Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Sun, 4 Dec 2005 00:01:05 -0500

Walking On

RUNNING COMMENTARY 600

My mother and Paul Reese were born a month apart in 1917. I couldn't help but compare and contrast these two as their years wound down.

Mom drew the old-age cards that have become sadly normal. Her body and mind failed at the same rate. By mid-2003, the last time I saw her, she was ready to leave this life (and did less than a year later).

In mid-2003 her age-mate Paul stood at the Canada/Montana border. Twenty-six days and 290 miles on foot later, he crossed into Wyoming.

This was a comedown for Paul, and also a comeback at age 86. Thirteen years earlier he had become the oldest person (at 73) to run across the United States. At 80 he had finished crossing the all the states he'd missed the first time.

The last of those was Hawaii. There, Paul walked the final miles to be with his old pal Ralph Paffenbarger. "Paff" had been a fine ultrarunner himself before heart problems ended those efforts. Paul told of that day in an RC article:

"Each of us was grateful just to be alive, to be active, to be fully functional physically and mentally. Once again I marveled at how such a simple act -- doing this walking with a close friend -- could overflow my day with joy. Who needs drugs?"

The best lines in that column were Paul's. Again in 2003 he wrote beautifully about his journey across Montana. No failures in this 86-year-old's mind, though his body had started to betray him.

Paul's last marathon, Honolulu 2002, injured his back so badly that he was on crutches for several months. He never ran much after that but recovered enough to walk well. Not just to stroll his neighborhood but to try walking, in stages, from Canada to Mexico.

Montana was his first such state. (It would also be his last, as a heart ailment came on soon afterward and ended his life last year.) I quoted him at length in another RC article.

"This trek reeked with conservatism," he said in 2003, "for the goal was walking a mere 11 miles per day. But since the longest distance I had gone since the Honolulu Marathon in December was eight miles, and that only once, I was uncertain how I'd fare.

"My hope was that the walk would be good therapy for both my physical and emotional health. This proved to be true. As the days accumulated, I did get stronger, and was even able to do some running."

Paul added, "Montana was a party for me. Having been semi-crippled the first four months of the year, I reveled in just being able to walk. I savored being alive and in control of all my faculties."

We'll all become walkers eventually. May we be so lucky as to walk into our final years as well as Paul Reese did.

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