Dream on hold

Mom and kids in Portugal 1976

Costa da Caparica, 1976: My mom with my brother and I (in the green). That fall, I would begin my running career.
(Duarte family archives)

My mom passed away this morning.

Needless to say it would be an understatement to proclaim it as bad timing, when I’m less than a week away from fulfilling my life event of running the ING NYC Marathon, but there’s never a good time for a loved one to pass away. Especially your mom.

I’d like to think that running the race would be what she would have wanted me to do, but I know that’s not true. She’d want me to be with my family at a time like this and that’s what I have to do in respecting her.

My mom never really took an active interest in my running, since I started back in 1976. I’m sure she was interested in it just because it was her son doing it, but she never came right out and showed she was proud of me or what I was doing. She didn’t have to, really. I knew.

Whenever I’d come home late from a high-school practice, she’d warm up dinner for me and she’d often sit with me while I ate, and always ask me how I was feeling. Often times I was tired – really tired – and she’d always quote an old Portuguese saying. It probably makes more sense in the original Portuguese than it does translated, but it basically stated “He who runs for pleasure doesn’t tire.”

It applies to all facets of life, I know, but runners especially know this to be true. Our bodies get tired, yes, but the overall feeling at the end of our runs is a nice tired. A “feeling of accomplishment” tired. A “feeling of now being able to take on the world” tired, because once you’ve overcome the limits your mind is trying to place on your body, you know that everything else going on in your life that “makes you tired” is really just a pile of crap.

My mom attended just one of my races over these past 37 years, which is exactly the same number as all the other members of my nuclear family (then and now). The only exception was my brother, who attended just about all of my races between 1976 and 1980.

Anyway, my mom and dad were sitting in the finish line grandstand at a qualifying 5000-metre track race in Toronto for some celebratory event to be held in Portugal later that year or the next. I don’t even remember what year it was – 1979, I think.

The organization was pretty bad and the field ended up running an extra lap. I started my kick at about 4600 metres and according to my brother I was making up ground on the front-runner but when the bell lap sounded at what should have been the end of the race, I was spent and ended up coasting home second. The winner got an all-expenses-paid trip to Portugal to race in the event. I got congratulations and an apology for their screwing up the lap-count.

It was my best finish ever at an “international” event. My parents gave me a standing ovation as I crossed the finish line. I think I may have cried on the way home.

It’s funny how the one memory I have of all the races I’ve run in my life, that’s the one that stands out most clearly.

I finished on the podium many times and won a race here and there, but this is one that really brought home the joy runners feel even in disappointment, when those closest to them partake in their accomplishments.

I could reason that my mom would be there in spirit at the end of my marathon – it is, after all, also a celebration of the day she gave birth to me – again standing proudly and clapping loudly among all the people in those finish-line grandstands in Central Park, but I know she wouldn’t be.

She’d be sad and angry that I wasn’t with my dad, helping him get through what is bound to be the hardest week of his life.

So that’s where I have to be. And my dream of running the greatest marathon in the world on my birthday in the greatest city on the planet will have to wait until 2019. I have no regrets doing that and I’m already looking forward to it.  What’s six years, after all, considering the 81+ years of her life she put into being with her family, making sure they were happy and did life right.

I have to do what’s right by her.

I love you mom. Always will. Thanks for doing everything you’ve done. I’ll be thinking of you.

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