Friday, July 08, 2011

More than a name

Several people have asked me if I have given my cart a name. Yes, I have. The name was decided long ago. It came to me on a run. And when it came to me, I was suddenly overwhelmed with emotion. Yes, that will be the name. I knew instantly that it was perfect.

It's an unlikely name.

I had been thinking of "usual" names like "Badwater Bliss" and other plays on my last name. But those ideas never jived. They didn't have meaning, and I wanted meaning.

Then, several months ago while running my usual peaceful country roads, sort of in a zoned-out state, I was thinking of my uncle, the uncle who cancer claimed too early in his life. It was just this past September when I was at his side in the hospital, holding his hand, rubbing his swollen feet and talking with the doctors about easing his pain from the cancer that had metastacized to his spine. He was lucid at first, but as days went by and his lucidity started to slip, we knew there was a chance he wasn't even going to make it out of the hospital.

Then as mysteriously often the case, he had a "good" day, a day I knew I needed to make the most of, and so I took some time by myself to talk with him.

* * * * * *

Let me back up and share briefly a little about my uncle.

He was my mom's brother, only brother, except for the one who died at a young age. He was my "cool" uncle, the one I admired and wanted to like me. As a child, I saw him about once a year when our family made the annual family vacation drive from the Midwest to New Jersey, where my mom's family gathered for a sort of reunion, usually over Thanksgiving.

I thought he was cool. He went to Vietnam, served his country, had long hair, had a thin physique. He was in a motorcycle accident that shattered his femur and had a metal rod in place of bone there but still ran regularly for fitness. He was a vegetarian. That's what I remember.

The story went that he held a couple of jobs after returning from Vietnam and then he decided he wasn't made to work for others.

He loved horses. So, he started raising horses, training them for racing, and winning big races, and he made a good living out of it. He was happy and successful; a self-made person. He built his horse ranch in Ocala, Florida, and then eventually built a bigger and more beautiful one in North Carolina. He named it River Run.

I never saw the ranch...until this September when his wife took me there and we parked outside the gate (it had since been sold as they had just retired their business) and we talked about it. She told me about the horses, the stables, the staff, the racing, the hard, hard work that both of them did to make River Run what it was. It was a gorgeous ranch with a river that ran near the house that hummed to them in the evenings after a long day of work.

* * * * * *

After those early years of the annual family drive to New Jersey, there started to be times went we didn't go. And I lost touch with that side of the family. Not completely but there were long periods of time of no contact. Probably a lot had to do with the fact that that my own immediate family was splitting up. It was a hard time.

It was such a hard time that I left high school - before high school was over - and I went to Chicago. I was 17. Fortunately, however, my school allowed me to complete the class requirements for graduation through correspondence, and I did receive my high school diploma. My overall grades, however, were horrendous.

In Chicago, I had a minimum wage job, a whopping medical bill that I was responsible for paying, and no health insurance. I rented a house with two other people in Chicago for $200 a month. Enough said there! I did the best I could to stretch my income to cover basic needs. I did ok. College, which was something I had always planned on doing, was simply not an option. Still, I often perused the class listings at the university and picked out all the classes I would take if only I could.

So, still hopeful, with each measly paycheck I cashed, I saved. I would sit on the floor with labeled envelopes spread out in front of me, and I would put $100 in an envelope for "rent," $20 for "utilities," $35 for the "bus pass," etc., and $20 for "college."

Finally, I saved up enough money for a class at the university.

I applied and met with the registrar woman. I felt transparent and nervous as she looked over my transcripts. "Can you explain these F's?" she asked looking over her glasses at me. "I wasn't serious about my education then," I said, "but I am now."

"Sorry," she said, "I can't allow you admission."


"You should go to a community college and prove that you are serious now...and then come reapply."

I was devastated. And gave up on the idea. And just continued to work.

* * * * * *

About a year later, I realized that it didn't matter what I wanted to do, it only mattered what I did do. Sometimes a promise "to do better" isn't good enough. The registrar woman was right. So, I went to community college.

I registered for my first class and I was, um, shall I say, proud to be there. I aced it no problem. The next semester I registered for another and aced that one too. School was easy for me. I loved it.

Three years it took me - one to two classes per semester at community college - to get through one college year of credits.

I wanted desperately to go to the university but reality was, despite Pell Grants and some aid, I could not afford it. I couldn't afford the hidden expenses of books and fees, aside from tuition itself.

So, as proud as I was, and as much as I fought desperately the need to ask for help, I realized that I had to at least ask before I gave up on a chance at an education. I honestly loathed asking for help, especially financial help. The refusal from a family member several years prior was still a knife in my gut, and I swore I would never ask for help again. My pride was fierce. But that wasn't doing me any good. My mother would have paid my tuition in an instant if she could, but she was now in school herself readying herself for the work world.

