Sunday, March 25, 2007

My Friend

I’m a firm believer that the path we are led down in life is highly influenced by the people that surround us and the experiences we have as children. It’s certainly something we can choose and something we can change later but I believe early on most become a product of their environment. In my case I succumbed to my environment and the people surrounding me which in turn rerouted my path in a direction opposite of which it was going.

Honestly I can’t say that I was a good kid because I seemed to find my fair share of trouble but I was having fun. I had a lot of friends, I was a leader and doing well in school but then something happened to change all of that. Exactly 30 years ago tonight in March of 1977 my friend, a person I looked up to as a big brother, committed suicide. He was athletic, good looking, and just overall popular with everyone. He never shunned a soul despite the fact that he was admired by all. When my brothers and I were told our friend was dead we were stunned. I had never experienced death before and I did not know how to react. I never cried for anyone nor had I ever felt sad for anyone and to be quite honest I did not know how. I stood there stunned for what seemed like forever without any reaction at all. Finally at his funeral I broke down and cried for real for the very first time in my life. It wasn’t his death nor was it the fact that I missed him that caused the tears but instead it was the sadness that surrounded me. I couldn’t stand to watch others in so much pain and it hurt me to see each of them hurt. That was the day I learned it was okay to cry.

Later, when the toxicology reports came back indicating that he was under the influence of alcohol and drugs at the time of his suicide everyone was shocked. That is everyone with the exception of his friends of which I was one. He associated with a bad crowd but for the most part no one ever suspected he was the leader of the crowd. His friends knew so again I knew as well. I couldn’t help but feel guilty that I never told anyone. I’ve always believed that just maybe if I would have he would still be alive today.

He did not die in vain because his death changed the lives of those that he called his friends. There were those that seemed to take it in stride but it was obvious that they had changed ever so slightly for the better. There were those that mourned over many months but then managed to move on in their lives with a lesson well learned. Then there was me and who knows maybe a few more like me. I couldn’t deal with his death and to be quite honest sometimes still struggle to this day. I felt guilty, I felt I didn’t deserve to have friends. I also felt that the friends I did have at the time could potentially lead me down the same path as my friend who just died. I was angry, scared and feeling guilty so I disassociated myself from everyone because I was certain they would lead me down the road to death. More importantly I never wanted to become close to anyone again only to feel the sadness of his or her death. I realize I took it to the extreme and I missed out on things that life may have had to offer but I never once succumbed to peer pressure. I was never once tempted by drugs or alcohol because of the toxicology report that indicated his death was due to depression brought on by the effects of the two. He didn’t die in vain. Even though I make mistakes on occasion I’m still a decent guy but I can honestly say I wasn’t on that path until my friend died. He didn’t die in vain.

One of the most important things that I can do as a person is try to be a good role model for kids. I know that people watch when I run and I know that I influence each of them in some way. I may not say a word but they look for me and somehow my presence each day puts a positive thought in their mind. There have been times when I’ve had a little boy or girl run beside me for a few yards and ask me what I’m doing and why I’m doing it. You know I don’t ever remember what I say but I do know that it puts a smile on their face. It’s not my words that matter but rather my presence each day and my dedication to what I’m doing that counts the most. One day they will think of me and if it’s a choice between running and drugs I certainly hope they choose the running. I may never know what happens but the fact that I know I can offer an option just because I’m there is another reason why I run. My friend did not die in vain and the result of his death will not stop with me.

