5:45 a.m. I got out of bed
6 a.m. I began a 45-minute slow vinyasa flow followed by 30 minutes of yin, shoulder openers and eye exercises
7:30 a.m. I had a banana, pear, spirulina, chlorella, maca, pea protein smoothie with homemade almond milk
Then it began.
First, my husband called and said, "Sorry, I just realized what day it was." He had left for work around 6 a.m. "I'm coming home." That's when I began to cry.
Three years ago on this day, June 1, my father, A.J. Cunningham, died after a horrific eight-month battle for his life. He had passed just after midnight, at which time my dad's sister, Rita, called Eric and my twin sister, Tara, to inform them. All three of them were afraid to tell me. I never asked them why they felt tentative, but I'm guessing it was because I was seven months pregnant.
Looking back now, perhaps it's because I've always been known as the sensitive one - I recall my dad and sister not telling me that our beloved family cat Smokey had passed away while Tara and I were away at college until months afterward. They were sparing my feelings. But this time, the news was a bit more urgent.
It was Eric who broke the deeply sad news to me. I cannot imagine how difficult this was for him - waking up his pregnant girlfriend to tell her something she'd been praying would never happen but knew would inevitably come, did, in fact, finally, happen.
Eric gently nudged me awake. As a very pregnant woman in the third trimester, I was sleeping heavily, resting up to go into work the next day to take photos of rafting trips for the same company with whom my dad was a raft guide. Eric was distraught. I, on the other hand, was in that listless, dreamy, absent-minded, forgetful, on-cloud-nine stage of pregnancy, and I took the news better than my family expected. I cried a little. Eric held me, and we fell back asleep in an embrace.
When the sun rose a few hours later, Tara, Eric and I met in Ohiopyle, my and Tara's hometown. The owner of the rafting company, who was my dad's very dearest best friend, and the manager, who was friends with him as well, gave me the day off of taking river photos. We rallied my lifelong best friend and cousin Laura, whom my dad loved like a daughter, and Brian, who had quickly become a close friend of mine and has now grown to be part of my family. A river trip honoring my dad was the only thing that made sense to do on the day of his passing.
We were off! Eric, Brian and I kayaked while Tara and Laura rafted. We spent the whole day on the water, the Lower Youghiogheny, where my dad had served as a raft guide since the 1970s.
Since his death, we have made it a tradition to commemorate him in a way that would make him smile. On June 1, 2014, we baptized our son, Avie Jennings (A.J., named after my dad) Harder, with Brian, mentioned above, as his godfather. Later that day, Brian, Eric and I went kayaking along with one of my best friends, Andrea. On this day last year, I enjoyed a 9.06-mile solo trail run in Ohiopyle.
At 8 a.m., I opened an email from MarathonFoto with the following subject line: "Celebrate National Running Day!" The email told me I would receive a discount off of my Pittsburgh Marathon photos because of this special day. Then I opened an email from the North Face Endurance Challenge with the subject of "National Running Day Discount," and finally, an email from Oiselle, my favorite running clothing company, who was announcing Global Running Day, this holiday that I never knew existed. Immediately, I looked up it's history and found out that Global/National Running Day falls on the first Wednesday of June every year. Perfect!
After receiving the message loud and clear that I should get involved on this holiday and run, I sent my sister a text of disbelief, thinking to myself, it is absolutely no coincidence that Global Running Day falls on the same day of our father's death, yet, I am awe-struck, once again. Then the feelings settled, I became eager, and I sent my brother-in-law, Chuck, Tara's husband, a text, and told him that Eric and I would meet him and Tara at a nearby trailhead after we dropped off Avie for his second day of Montessori summer camp. They were in! Gratitude is what I felt for all four of our schedules aligning, where we were simultaneously free for a few hours on this special day.
Eric and I dropped off Avie, who happily said goodbye to us to have fun with his friends until noon, and we set off to the trailhead. Chuck, Tara and I and their two dogs embarked upon a 7.5-mile trail run while Eric relaxed outside in the beautiful weather in the parking area. Unfortunately, he was unable to join us because the night before, after taking a bike ride with Avie, his bike had toppled over and crushed his now potentially broken, swollen toes. Regardless, he was in good spirits and happy to be there with us.
Clearly, for today's run, my intention was clear - to revel in memories of my father, to enjoy the way this awesome family run spontaneously came to fruition and to give thanks to my father for instilling in me and Tara passion for physical activity in the outdoors. it was my first time at this trail, my first time running with Tara and Chuck's new dogs, and my first time ever running with Chuck.
Also, it was the first day this year where I really felt that summer has arrived, and along with it, the nuances of summertime running. By the time I finished the run, my legs had cramped to the point of needing to walk the last half mile up the final hill, and I needed water and sugar STAT. My clothes were soaked with sweat, and my head was foggy and footing wobbly. Yes, heat and humidity, I bow to you, and I'll prepare to take you on more strategically next time!
As we come to a close, if you've read the blog posts about my dad and how he continues to send me divine messages through our powerful connection of running and racing, you know that I do not believe in coincidences. I am always stunned, extremely excited and exuberantly amazed when my dad's messages reach me. It's as if he's standing right before me, saying, "Brynny, I love you! I'm always here! Now go, meet me outside, and play!"
For it's outside where I feel him so profoundly, where I see him so clearly. It's in my play, my running and river time, where his spirit reigns. So, Global/National Running Day, to you I say, if only you knew how much it means to me to run today. And while I know that this holiday won't fall on June 1 every year, I am happy that it did this year, and I look forward to the next time it does. It will be of no coincidence. And to you, dad, I say, I know that you know how much it means for me to run today. Your heart is with my every foot strike.
You can read more about Mr. A.J. Cunningham himself as well as our many powerfully surreal occurrences in the following:
- Magic Number Marathon: Running 26.2 Miles with My Dad's Spirit
- Dad, I Won the Mount Summit Challenge for You
- Running My Fastest 10K in the North Face Endurance Challenge Trail Race
- Spring Race Recap: How Injury, Childbirth & Death Made Me a Stronger Runner
- Dad, A Poem to Commemorate Two Years Since Your Death
- Anniversary, Valentine's, Birthday: A Video Tribute to My Father