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COLUMN

Area runner deals with athletic mortality

Columnist loses running partner to injury

Tuesday, September 18, 2012 - 2:25 am

“You can never run again.”

As many of you know, this terrible, five-word sentence has already been delivered to one person close to me. And last week, it was delivered to another.

Before I go into the backstory, think for a moment: what if a doctor told you that your running days were over? How would you feel? What would you do? Would you embark on your personal Seven Stages of Grief? Or would you simply immerse yourself in a different physical activity like swimming or cycling?

“You can never run again,” three doctors told my son, Brad, last October and November. These words delivered to a 19-year-old who was on the verge of fulfilling a dream: running collegiately at the highest level.

But this time, the words were spoken to a current running partner, Brad Stevens. This Brad is on the opposite end of the spectrum: a 52-year-old who has run for 40 years. Yes, his fastest days are long behind him, but as a runner he considers himself middle-age. The way he takes care of himself, Brad hopes to run for another 40 years.

Whether you are 19 or 52, being told you will never run again carries with it a certain finality. If you are 19, it's likely the end of a dream of being the best you can be. If you are 52, it's the end of a dream, period.

For the 52-year-old Brad, running these days isn't about competing. It's not even about entering races. It's about running, in it's purest form. Running in the woods, on the trails, surrounded by nature and, once a week, with friends.

Beginning several years ago Brad Stevens and another friend, Steve Leffers, a South Side distance standout from the 70s, have met each Friday afternoon for a trail run at Pokagon State Park. Three years ago, they invited me to join. Brad was a hero from my youth, a Harding graduate and competitor of Steve's, who came back to coach the distance runners when I was at Harding in the early 80s. He provided inspiration, guidance, wisdom and most importantly, helped instill a love for the sport of running.

Fast-forward over 30 years and I'm running alongside Brad again each Friday. Rain or shine, 100 degree temps or during a heavy snowfall, instead of pacing me through workouts, Brad is sharing his inspiration, guidance, wisdom and helping me retain a love for our sport of running.

On most Fridays Brad, Steve and I have met for our run. We talk about our wives, our kids, our careers. And, of course, we talk about our running. It goes without saying, that the older we get, the faster we used to be.

This past May, Brad injured his Achilles while on our weekly trail run. The nagging injury prevented him from running, so our weekly meetings became rare. When Steve and I did go north, Brad would would tag along riding a bike. It wasn't the same, but it's only temporary we thought.

Finally last Wednesday, after months of treatments and no progress, Brad was diagnosed with Achilles Tendonosis. It is a condition that, according to his doctor, is permanent.

So Steve and I called for an emergency meeting. No, it wasn't Friday, but our running partner needed us. On the drive north, we asked ourselves what we would do if we could never run again. How would we handle it? Steve said, “Running is part of our fabric, it is what we are and who we are.”

Later Brad, Steve and I talked about life, running and our own running immortality. Yes, running had brought our lives together. But, Steve is right: running is part of our fabric. It will always be what we are and who we are.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Brett Hess at nssports@news-sentinel.com.