His name was Bob. He was from upstate New York, not far from a small village called Manlius.
It was late September of 2010 and I was in the final two weeks of my run across the country. For most of the last 140 days I have been alone each day. I was the crazy guy pushing his "baby" down the highway in a stroller. "Please stop him", concerned mothers would say when they called the local police to report me, unaware that my cargo was flags and not babies. There are other stories like this, but today I want to share "Bob" with you.
My day had started early and after an hour I was 26 miles from Cooperstown, home of the baseball Hall of Fame, when a light brown Toyota Camry pulled over and stopped along the road. A tall, thin guy in running shoes and shorts and long sleeve shirt stepped out and ran across the road to meet me. He introduced himself and asked if he could join me for a few miles. I asked him how far he really wanted to go and he said, "I have never done more than a 10k, so I'll go that far and then call my wife for a ride." And with that we were off.
The miles go by smoothly and flag after flag was planted. I enjoyed his company and our conversation came easy. Bob worked as an IT guy in the local school district. His wife is a secretary. They have a son and daughter and two cats. "I like to run but have never really been good at it." he says.
"Seriously? look where you are now! On your way to Cooperstown!" I reply.
When we hit mile six I mention it and suggest that he looks like he is good for another four miles to complete his first 10 miler. Nodding an exuberant yes, we continued on.
Websters defines successful as: accomplishing an aim or purpose.
I have thought about that day often over the last few years.
Here was a guy I had never met, a guy who had only run sporadically for the last few years, a guy determined to stay with me for as long as he could, to be part of something. A guy who had made a conscious decision to feel miserable for a few fours, a guy who was taking a shot at accomplishing his goal for the day, to do something he had never done and may never have the chance to do again. Sometimes, many times, we are given one shot, one opportunity to fulfill a purpose. No do-overs. Right here, right now.
"Bob, our aim is to get you to your first 1/2 marathon today, how's that sound?" he responds with a quiet nod and a thumbs up. When we pass 13 miles I say congratulations and mention that he looks strong and what the hell let's do 20 together. "I think I can do that, why not." And away we go. The luxury of this part of the country was the proximity of villages and gas stations to one another, which meant water or even better, chocolate milk. We roll into a Sunoco gas station at mile 17 and Bob is a little quieter, a little pale and moving a bit slower. "Maybe I should call my wife" he says. "Are you sure Bob? You're still moving well and I am dying here, I need your company. Here, drink a chocolate milk, have some jelly beans, heck have the whole bag."
"Ahhhh" he says as he slugs the milk. "Good cow protein huh? Wait till you try a cold Mocha Frappuccino from Starbucks, it's a kick in the ass, sugar cocaine I say." With that I down two of them and away we roll.
Through miles 18 to 20 I have Bob put the flags in the ground and he does so with a gentle tenderness and places his hand over his heart. At mile 20 I expect Bob to stop but he doesn't. "Is your phone dead Bob?" I ask. Yo, Bob, you still with me?
He is a LOT more quiet now and a LOT paler and we are moving a LOT slower.
"So I think you should do your first marathon today Bob. We got 6 miles to go, 4 gels, a bag of chips, a can of coke and plenty of water and most importantly YOU LOOK GREAT!"
How could he say no? He didn't, just smiled and said shut up to his aching body.
By the time we get to our final mile the sun is sagging in the west. The leaves have been falling all day as the crispness of a changing season has set in.
Up ahead there is a Toyota Camry parked along the road. It is Bobs wife. She looks worried but smiles at him. "First marathon?" she says. He nods. We slow to a stop and do the last flag and Bob completes the longest run of his life, 26 miles. He doesn't say much, we shake hands and hug and he shuffles away to the car and slowly lowers himself into the passenger seat and then is gone.
Since that time I have found it extremely fulfilling to see my friends achieve success in their endeavors. So many that I could never list them all but if you asked me what person comes to mind when I think of the word successful, it would be Bob. A quiet man on a lonely road in New York doing more than he ever thought he could.
We can all do a little more, be a little better, go further than we ever thought we could no matter what it is we are doing. Right here. Right now. No do-overs.
Oh and Bob? He text messaged me the next day. "I can't walk down the stairs, Thanks Mike!"