Two weeks ago, on the day I said Goodbye to the Pathfinder, I was remembering the events of that very same day three years ago. October 29, 2010.
I had only been living in St. Louis for about a month. We didn’t even have a house here yet. My kids were off school for the day and we had stopped at the dollar store in the valley to buy some items for the Christmas in a Shoebox program. It was a Friday, so I’m not really sure why they didn’t have school that day. Parent/Teacher conferences maybe. After our little shopping excursion, we were on our way to Lifetime for me to get a workout in. I remember talking to my mom on the phone as I drove south on Clarkson Road. I pulled into the Lifetime parking lot as my mom said, “I’m getting another call. I’m gonna let you go, so I can answer it…”
I wish I could tell you that I never had to find out what that phone call was about. But unfortunately, about an hour later I got the news. My 30 year old sister in law had suddenly left this life and we would never have the chance to meet my unborn nephew this side of Heaven. The first words to escape my mouth were “Oh my brother…” as my legs went numb and then I sank to the floor of the Lifetime lobby.
That evening I was on a plane out to LAX. It felt like the whole world had slowed to a stop. It was like I wanted to run, but I couldn’t feel my legs. I finally arrived in Sherman Oaks, California and as soon as I got to my brother, without any hesitation, I climbed right in the bed with him. My 2 year old niece was sleeping nearby, unaware of how drastically her life had just changed.
The next week went about as you would expect. We told stories about the Sunshyne that we all knew and loved. We laughed, we cried, we tried to figure out what to do next. We planned how we would celebrate Sunshyne’s life. We ate meals prepared by loving friends who wanted to do something to care for us. We went from one meal to the next simply because it seemed to pass the time.
We had an amazing service to celebrate the woman who was loved by many. She was sweet. She was funny. She was beautiful. She had a huge faith with a personality and a voice to match. She had an amazing smile. I remember sending my brother a text about a month earlier that he needed to listen to the song Just the Way You Are by Bruno Mars because it sounded exactly like what he would say to Shyne. It was the song we used in the video of her photo montage.
The day after her service I was on a plane back to St. Louis to see my babies after a week of being in SoCal. I was supposed to be on a plane to JFK in New York that day to run the New York City Marathon that I had been training for. But after a week away from my kiddos, I knew where I wanted, and needed to be. Aside from the fact that my body, while trained for a marathon, was somewhat wrecked from the week of grieving with my brother and all of Sunshyne’s friends and family.
Shyne had just run her first half marathon earlier in the year and was signed up to run the Malibu Half Marathon a couple weeks later. I loved how running had bonded us. She would text me to ask for running advice. Her texts would always start out, “Hey sis…”
Since Sunshyne was registered for the Malibu half, I offered to come back out to LA the following week to run it in her honor. By the time I spoke up, it was too late, and her bib had already been given away. But I told my brother, since I had just run Chicago a few weeks prior in extreme heat and I was trained for New York, I was going to sign up on my own, to run the Malibu full marathon, for Sunshyne. I believe his response to that was, “Awesome.”
I made the trip back to LA a week after I had left. It was good to be reunited with my family and be able to love on little Brookie. We spent Saturday visiting with friends and getting ready for me to run a marathon the following morning.
The Malibu marathon isn’t a very big race. There were only about a couple hundred people gathered in a parking lot about 13 miles inland off the coast of California getting ready to run. The first half was somewhat desolate. There was minimal crowd support, no real scenery to speak of and little to no shade available to block the rising SoCal sun. The “aid stations” consisted of a couple of card tables with some jugs of water and some coconut water that I couldn’t even gag down. Trust me, I tried. It didn’t go well.
So, by the time I got to the Pacific Coast Highway to head south from the point the half marathon had started, I was ecstatic to see that amazing costal view and my little fan club consisting of my mom, brother and niece. Most importantly, they had the Gatorade and bananas I had bought at the store which seemed worth its weight in gold to get my trashed body back on track after a very rough first half to the marathon.
That was without question, the hardest race I have ever run. It wasn’t my slowest, not even my second slowest. But it was the hardest race ever. It was hot. And hilly. And my body had already been through the wringer. I walked more than I ever have in any other race. I was dragging myself through parts of it.
I ran a 30k trail race this past Sunday, which was only my 2nd trail race to date. It was in my favorite park, Castlewood. I had a ton of friends there running, volunteering, supporting. I started with Shalini and Erin, after breaking off from Chad, Tracy and Tim in the start corral, and waving to Nick and Jenny from afar. Most of the crew was running the 20k instead, but I, like Chad and Tracy, had decided to go for the big one. It was 3 loops through the park, up the enormous staircase 3 times, through the creek 3 times and up Cardiac Hill 3 times. I knew it was going to be hard, really hard. I woke up Sunday morning and I have never felt my legs shaking so much before a race.
