Archive for November 10, 2010

Joe Still Runs for Dom turns 1 today.

It is hard to believe that a year has passed since the launch of Joe Runs for Dom last November.

188 stories have been posted over the last year.  Some happy, some sad, some triumphant and some quite honestly crushing.  37,000 times readers have visited the blog to encourage, congratulate, inspire, motivate, cheer and more times than I would like to count, help me pick up the pieces after disappointment and hurt.

As much as I wanted to write something profound today, I find myself remarkably for me, at a loss for words.

The last year has been a very special one, filled with all of the things that make life so precious.  I cannot thank you enough for stopping by to check in on my good friend Dom as he fought tooth and nail in his battle with cancer.  The first story on this blog, an introduction really, was posted here just one week after Dom’s surgery.  Click here.

Life is pretty tough to predict, I think all of us who have been paying attention to the world around us for even the shortest of time have learned that lesson.  But when I look back over the past 12 months, I had no idea what was about to come my way.

There was a training injury in November that would put the entire Run for Dom effort in great jeopardy before we even reached Marathon Number 1 in Boston on April 19th.  Tense weeks of Doctor’s visits, PT and stretching exercises, anti-inflamatories and ice, ice, ice.  All in the hopes of getting back to it and taking on two marathons in 13 days.

As I was fighting to get back to training, Dom was fighting through his recovery from Surgery.  The procedure which removed his stomach, spleen, tips of other organs and a hot-chemotherapy “bath” treatment went as well as his Doctors could have hoped.

I remember visiting with Dom and his family at his Mother and Father’s house on Christmas Eve, incredibly thankful for how things had gone in November.  If we could only get Dom’s eating back on track, we were all very optimistic that his surgery was going to prove to be a great success.

I remember sitting in the kitchen where Dom grew up feeding little Nico a bottle.  My wife, was carrying our little angel Landry at the time, although very few people had any idea that she was pregnant.

I couldn’t run because of my injury, but I was training on the bike like a demon and doing all I could in the gym preparing for my first miles on the road to Boston.

As I got back to training, tentatively at first, I could feel the resolve building inside of me.  I was finally able to start gathering my physical strength to go along with the mental strength I would need to complete Run for Dom.

I was growing stronger, but Dom was growing weaker.

His nutrition still was a constant struggle and Dom was unable to eat solid foods.  All of his nutrition was coming from a liquid diet via a feeding tube.  He still had a few rounds of chemotherapy to go, and he needed to build up his strength before those procedures could occur.

On the fundraising front, things were going well.  We began accepting gifts hoping to raise $26.2K for Dom and his family. 

Yet another goal, a big goal, which I was unsure of.  But I knew that we were going to do all that we could to try to get there.

As the Boston Marathon approached I was starting to feel like my old self again.  I was about 90% healthy leading up to the race and even though I had to cut my run days down from 5 per week to 4 and could only post two 20-mile training runs instead of 3, I was confident as we made the trip to Boston.

The race at Boston was a tough one.  I never “felt it” at any point during the race.  Even the very first few miles leaving Hopkinton were a bit of a struggle for me – you can read about the Boston Marathon here.

I remember thinking about Boston in 2009 and how it would be a huge accomplishment for me, just an average guy from Austin, TX – running one of the most storied footraces in the world.  But a year later, the race was all about my good friend battling cancer.  It was almost fitting that the marathon took a bite out of me that day.

None of this was easy.  In a way, it never was supposed to be.  We struggled up Boylston Street with a time of 3:22:46.  Narrowly missing our requalification time of 3:20:59 to return to Boston in 2011.  It just wasn’t meant to be.

1 minute, 47 seconds short

Dom and I chatted after the race and he told me how proud of me and the effort that I put out there running for him.  All I could think about was how much I wish I had raced better.  That next time, when I got my chance at that Boston course again down the road, I had a little score to settle both for Dom and for me.

310 hours later I remember standing in the starting coral at Pittsburgh.  Marathon number two was stretching 26.2 miles ahead.  It was warm, humid and there was significant rain coming our way from Ohio.  Dom, Val, family and friends were all at the race to root us home.

All I had to do was finish.

I thought about the night before as I was waiting in the starting area.  Dom and Val made it to our pre-race dinner and we laughed and joked around like old times.  Dom ordered Italian Wedding Soup and could fight down only a couple of spoonfuls.