To my friend James Lee Lardani December 24,1962-March 25,1977


Tuesday, March 20, 2007

2007 Shamrock Marathon Report

When I was a little guy the thing that I enjoyed the most was listening to Harry Kalas on the radio as he did the play by play for my favorite baseball team the Philadelphia Phillies. I could never sit back and relax though because my team always seemed to take it down to the wire. When the game progressed into the later innings I would begin to act out the game myself. It wasn�t uncommon for me to find one of those big supermarket balls lying around the house and pretend that I was Mike Schmidt or Greg Luzinkski. As I walloped the ball for what seemed like a million miles I had hoped that Schmidt or Luzinski would follow suit. I can remember distinctly two or three times over a several year period that it did indeed happen. I could not only hear the cheers of the fans in the stadium but I could feel the excitement churning inside the player�s body. It was a feeling that I yearned to have thus my desire to become actively involved in the sport. While I had my days in the sun I was never good enough to play beyond Little League ball so the cheers from fans in a big baseball stadium would never come. More.....

Friday, March 02, 2007

Badwater Thoughts

The trek that I made from Badwater to Mt. Whitney in July of this past year in many ways left me enlightened. The impact of my participation in the event has been mighty and affected all facets of my life. First and foremost I came out of this race with the belief that with some effort there is nothing that any of us can not overcome. Secondly I learned that patience and perseverance are the keys to success in everything that challenges us along our path in life. Finally I learned that it’s important to stop, take a look around and enjoy what is happening now rather than waiting for something bigger and better to happen in the future.

The race itself is quite a spectacle. The hype leading up to the event is in no way misleading. The organization is second to none and the media coverage can only be compared to that of the Boston Marathon. There are some that are turned off by the publicity but those that enter must know prior to doing so that the fanfare is part of the experience. As with any big time event criticism is bound to come along but in no way did I find any of the criticisms to be true. Those that organized the event worked diligently to assure that the participants followed the rules, which were put in place for their own safety and the safety of those around them. Badwater is a serious event with intense competitors in an environment that is not conducive to human life under normal circumstances. That being said those that enforced the rules put in as much effort if not more than the competitors and crew themselves. The staff worked day and night for 60 straight hours and did so while also having to care for their own well being. That fact alone indicates that the motives of those that organize Badwater are not out there for self-promotion. Everyone involved, participants, crew, organizers and medical staff work hard toward achieving the same goal, to reach Mt. Whitney and the finish line safely.

The event is such an eye opening experience because of the many challenges involved. The distance, elements, and physical and mental breakdowns are only a few. I made reference to the Boston Marathon above but other than the hype, organization and the media coverage there are no other similarities between the two races. This is not a marathon and a person with only marathon experience should not consider doing this race until he or she gains some experience in longer distances. In fact one of the most impressive things about Badwater is the finishing rate amongst the runners. Last year an amazing 75% of the runners successfully completed the 135-mile journey through the desert. The finish rate can only be attributed to the grueling task of selecting runners who have proven ability and experience in ultra events. I say grueling because I’m certain that each year many runners from around the world submit impressive resumes but only 90 are chosen to compete. The criteria the committee uses in the selection process certainly includes more than just speed and endurance although I’m certain both look very nice on a resume. Badwater is about survival, knowledge of your body and how to react, and more importantly it’s about teamwork.

Those that are about to encounter their first experience in Death Valley should most certainly take the time to research the race thoroughly. I found the video “Running under the Sun” to be the best way for me to prepare. The accounts can be quite horrifying at times but very accurate. There is no sugar coating this event, as it is what it’s promoted to be. Be aware that people die in Death Valley and you can too if not prepared. Choose your crew wisely for they too will be exposed to the deadly elements that the desert provides. Each crew person should be experienced and be willing to sacrifice their energies in order for you to be successful. They should be dedicated, organized and enthusiastic. Identify the strong points of each of your crew and assign duties that make best use of their best quality. You need a leader, you need a motivator and you need a worker. If you can find three separate people that each have one of these qualities you’re well on your way to success. By the way I had the best crew that could have ever been assembled help us to our successful finish. Finally enjoy the nighttime sky of the desert. The most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen in my entire life are the million bright stars that Death Valley provides. I joked with my crew afterwards that the only reason I went so slow in my race was so that I didn’t deprive each of them two spectacular nights.

Dave B.