Saturday, December 31, 2011

An Athlete's Form of Therapy

I'm currently in Oklahoma (as most of you know), celebrating the Christmas and New Year festivities with my husband's family, and enjoying the break from the daily humdrum of life. I wrote last week about holiday reflections and making the most of seasonal holidays to appreciate the brief moments we get to spend with family and loved ones.

This concept was really driven home however when I met a wonderful group of women last weekend, who let me join them on their long twenty mile run. I had established contact with this group before we even arrived in Oklahoma, but during the days preceding our meeting I was informed via email that one of the women from this close-knit group had most recently suffered a terrible loss.

From left to right: Rae Ann, Tonya, Me, Geni, Kyong
 This particular member, whom I had the privilege of meeting and running with, lost her sixteen year old son in a terrible car wreck on December 16th. Her friends had emailed to tell me what had happened so that I would at least be aware of the situation when I met them all for the first time.

I can't tell you how heavy my heart felt when I read the news; I hadn't even met Tonya but my heart ached for her. I thought about my own daughters and tried to imagine spending a Christmas without them; I couldn't do it. And then I asked myself how this woman Tonya, whom I had not yet met, could bring herself to run twenty miles just one week after her son's death and just one day after his funeral.

It took just a short time in her company, and that of her friends, to find the answer to my question. As I ran with one of the women, whose name was Geni, she shared with me some details about the kind of woman Tonya is. She described a woman with a huge amount of faith, strength, kindness, and humility.

At Tonya's home, after the funeral, Geni said she hugged her friend and expressed her condolences, and was shocked (for a brief moment), when Tonya enquired after Geni's ill father. Geni explained that it shouldn't have surprised her at all that Tonya would show genuine concern for someone else in the midst of her own suffering. "That's just the kind of person Tonya is," said Geni.

As we ran past St Gregory's cathedral, a beautiful historical landmark in Shawnee, Geni quickly turned the group around when we were almost at Airport Road, the road on which Tonya's son had crashed his car and died. Tonya quietly nodded her head in agreement, then suggested an alternative route.

We continued to run and talk, and for a couple of miles I listened to Geni and Tonya share stories about Tonya's son Taylor, and the fun and cheerful boy that he was. I kept quiet, but all the while I was silently amazed at Tonya's ability to keep herself together, and even smile and laugh as memories were exchanged.

I remembered at that point the words one of Tonya's friends had said in her email to me. Tonya's close friend Meredith had emailed to tell me that despite the tragic circumstances, Tonya still planned to join us on the long run. "An athlete's form of therapy," is how she described Tonya's reasoning for continuing to run.

I'm not sure many people would understand this way of thinking, but Tonya's circle of running friends certainly understood it, and as I ran with them all I completely understood it too. Running is a gift for those of us who enjoy it, providing therapy in so many ways. It provides relief on stressful days, joy when a little bit of cheer is needed to brighten the day, and on occasion, it also helps to provide healing for an ailing mind or body.

Last weekend, while running with Tonya and her friends, I witnessed the healing power of running in its entirety. I had the privilege of meeting a group of women whose friendship has been sealed by a mutual love of running, and I saw how they all rallied together, using running as a medicinal healer to help soothe the wounds of a grieving heart.

Meredith hit the nail on the head when she said that running is an athlete's form of therapy! But when you combine that with the support of close friends who understand the running pysche, the healing effect is multiplied.

I'm so grateful that I am a runner, and I am so grateful that some of my closest friends are also runners. I'm also grateful that I met Tonya and her friends; these women (and guys) inspired me to no end, and showed me what a powerful thing it is when you combine running, friendship, and courage!

I was fortunate to get one more long run in with this great group!
From left to right/back row: Geni, Brandon, Chad
From left to right/front row: Meredith, Rita, Me, Kyong, Tonya

My thoughts and prayers go out to Tonya and her family, as they continue to grieve for Taylor and attempt to start a new year without him.


  1. Amazing Jannine, thank you for sharing this with us.

  2. Thank you for sharing Tonya's story with us. Thinking and praying for her family. "Running is an athlete's form of therapy." Well said, Meredith, and so very true.