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(last of three parts)


"Live life as if you'll die today, but dream as if you'll live forever."
~ unknown

That quote is one of my life philosophies. It's one of the reasons I retired so young; I've heard too many stories of folks waiting until they are 65 to retire, and then they drop dead before they can make a dent in their List of Things to Do When They Retire.

In a recent entry I mentioned some of the running/hiking adventures I'd hoped to do in my lifetime that are now impossible or impractical because of my knee deterioration. What I have to do is come up with a new list that is practical.

I've got a lot of livin' to do before I kick the proverbial bucket!

One of my favorite songs is Tim McGraw's "Live Like You Were Dying." I'm not a big country music fan, but I love the sentiment: don't wait until you get a a terminal diagnosis from your doctor to live your life in a meaningful way and pursue your dreams. Live each day like it might be your last one -- because it very well might be.

That lesson becomes more and more clear as I have my own brushes with death or serious injury, like last summer's bike crash (below), and as friends, acquaintances, and family members suffer from potentially terminal illnesses or die too young.

Stuff like this really makes me think about the fragility of life and random unfairness.

My head trauma could have been much more serious than it apparently was.

You have to manage this "live like you're dying" within reason, of course.

For example, it's not smart to outlive all of your money by blowing it on exotic global adventures when you're only 50 and have the genetics to live another 50 years. But you can still budget wisely to fund your most important goals more locally or low-key, if necessary -- and have a bunch of fun, too -- so you don't go to your deathbed wishing you'd done more of those things you always wanted to do but just didn't get around to doing.

It's nice if you can get some advanced warning before your death (not everyone is so lucky). If you haven't already been working on your List of Things to Do Before You Die, at least you can try to make up for lost time then. 

Two 14er summits checked off my list (several times each):  Mt. Massive, as seen from Mt. Elbert (2007)

I'd like to share the stories of two people who I believe serve as remarkable role models in how to adapt to life's vicissitudes and make the most of one's last months of life. Their attitudes and behaviors when faced with a slow but certain death give me courage as I face my own life challenges -- which are minor in comparison -- both now and in the future. I think these are great examples of "reinventing" oneself.

[Note: We know other similar inspirational stories of friends and family members who have either met untimely deaths or struggled with insidious diseases and beaten them. Their stories have never been made public in the newspaper, on TV, or on the internet, however, so I will maintain their privacy.]


I initially wrote about Dick Kelley in an entry dated May 6, 2009 when I was "Considering Sixty." This is a recap and update.

Dick was an acquaintance we occasionally talked with at the YMCA in Roanoke. Recently retired and in his early 60s, he was fit and chiseled, a competitive skier and triathlete who loved to train and race as much as we did. Although he didn't run ultra distances, he ran trails and readily shared with us his favorite places to run and cycle in the Roanoke Valley and beyond.

Dick was always somewhat quiet and reserved, a man of few words. I rarely saw him talk to anyone else at the Y but he was always friendly with us.

Photo of Dick Kelley (in front) from the Roanoke Times

I was absolutely shocked when we returned home last March from our 2008-9 winter trip and saw an article on the front page of the Roanoke Times (March 22, 2009) entitled, "His Greatest Race." It was a long, detailed article about Dick and showed photos of him working out at the Y with a makeshift cane, being pushed in a wheelchair by a friend, and being fed by his wife.

What??!!  I read the entire article in utter disbelief and sadness at the tragedy that now enveloped Dick and his family.

Diagnosed shortly after Jim and I left town, in just three or four months Dick's body was already being ravaged by ALS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also called Lou Gehrig's disease. He was using a ski pole as a cane so he didn't fall down while standing. He used the wheelchair to go a bit farther. He had already lost control of his right arm. He couldn't drive any more. Walking up a flight of stairs was difficult -- it wore him out.

This topnotch athlete . . . I just couldn't believe the challenges he now faced.

Front page of the Roanoke Times, March 22, 2009. Photo by Sam Dean, article by Sam Berrier, Jr.

ALS is an insidious neurodegenerative disease with no known cause or cure. Most victims of the disease die within three to five years after diagnosis. Dick lived less than a year. We have another running friend in Roanoke who has suffered with it longer. Two runners that we know in Roanoke with ALS!!

What's even more amazing about Dick's story was his remarkably positive attitude about his diagnosis and prognosis. Although he was stunned when he learned about his disease, he quickly reinvented the rest of his (too short) life. Most of the article focused on his two primary missions before he died: to raise awareness about the disease and to compete (only minimally) in just one more triathlon with his granddaughter.

