Racing through final chapter of mom's life lessons

By Ken Waltz | May 24, 2010
Photo by: Holly Vanorse The author prepares for his Mother's Day run. A photo of his mom, with one of her great grandchildren, is pinned to his jersey.

For me, Mother's Day 2010 held a combination of deep sadness and strangeness because, for the first time in my 50 years of life, I did not have a mother to call or send a card and flowers to on that special day.

It is somewhat surreal to have a day dedicated to a person but no one to share it with. That, unfortunately, will happen again for me in June for Father's Day, but I've become more accustomed to that annual void, having lost my dad more than 20 years ago.

However, the death of my mother, Margaret Helen Kimball Spofford, in October after a brief, courageous battle with cancer, is still fresh in my mind. Her death, although months ago, still stings.

What, you may wonder, does the death of an old man's parent have to do with the celebration and joy that often accompanies, in fact, embodies sports. Well, in a weird way, perhaps, there is a recent connection between my late mother and sports.

While she was, like most parents, willing, even eager, to spend every non-working, waking hour supporting her children and their activities, including watching me participate in hundreds of athletic events as a child (even standing in the cold to watch me run cross country when I could actually "run" three miles in about 17 minutes), that is not why I write about her now.

I write about mom because I learned more about life, and death, from her than any other single human being I have come in contact with. I never respected anyone as much as I did mom and, after watching her courageously come to grips with her impending death — even though a few short weeks before it appeared she would make a full recovery — I realized I had witnessed toughness like I have never seen from any athlete I have had the privilege to watch or write about in my 30 years in the media business.

Despite her grave situation and unfortunate personal turn of events, she never complained. She never gave up. She fought to the end.

In watching this terrible part of life, I thought of all the times I complained about my seemingly unfortunate situations, my minor physical or mental pain or my perceived bad luck. Of course, self-pity is easier for some than others. But, smartly, I realized I have never been close to having a burden as difficult to shoulder as my mom and, no matter what, someone, perhaps even those close to you, probably has it worse.

In recent months, during my periods of overwhelming grief and moments of wonderful memories of my mom, I tried to make a connection between her and sports. Then I remembered how I had always wanted to train to participate in a triathlon, even a shorter or "sprint" triathlon such as the one in Hope each July. I thought about how I have dabbled in local 5K road races in recent years. I thought about how I too was getting older and my time on this earth is not going to last forever, so I have to continue to work hard in the gym, improve my diet and overall health.

In thinking about my mom's struggles at the end of life, I thought that if this amazingly generous, intelligent, salt-of-the-earth 72-year-old woman could fight to the death to live, why couldn't I start to really train for a triathlon. I figured each time I trained and got tired, or sore or just didn't feel like working out, all I had to think about was how my mother had few choices in the cards she was dealt, but still never stop trying.

Perhaps even in death, she could motivate me to live a better, more full life. To never take things for granted and to find a way to really treat each day like a precious gift. Doing that is a struggle for those of us with short attention spans, but I am trying.

Thus, I am also trying to get in the type of physical condition needed to participate in a triathlon. I don't know if I will ever be able to do one, even a mini version of one, but I have promised myself that, at some point, I would try.

I did, however, take a small step in the improved fitness direction by participating in the annual Mother's Day 5-Kilometer Road Race May 8 in Rockland, the day before Mother's day. The event attracts runners and walkers of all ages, including young parents pushing their children in strollers and even grandparents walking or running the course.

It is an event that certainly showcases the beauty — and sadness — that is the great circle of life.

The 3.1-mile course heads down Main Street, up Maverick Street, across Broadway and down Pleasant Street to the finish near the Eastern Maine Railroad station. It is a fun course and, for those experienced and trained runners, an easy trek.

For me, well, not so much. But that was not the point of this year's run (make that a jog). I ran in the memory of my mom. I wore a picture of her on my shirt, just above my bib number, to remind me of the importance of the event.

While I tried to break 30 minutes, I could not. I finished the course in just over 32 minutes. And when my legs started to feel heavy at the end, I came to the realization that running six to eight miles a week for my "cardio training routine" does not really prepare one to run, or even jog moderately fast, in a 5K.

In fact, the winner finished the course in less than half the time it took me. Now that is a big OUCH!

But, to my credit, I ran from start to finish and experienced 32 minutes of quiet time to think about mom. To reflect on what she gave me and so many others. I wondered if she was able to watch over me as I puffed my way up one of the gradual hills on the course.

That time alone on the race course made me realize that no matter how much I struggle to train for a short road race or someday even a triathlon, it will be less than one percent of the pain and anguish my brave mother went through in her fight to live.

That experience was one final valuable lesson taught to me by a mother who will always have a home deep in my heart and daily conscience.

You are deeply missed mom, but will never be forgotten as I try to be the best I can be each day. Thank you for the lessons of a lifetime.

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