My friend was very sick.  The cancer that we had hoped had been taken care of once and for all was back.  I remember that being the first time that I realized we might not win this one.

Standing amid a crush of runners, crowding around for the race start, I couldn’t wait to get going.  I needed some space.  I needed to feel my legs underneath me.  I needed to start moving forward.

All I had to do was finish.

I remember squatting down below waist level of all the other runners and I could feel tears starting to track down my cheeks.  I popped back up, looked toward the sky and quietly asked for a little help.  It was going to be a long, tough day out there.  I just wanted to make it to the end and get that finisher’s medal for Dom.

The race was pretty incredible.  A lot of those miles were painful, some of the toughest I’ve ever run, but getting to the finish line was all that May 2nd was about.  We made it upright and with a smile on our face.  It wasn’t my fastest marathon, not even close, but it was by far my best.  Click here to read more.

After a quick shower at the hotel we made our way over to the Dor-Stop for a post-race late breakfast and spent some more time with Dom and his family. 

In the next week Run for Dom would reach its fundraising goal of $26.2K – mission accomplished.

June and July seemed to flash by in a hurry as Dawn and I were busy getting ready for Landry’s arrival.  I was starting to feel strong again on my running legs and took on a summer of racing to change our training plan and approach to build speed.

I knew that I was going to run another marathon in 2011, and I wanted to be sure that we were better prepared to achieve our Boston Time for 2012.

My 43rd birthday arrived on a Saturday.  Not a lot of hoopla when you turn 43, but I was looking forward to what would be the last birthday that Dawn and I would spend together before officially becoming “Mom and Dad”.

1,300 miles away there was an accident.  One of my closest and dearest friends, my best friend, lost his wife and the mother of two boys on a camping trip.  Before I knew it Dawn was dropping me off at the Austin airport and I was headed east to Charleston, SC to be with my groomsman Keith.

The week and weekend were very emotional and difficult.  Seeing Keith’s boys Garris and Fuller and the way that Keith took care of them during such a difficult time hit home for me.  About to become a “New-Dad”, I suddenly knew exactly what that meant.  Exactly what I needed to do for our little Landry when she arrived.

I made my way back to Austin and back into my wife’s waiting car.  It was a tough week.  One of the toughest I had been through in those 43 years.  Click here to read more.

It was about to get tougher.

On August 15th we lost Dom.  After a fight that I can describe as nothing less than heroic, Dom’s cancer proved just too much for even him to conquer.

Just two weeks after my trip to Charleston, Dawn dropped me once again at the curb outside our airport as I traveled east to Pittsburgh for Dom’s memorial service.  Click here to read more.

Traveling back to Austin by myself I have never felt so alone.  So defeated.  It all seemed so unfair, two young families losing a mother and a father just two weeks apart.  Children who were 7, 6, 4 and 1 would be growing up without parents who adored them.

What sense did any of this make? 

Two weeks later on August 29, 2010 at 9:51 a.m. I met my daughter Landry.

"Landry-Gator" home in Austin

For those of you with children, you know exactly what that moment felt like.  For those of you who have yet to have a child of your own, stick around, there is absolutely nothing in this world like it.

As Dawn, Landry and I were falling asleep in the hospital that night, I just knew that this gift was in some small way connected to Dom and Monica’s passing.

Just two weeks ago I passed little Landry over to my good friend Keith’s arms, Landry’s Godfather, at her christening.  Wrapped up in her gown made from Dawn’s wedding dress she looked like an angel.

Landry in her Christening Gown

I couldn’t help but think about Dom looking in on us smiling.  No longer feeling any of the pain he spent all of 2010 suffering with.

Now it is November 10th and our Blog is having its first birthday.

There is still a lot of work to do at Run for Dom, training and racing to help fund the education accounts for Dom’s children.  After the holidays we’ll get back to doing exactly that as we push on to the Austin Marathon.

Later this month when we travel to Pittsburgh, Dawn and I will be introducing Landry to Dom’s parents, one of the two promises Dom asked me for when we were huddled together at the end of the Pittsburgh Marathon.  I am very much looking forward to that visit.

Joe & Dom - Post Pittsburgh Marathon

The second promise?  I’ll let you in on that February 20th around lunchtime after the race.  Until then, I’ll be keeping that between me and Dom.

Thank you so very much for all of your kind words and support over this past year.  I promise to keep running and keep writing as long as you’ll keep visiting. 

Best to each and every one of you!