praise for Mrs. P – throughout this whole ordeal, she never lost hope that he would pull through and would not even entertain thoughts or talk of any other outcome. She, and Mr. P’s sister, rearranged their schedules and made herculean efforts to be by his side as much as possible. You can’t help but think this had to make a difference. Way to go Mrs. P and Sister P! The recovery is his, his doctors and yours!) … anyway, he told his wife that he had been having long conversations with his Uncle Sal who not only was not there, but had been dead for years (Well, strike that. What do I know? Maybe good ol’ Sal was there!). She would also come into the room to Mr. P telling her “hang on just a second,I just have to finish this lesson about FDR.”
Despite still being alive and starting to regain his wits, Mr. P. found himself in a very dark place. Sure, it was fantastic he was alive – but what kind of life was he in? He was hooked up to all manner of machines, which he kept trying to pull out of his body, and just could not make the mental leap that was needed to help him take those baby steps on a very long road to recovery. We have all been to this place (and if you have not, just wait, it will happen eventually) – where you know what needs to be done but it just sounds so exhausting and hard and terrible that you put off doing anything, frozen in a place that is neither here nor there.
Enter a brother of Mr. P. He said the magic words that unlocked P’s mental paralysis – “Remember marathon training? You never missed a practice. Well, this is a marathon and you are on Day 1.” The words hit P’s sweet spot and that day he got up and walked down the hallway and every day did a little more.
What followed was his journey on that long road back. He started with a rowing machine and eventually got himself back to running. He used Broad Street training (it’s now quite clear why that race means so much to him!) to keep him going. One day, he had Mrs. P drop him 8 miles from their house, just to ensure that he would have run to get home. The girls track team happened to go by on a bus and cheered their little hearts out. He ran home so fast that when he came inside Mrs. P. asked who had given him a ride. The truth was that no one had physically pulled over in their car and driven him back. But Mrs. P, his family, his students, his athletes, his doctors, fellow coaches, everyone that had prayed for him – every single one of those people gave him a ride that day.
Running saved his life once more, and this time it was clearer than ever that it was not just the miles logged on legs that should not be here, but also every person that believed that he would live to run again that did the trick. Running is a gift and if we let it, every day it gives us just what we need.
Mr. P., thank you so much for sharing your story. It’s ones like this that I tuck in my pocket for the hard miles in a marathon, where I will pull it out, draw on its strength, and remember that every day I get to run (no matter how much it hurts) is an awfully good day.