But my race angel, my dad, provided me with a better story.
Connection - link, bond, association, relationship
Running remained the singular connection that bonded me to my dad as a teenage girl.
When high school track season rolled around each spring, so did my dad (my parents were divorced, and I lived with my mom).
Track, running and racing gave us something to talk about and something to do together. A little part of me resented the fact that once the season ended, our connection thinned... Yet, I looked forward to each season and cherished these moments whilst still giving him attitude and eye rolls as he gave me advice that I always heeded.
Wear a weight vest and ankle weights during trail hill repeats? Absolutely, dad! Eat a spoonful of honey before my sprints? Yes, father! Run without regret? Done. Never look back? I never did.
It was his encouragement, our tightening bond and a shared passion that led to my obsession with breaking the 400-meter dash record as a senior at Uniontown Area High School in 2001.
He stood at the finish at every race. We had the same goal nestled in our hearts.
Then it happened. The energy rang high, the cheers blistered my ears, and my legs and lungs burnt. I crushed the record with a time of 61.3 seconds, and it remained unbroken from 2001-2016, for 15 long years.
Today, two things struck me. The first was that 61.3 is the exact age at which my father died - he was 61 years and three months old as his soul drifted to heaven on June 1, 2013. The second was that my record remained for 15 years. 15 was his birth date (February 15, 1952).
Sometimes our deceased loved ones come to us through dreams, apparitions, symbols, songs or nature. As many of you know, my deceased father comes to me via races in the form of numbers representing his birth digits (2-15-52).
When it began happening, it was obvious, such as in my bib numbers.
Then it became less obvious yet still radiant, such as via song or race time.
Eventually these incidences added up to equal 11 amazing, miraculous events where my father graced me at races.
After each occurrence, I always wonder, "can he possibly show up next time?"
Sometimes he reveals himself prior to a race. Sometimes it takes days for me to realize that he was, in fact, present, as was the case for the 2018 Coopers Rock Trail Half Marathon that seven of the women from my trail running group, my husband and I ran on Saturday, April 28, in West Virginia.
Feeling good and with a full night's sleep, I made a goal when I awoke: to race without regret. That is, to run fast and finish without feeling as if I could have run faster. I did (not counting the waste of time of the shirt removal mentioned in the first paragraph, lol!), and it earned my second overall female with a time of 1:58:11.
Soon after, my friend Rachel came across the finish with a time of 2:00:40 to cinch third overall female.
Then, three days later, the results posted.
Eric ran it in 2:15:02. My dad's birthday, 2-15-52! Ah, dad, you did it again :)
The first time my dad linked me to my husband during a race was just last week, in the 2018 Mount Summit Challenge. Read about it in Dad, I Ran the Mount Summit Challenge For You, and You Showed Up in Three New Ways!
What began, three years ago, with me and my dad, has now become something more beautiful as it includes Eric, my companion, my love, as we bond over something that, like my dad, we had in common when we first met - running.
To sum up, Coopers Rock was the 12th incidence involving race angel dad and the second time he's reached out to Eric, to us. I race to meet him. Winning is just a bonus.
I'll leave you with this thought - some, mostly people who have never experienced a race before, view racing as "competitive," and that all who do so are highly competitive individuals. Yet, I beg to differ. Most runners race for the connection, a bond with other runners, the innate desire to be part of something bigger than oneself, the inner need for belonging, the love of spending time with a group who shares the same passion, to socialize, to cheer for others, to feel good together, as one.
It's all about the connection, with our friends on earth and our angels above.