My text conversation with Shane the night before had gone like this:
RRG: My fan club keeps growing. Imma need it.
SS: Piece of cake for you Lindsey. Come on.
RRG: Only cause I have a good coach/tour guide. Don’t want to let you down…
SS: Not worried here lady.
RRG: Good, well, that makes one of us.
I was scared. No, scratch that. I was terrified. But here’s the thing, sometimes the best way to get through the hard times is to appreciate our surroundings and the ones who are with us in the process. We count our blessings, if you will. The race went way better than I planned. The weather was perfect. I ran most of it with friends, Shalini, Erin, Chad, so it was basically like every other weekend of doing what we do. I saw more friends each trip past aid station 1 where I took a cup from Emily’s hand and Gerry shook a cowbell in my face. I saw Shane at various points on the course since he was the official course marshal on mountain bike. I saw Steve as I looped past the start/finish area because he had been assigned the duty of post-race refreshments. He was threatened with his life if he didn’t save me some BBQ. He definitely came through. As usual.
Our group of friends that had come to spectate/take pictures/cheer us on bounced around all over the course. Tony, Kris, Dan, Wes, Hibbard, Steve. It was like playing hide-n-seek in our favorite park. I never knew where someone was going to pop up.
By the last loop, I caught up to Chad again. He commented on how great I was doing. And that’s when I took off to finish that last loop with a vengeance. I had been hoping to finish somewhere around 3:15-3:20. I smashed that, finishing in 3:07. I was the 8th female overall. And 4th in my age group of women 30-39. But what made that race, was the atmosphere. It was being in a beautiful place that feels like home, with the people who have become my Missouri family. I even said to Shalini that I wanted to pack up our little posse and put them in my pocket to take them with me to all my races.
So, back to the Malibu marathon 2010.
The second half of that race was a totally different experience from the first half. The first half was miserable. I wasn’t sure how I was going to make it. And then, my family showed up. They drove along the PCH, stopping every mile to wait for me. They would give me Gatorade, or energy gels, or bananas. They would cheer me, walk with me, drive by and honk and yell and hang out the window.
The PCH, is hilly and challenging, but you can’t beat the view of the Pacific coast. At one point, I was running along and I saw my mom, brother and Brookie standing by the side of the road on a cliff overlooking the ocean holding a sign that said, “Lindsey Jo Running for Sunshyne” with a big smiling sun in the middle. I grabbed my phone and snapped a quick pic. Then I kept on running. At another point, my brother put Brooke in her stroller and the 4 of us were walking along watching a school of dolphins down below in the water.
I could not have made it through that race without my family being there along the way. And then, I was a mile from the finish. I was in the home stretch. And just as the finish shoot came into view, a song shuffled onto my ipod. It was one of Sunshyne’s favorite songs that I remember her singing in my kitchen back in Chicago over the Christmas vacation when she was just pregnant with Brooke. As I came down that final 100 yards, I had tears streaming down my face. I remember someone on the side yelling, “It’s ok, you’re almost there”. They had no idea that the tears weren’t about how physically challenging that race had been but it was about the emotional battle that I was fighting and that it was my family who carried me through.
It wasn’t until after the race when we were back at Evan and Julie’s that I finally took a look at the picture I had snapped mid-race. My jaw literally dropped when I saw it. I said, “Adam, Oh wow, you’ve got to see this!” I showed him the picture of Mom, Adam and Brooke, standing on a bluff overlooking the ocean with the sign. And the three rays of “Sunshyne” shining down on each of them. They weren’t the only ones getting me through that race that day.
Tomorrow is the 3 year anniversary of running the Malibu marathon in honor of my sweet sister in law. I think its appropriate timing that this falls in November, a month filled with being thankful.
I am thankful for the opportunity to know Sunshyne and the reminder that her life is to me about not taking anything for granted and living every day to the fullest.
I am thankful for my health, my legs that carry me through this big ol’ beautiful world of ours, and the gift I have been given to write about my journey.
I am thankful that my brother has remarried an amazing woman who loves him and Brooke like I can only hope to experience someday. Simy came into our lives with perfect timing and we have an unmatchable sisters-in-law bond.
I am thankful for my family who celebrates with me in the good times and carries me through the hard times. All of those who were chosen for me and given to me, as well as those who have stepped into that role over the past few years to help me feel more at “home” here in St. Louis. I am more thankful for all of you than you will ever know.