July 7, 2006 my life changed. My wonderful 87 going 50 father died suddenly. He had not been ill, and he had spent a wonderful long weekend at the Jersey shore with friends to celebrate the 4th of July. When I was told he was in the hospital down there, I jumped in the car and raced down to be with him. He was on a respirator and sedated so all I could do was talk to him, pray for him, and hope that he knew I was there. He never did wake and Friday afternoon he left this world.
A year has passed and I think about him a lot. Yesterday I drove down to Stone Harbor, New Jersey to be with those same friends. We talked a lot about Dad and how much he met to us and all the people he came in contact with. I forget just how much he meant to those around him. I wasn't around him all the time afte moving to New York. There were phone calls, letters, and then when the internet came; email. I miss the emails with the latest jokes. You know you're an adult when your dad sends you dirty jokes by email.
Being here in Stone Harbor is comforting. I've always had wonderful memories of the place. My parents would rent a house down here for a week. We started doing it for my mom's 60th birthday, and enjoyed it so much we kept coming down every year. We continued coming even after my mom passed away in 2001. We stopped in 2004 when my sister got a job as director of a girls summer camp, and her kids were getting older.
What I loved about those weeks at the shore was riding my bike up and down the islands, runs on the beach, and very invigorating swims in the chilly ocean. Those weeks were like my own little triathlon training camp. But the nice thing was being able to sit by the water and get engrossed in some John Grisham or Robert Ludlum book and just relax. My dad and I woud stay after the lifeguards went off duty, and he'd watch me swim. The lifequards don't let people stray too far so it was hard to really swim too far.
So what will I do on this first anniversary of my dad's passing? I will get on my bike and ride a lot. I'll also take a long walk on the beach, swim and get wrapped up in the latest James Patterson novel I'm reading. Last year when I came here I couldn't ride since I had broken 3 ribs the week before. The body has healed, and for the first time since the acident last year I went out on Wednesday for the Gimbels ride. I finally feel like a cyclist again. I'm still a little a little nervous in the pack. The psychological impact of crashing often takes longer then the physical impact.
So how does dad fit into all of this? I guess the easiest way to explain it is by sharing my portion of the talk my sisters and I gave at his service last year.
Dad gave me many things but I think it was his passion for being active and staying fit that has defined much of who I am. He always pushed us towards lifetime sports that we would be able to enjoy even as adults. Whether it was skiing, tennis, golf, swimming, biking, walking or running he did it all and he wanted his children to at least try them. I didn’t inherit the family golf gene, but I did discover all the aerobic sports that kept him in shape for all these years.
Dad was way ahead of his time. He was a runner, long before it was a cool thing to do. By the time the running boom started in the 70s he’d been at it for almost 10 years. He also loved to swim and later on, he became an avid cyclist. In some ways, I think of Dad as the first triathlete, even thought the “sport” of triathlon did not exist at the time.
I treasure the times I got to do all these different sports with Dad. There was the summer we would run around Circle Rd early in the morning and finish up with laps in the Pinkard’s pool. Bathing suits were optional equipment, and I think we both got a kick out skinny-dipping while doing our laps, and embarrassing the heck out of the occasional person who would be there at the same time. And I loved our evening 7-mile bike rides, which, at the time, I thought it was tremendous distance.
I took those three sports and did become a triathlete, and though Dad never thought any of us would become Olympic champions, he did expect us to give it our best shot, and put something on the line each time.
I can’t help but think about how Dad approached everything he did. He loved the challenge, and there always had to be something on the line. Even his last golf game a week ago today there was a dollar on it, and I know he relished winning that dollar especially after giving a stroke a hole and two mulligans. It wasn’t about the money - it was just the thrill of the challenge.
This quote described Dad perfectly. “The journey of life is not to arrive at the grave safe and well preserved. It is to slide in sideways totally worn out, shouting “Wow! What a ride!” In that regard, I hope I can follow in his footsteps.
So today I will get out on my bike, and think about dad and what he meant to me. Even though I'm still not in a triathlon frame of mind, I feel like a cyclist again and puts a a 3rd of the way back to becoming a triathlete again.