So, I asked my uncle.

And he said yes, he would help me.

* * * * * *

He helped me with some of my tuition and I paid the rest. I was still working full time after all, and by then had been living in a nice apartment in stable conditions. I had a car. Things were tight, but I was doing fine.

I reapplied to the university and was admitted with no need of promising anything. My community college grades were proof enough.

Truly, if it wasn't for my uncle creating that opportunity for me those first years at the university, I never could have done it. It was he who opened the door for me, the door I thought was jammed shut forever.

Nine years later, I graduated from Loyola University Summa Cum Laude, and then went on to medical school. The rest is not important.

My uncle is what is important. He trusted me, he believed in me, he gave me the chance. He created an opportunity that changed my life.

This past September, on that day in the hospital, I took his hand and I cried and I said, "Thank you, Uncle Paul, for helping me."

* * * * * *

So, when I was out on that run a few months ago and I was thinking of my Death Valley crossing, the teens at Crosswalk who will benefit from the GED and tuition fund-raising, the cart, and my uncle, the name came to me and I was overwhelmed with emotion.

I will be crossing the desert, an oft-thought godforsaken place (though that is so not so!) where there is no water, no less rivers. I will be pulling, creeping, crawling my way forward, sometimes less than a mile an hour up the passes (contrary to all that it means to "run"), and I will be totally unaided, completely self-supported, solo, self-reliant (and yet that is, in real life, never. ever. true.)....

And when the name came to me suddenly and took my breath away, I knew instantly that it was perfect.

River Run.

That is the name of my cart.

And it is so much more than a name.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing such a great story. Your uncle would be very proud of what you did with the help he gave you, and will certainly be with you and the River Run on your adventure.

Mike said...

Wow...Thank you for sharing the story of you and your Uncle. "River Run" will be your lifeline across Death Valley. A perfect tribute.

Spokane Al said...

Wow - your story is very moving and put a lump in my throat and a smile on my face this Saturday morning.

SteveQ said...

Great story.

Since James Joyce's "Finnegan's Wake" (or was it "Ulysses?") starts with the word "riverrun," there's another reason it fits a long, difficult task few understand.

Anonymous said...

Hello Lisa,

My name is Gena and I work for a tri store online. I happened upon your blog and enjoyed reading about running in your life :) You've conquered quite a bit. Anyway, I am contacting you to see if you are interested in a simple sponsorship. Please let me know at I just wanted to note that you have been selected as you met our specific guidelines. If you are interested just send me a quick note and I’ll send you more details about the potential sponsorship.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful name for your cart. It is a great tribute to your Uncle Paul!

Sean K
Tampa, Florida

Steph said...

This is right...and as it should be :) The other day (at 0300, because as I've told you before, all my good ideas come to me at 0300) I suddenly had the vision of you reaching the top of Mt. Whitney. It was as clear as a bell...and I smiled. Thank you for allowing me to live vicariously through you on this's gonna be GREAT!

olga said...

Life runs like a river. It reaches high peaks and drops to valleys like mountains. We are just moving in all of ti, trying to make sense. Most of the time we don't:)
Best to you!


Nice story, Lisa. Thanks for sharing it. I am looking forward to seeing "River Run" up close, soon.

BarbS said...

Lisa--I got tears in my eyes reading your story. Will be thinking of you and sending strong wishes for your run. You are amazing.

Unknown said...

Hi, Lisa: You bought our house. Sorry we never got to meet you. We waited about an hour and a half that night, but after seeing and reading all of this, I am sure you were either working or running. :) Hope you liked the champagne we left for you. Best of luck you to you. You can do it! Loved seeing pictures of the house. Hope you love it as much as we did (we were there for 22 years). It's a great yard for your dogs. Loved seeing pictures of it. Sorry about your uncle; he sounds like a wonderful person. I hope you reach your goal for the kids at Crosswalk. I will make a donation. Take care,
Penny L.

Allen said...

Good luck. I am sure you will succeed.

Martin B said...

Very heart-warming story Lisa. You are my idol! I don't think there is anything you can't do. I'll be following you the entire way on-line. I have NO doubt that you'll be successful; and for a very worthy cause.

Anonymous said...

Just happened across your blog. What a wonderful story and tribute to your uncle.
Michael - Va beach

Jacqueline said...

Good luck and happy crossing, dear girl.
You will be in thoughts and my heart as you take each step along your wonderful adventure. From the lowest to the highest in the contiguous USA!

Calabasas/Woodland Hills Real Estate news said...

You are simply amazing! I had the pleasure of meeting you last year when I crewed/paced for Reza Baluchi. I KNOW what it's like out there and for you to be doing this on your own unsupported is incredible and admirable. I've been following your journey along with Ben on FB and SPOT and can't wait to hear your re-cap. Safe journeys!