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.
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
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.
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.
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.]
HIS GREATEST RACE
I initially wrote about Dick Kelley in an entry dated
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
Photo of Dick Kelley (in front) from the
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
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
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
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
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.
SUPER SUSIE'S INSPIRATION
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
CBS has run a
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
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
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
A DIFFERENT JOURNEY IN A DIFFERENT PLACE . . .
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
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
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil,
and Cody the Ultra Lab
© 2010 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil