There are certain people who get you started or keep you going or answer your questions or remind you why you love to run.
And when, God forbid, one who falls into at least one of those categories dies in a stomach-kick twist of fate — running coach and marathoner George Kempston had a heart attack?! — first you swallow (and then swallow again) that lump in your throat. You shake your head back and forth like you’ve been taught in yoga class, then up and down, as if you were a dog shaking the rain from your coat — and not a perplexed and sad person trying to shake away sorrow.
Then you start remembering. This past week, memories of George keep popping into my head, taking me aback a little at the regularity of their appearance as well as the unpredictability of their subject matter.
As I ran by his street, I could hear him saying that he chose his house because the neighborhood had perfect hills for running. An hour or so later, while shopping at Sprouts, I remembered, how when we worked together at Run On just down the street, George would pore over the Wednesday weekly flyer and tell us co-workers that blueberries were a dollar a pint; ears of corn, a quarter apiece.
.We shared the floor and cash register from the time I was laid off from The Dallas Morning News in April of 2009 until I was rehired a year later. I’d been a customer there before that, so of course knew George by sight and — well, knew of George. What runner didn’t?
His prowess first helped me during a half marathon, with a route that took runners across Central Expressway at McCommas Blvd. My nephew Ben was pacing me; he is a much faster runner, but agreed to hang out with his auntie as kind of a training run for him.
As we crossed Central, we heard George (whom of course we recognized) cheering on a group of Run On runners, yelling at them in his British accent to “Mind the tangents!” Ben and I looked at each other and, yes, minded — or ran — the tangents, a perfectly legal thing to do.
I’ve run countless tangents since. This past week, each time I opted for a sidewalk corner’s diagonal over its 90-degree angle, I thought of George. This morning, looking down the hill of his block as I ran by, I blew a kiss toward his house.
Just now, I lifted my tea mug to my lips and, seeing its discolored interior, made a mental note to bleach it…then remembered George’s dark — ah, shall we say seasoned ? — mug at the store, and how aghast co-workers were when I expressed an almost overwhelming urge to work my Clorox magic on it.
Earlier today — and I haven’t thought of this in years — I suddenly remembered that George had asked me to join his team at the Texas Independence Relay the March we worked together. I considered his request for days before turning it down; only now does it hit me what an honor it was to have been asked.
So for people who see potential that perhaps we overlook in ourselves…whose passion for what they know best astounds and benefits us all…whose mantras we’ll hear long after their voices have stilled — yeah, for you, George — The Grateful Runner says thank you.