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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

My tribute, and a hope

  Oddly enough, I'd had the nightmare before- I sign onto my facebook account, and find out that someone I care about had died, unexpectedly and prematurely (weird nightmare, I know).  Only this time, I was fully awake, and the nightmare was real.  This can't be real.  I clicked on the link, but the first line of the article that I'd already seen was, in fact, very real.  Cycling.  Hit by a motorcycle.  Run over by a car.  You don't want to play the scene out in your head...but you can't help it.  You know those things happen, but when it's a stranger, it's just not as real.  Shakes you up, maybe, makes you reevaluate a little, but your entire body doesn't go numb.  You see the people driving extremely recklessly from time to time, and you just pray that they're not on the road when you're out there biking, walking, running, driving, doing handstands, whatever; but sometimes, they are.

  I'd only known Heather for less than two years, but it had been long enough to know that she was just a good person, period.  We were introduced in 2010, when Sarah Nazarian asked me to run on a relay for the Rochester Marathon, with fourth relay member Meaghan.  The four of us met before the race; all three of the other women were warm, friendly, and inviting.  I'd be receiving the "handoff"  (a slap of the hand) from Heather; she told me to look for her pink tank top.  I remember her kicking towards me at that race, slapping my hand, and shouting encouragement to me as I took off.

  After that relay, we probably could have lost touch; we'd only met because of it, after all.  But, thankfully, due to social media, the connections it allows us to have these days, and Heather's very persona, a simple friend request assured that we didn't.  Additionally, we continued to run into each other at races, always chatting with, encouraging, and offering congrats to each other.  Soon enough, Heather began to thrive-prs left and right, continually pushing her boundaries.  Her enthusiasm towards her success was contagious; one of my favorite aspects about sports is having the opportunity to see good people achieve their personal goals, whatever they may be.  When Heather began to get into tris, she began to ask me for advice from time to time.  I was flattered that she respected what I had to say, and I was always willing to offer whatever help and encouragement I could, whether it be advice about the Finger Lakes tri course, my thoughts on age group nationals, bike purchasing points, or 70.3 training.  For whatever reason, once I'm in any way involved in someone's training or racing, no matter how small of a role I may play (I've found this with my runner patients, as well) , I'm completely invested in their outcome.  Tracking Heather's results and messaging her was fun, after all.  She just kept improving and achieving, and who doesn't love watching someone flourish?  Not to mention, every congrats I'd then offer her was met with thanks and graciousness, even though, in reality, she'd done all the work.

  But it never was about her.  Heather always made it about me.  In a way (and I know this sounds strange), she was probably the first (non-related) fans of me as a triathlete.  She was always one of the first people to send me a congrats message on every race I've done this year, and I know she tracked me consistently, even updating others here and there.  When Dave and I went down to watch Musselman, I made sure we were there to watch her finish.  As she ran past us, probably 70.1 miles into the race, we cheered out throats out (and I found myself feeling that little surge of happiness/pride/emotion/whatever that goes along with seeing someone reach a goal-another little source of strength to me, as I was preparing to head to Placid).  Huge smile on her face, she yelled to me, "I can't believe you're about to do this twice!  Good luck in Placid, Jennie!"  Again, just over a minute from accomplishing a huge goal of hers, she found a way to encourage me.  I'm still not sure what I did to earn that kind of treatment-I'm just doing what I know and love, after all.  The last message I received from Heather was in regard to my Placid race report, less than a week ago.  She called me an inspiration, and said that because of it, she was thinking of putting an Ironman on her long term plan.  This morning's paper stated that Heather's brother Graham had said he'd carry her on his back during his competitions, so she'd get her best times-well, Graham, if you don't mind, I'll like to put her on mine just for a day in early November (if all goes according to plan), just to get her that Ironman.

  When it comes down to it, I only knew Heather for a brief period of time, in one specific aspect of her life-yet, she made such a difference in mine.  I can't even imagine the kind of impact she had on those closest to her-of which, there are many (and she still found time for me).  She was the kind of person that I'd think about, proud of how far she'd come, happy to be able to follow and participate in her journey.  I know she touched so many other lives much more than mine, in so many different ways, under many guises and roles.  My deepest condolences go out to her family,  friends, fellow MIMs, coworkers, and students for their loss of this wonderful, dynamic woman-and if every media (social and otherwise) outlet is any indication, the number of people that loved and cared for this woman for who she was is countless.

  Can we make any sense out of this?  Well, not really.  But can we try to make something good come out of it?  If my can-do coach has anything to say about it, yes, we can.  In plain English, Mary kicks ass, and has already been taking the media and law enforcement by storm to raise awareness of cyclist's rights, sharing the road, penalties, etc.  I'll never doubt her ability to make something happen again, after all :).  Riding on the trainer all the time doesn't seem like it's the answer (especially for those of us who need the practice at bike handling, downhills, and crosswinds).  Making ourselves and the roads safer has to be the best thing we can do.  Heather was a huge supporter of me as a triathlete-so, I'm going to continue to be one.  I'd be lying if I said I wasn't nervous about getting back on the roads (so far, I've only been on the trainer since Placid), but, if nothing else, we can do everything within our power to make ourselves safer.  And if even one life is saved, then it's worth it.  Not to mention, as I said before, I'm not going to put anything past my fearless coach, and this fantastic community of ours :).  On Saturday, we'll come together to ride for Kevin Royston (there's a previous blog post on what happened to him in here) and Heather.  Although it absolutely sucks that there's any reason whatsoever that this ride is taking place, I'm heartened by the power we have in coming together.                    


  1. What a great post Jennie.. all those who loved her will always remember what she gave to the world. Thanks for sharing and even in your pain, there is a light of hope the world can be improved from this.. if Mary has anything to say about it.. I know it will... (and you too.. a powerful team :)

  2. Great piece Jennie, had me crying half way through. Best to you.