Dick's personality abruptly changed when he knew he didn't have long to live; he became a total extrovert almost overnight. He reached out to friends and strangers in person and via the internet, talking at length about the disease and successfully raising thousands of dollars for research. He sent daily updates and funny comments to his e-list and even came up with a "Top Ten List of Advantages of ALS," such as not having to worry about prostate exams any more. He had a gallows sense of humor, indicating his complete awareness of his imminent death.

He knew he didn't have a lot of time to accomplish his goals and he tried to make the most of every minute he had left.

Photo of Dick and his wife Carol at a triathlon in May after he gave a motivational speech
to the participants.  Article in the Roanoke Times October 15, 2009 p. 7
written by Ralph Berrier, Jr.  No credit given for the photo.

I was nervous about seeing Dick at the Y for the first time since his diagnosis but he made it so easy with his huge grin and openness. In fact, it was the longest conversation I'd ever had with him!

I saw Dick only two or three more times before Jim and I left for the summer. When we returned to Virginia last fall, he was no longer able to work out at the Y. Despite his failing condition he continued to write about it, often with humor. When he could no longer type his own e-mails he used voice-recognition software. When he could no longer use that, he relied on a laser device strapped to his forehead that he could point at letters on a screen. He never, ever gave up.

We found out about Dick's death in the newspaper, which ran a nice follow-up article about his final months of life. Dick died in mid-October, 2009, just before his 64th birthday and only nine short months after his diagnosis.

Dick definitely made the most of that nine months. He maintained a positive, even humorous, attitude about his condition. He cheered up the people around him and handled a horrible situation with dignity and grace. Although he was unable to achieve his goal of competing even a little with his granddaughter in the Smith Mountain Lake Triathlon in May, he was able to give a motivational speech to the participants before the race began (photo above). 

It's unfortunate that Dick was so introverted prior to his diagnosis, but what a way to go out! He did his best to live as full and useful of a life as possible in the little time remaining. He left behind many friends.


Here's another inspiring story about quickly adapting to what I'd consider horrible news with grace, humor, and feistiness. "Super Susie" didn't reinvent herself the last months of her life but she accelerated the pace of her adventuresome goals and generously shared them not only with her family members but also with the entire world via the internet and television.

CBS has run a series of reports since last fall about 79-year-old Susie Mann Weadock, below, who was diagnosed with terminal intestinal cancer last spring. She has refused to go through traditional medical treatments because she prefers to have fun tackling her "bucket list" of unfinished adventures in the remaining months of her life instead of being sick from the drugs and radiation.

Photo of Super Susie from her blog

Always a risk-taker (Maggie Rodriquez refers to her as the "Daredevil Grandmother"), Susie simply stepped up her schedule of new adventures after getting her diagnosis. Instead of giving up when she got the bad news that she'd probably die in six to nine months, her attitude was a remarkable, "Oh, good. That'll give us time to do things!"

Her doctor was shocked; he expected tears, not joy. I can only wish to have a lemonade-from-lemons attitude like that if I face a similar diagnosis some day!

Susie has involved her children and grandchildren in all of her recent adventures, filmed by CBS, as she swam with dolphins, went hang-gliding and sky diving, rode an ATV in the desert, rode a snowmobile and dog sled, flew through the Grand Canyon in a helicopter (because of her worsening condition, she was unable to go down on a mule like she planned), and checked off other adventures on her bucket list.

She and her family kept a written blog with videos to chronicle her adventures, which you can read here

Logo from Susie's blog page

To Susie, dying is not an end. It's "another page of life, just a different journey in a different place."

[Addendum: Susie died on February 16, 2010. See her blog for photos and entries about her recent adventures and refreshing attitude about life and death.] 


I think that's a very healthy attitude to have about any of life's changes, even ones as comparatively inconsequential as the end of a beloved activity like running. For me, it's a significant adjustment but I'm optimistic that I'll be just as happy in the coming years as I've been in the previous ones. I know I'll face more serious challenges in my life than this one; I consider this adaptation good practice for the Bigger Ones.

I'm looking forward to the Next Third of my life with hopes almost as high as the ones I had in my teens and twenties despite the fact that my athletic options are dwindling. Yes, Virginia, there's more to life than running.

And I'll be busy continuing to work on my own bucket list of things I want to do before I die. I just never called it that before hearing about Susie. I've already got some unfinished goals that bad knees will not affect, and I'm motivated enough to think of lots more!

Stay tuned. I'll keep on sharing some of our athletic and travel adventures on this website as long as it's fun for me to do.

Next entry: wet and wild in San Antonio

Happy trails,

"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, and Cody the Ultra Lab

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2010 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil