LONDON, Ohio — Over the weekend, I made the trip to London. It was a much shorter voyage than expected, but then again it was only a ride mostly up 23 and not one across the pond.
Just having the opportunity to lace up my shoes and lineup among other runners was a great feeling. I hadn’t truly felt those pre-race jitters, those ones where your brain starts churning before your legs, since my last competition in February 2020.
More was on my mind however than usual before the starting gun gave its salutation.
The beginning of 2021 seemed promising enough for myself at least. My brother and his wife had just married on New Year’s Eve, the most normal event I had experienced since the pandemic began. The real highlight though, sources told me, was my best man speech- a spectacular blend of dry wit and wisdom beyond my age.
That sentiment quickly changed after I had clocked out from work on a cold January eve. I usually have a sense for when something is awry and unfortunately my gut feeling was accurate.
My mother delivered the news: Your uncle has passed away.
Even though my Uncle Chris has been in the hospital for a few days, I assumed he would recover and perhaps see him for Easter depending on his condition and if the global battle against COVID-19 had improved. He was only 55 after all.
In the days that followed, I went to his funeral mass in Covington, Kentucky. It was far from the reason that any of us wanted to bring the family back together. The resiliency of my grandparents, my aunt, his four sisters, and his two children in that moment will forever be astonishing to me.
There is not much that can be said or done, but I tried to come up with the best way to honor my late uncle. Our connection, one I share my mom also, is running.
In only two years of running, my uncle became one of the frontrunners for his Northeastern High School cross country team. The Springfield-area team was one of the best in the state during that time and he was very much part of its success.
In his conference race his senior year, he finished hand-in-hand with his teammate to share the individual championship. At first, the move looked like it would disqualify him. Ultimately, race officials awarded him with the victory by a nose.
Literally. A nose.
As I progressed as a runner in my high school days, many a conversation when the family would gather would turn towards my recent races. “You’re getting closer,” he would tell me, encouraging me to keep up the work.
Keep up the work I did throughout my college days at the club level, where my times officially surpassed his or so he told me. Crossing off goals like these have always been sources of motivation for me.
Through a few of my races, I had actually met the man who coached both my uncle and my mom. He worked with a race timing company so I would chat with him after crossing the finish line and catching my breath.
How I decided to honor my uncle came down how I could bring him with me to the starting line. I decided to do that by sending a message to the coach, asking if I could borrow a Northeastern Jets track singlet.
A few weeks prior to May 29, a package arrived at my residence and I had again an inkling for what it might be. It was the jersey indeed, but that’s just where it starts to get interesting.
After trying it on, I took a glance at the back of the jersey. When they have numbers, track singlets are typically three digits with the smaller ones having the lower numbers.
These numbers carry significance based on the school or area, whereas for Columbus-area natives like myself the “614” jersey would be coveted. My high school number coincided with my birthday, which was my intention.
With that in mind, I flipped the Northeastern singlet around and was met with “209.” I couldn’t put my finger on it at first but I thought there was something with that arrangement of digits.
I took to Facebook to determine what that number meant and searched for my uncle’s account. The benefits of the social media are dubious and subject to a much longer conversation that what this column can provide, but it did at least give me one bit of useful information.
My uncle was born on Feb. 9, marked “209” numerically. I did not request this number and really cannot make sense of it. Perhaps it was mere coincidence. Perhaps it was some form of divine intervention. I think and pray on this often.
All I really knew and still know is that I wanted to honor my uncle’s legacy- hard-working, devoted to family and friends, and never one to say an unkind word.
Running, of course, is only one way to uphold those principles but I think I did that on Saturday morning. I came in with a goal for a personal best and to keep going once pain and doubts said howdy do.
It wasn’t pretty, but I did what I came out to do by a few seconds or by a nose. More figuratively than my uncle, but in that spirit nonetheless.
Reach Patrick Keck (740)-353-3101 ext. 1931, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @pkeckreporter. © 2021 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved.