Saturday, June 30, 2012
Michael Fontes Memorial Run
June 30, 2012
There is something special about runners. I don’t know what it is – and I know I’m biased and probably sound a bit egotistical saying this – but almost all the runners I know are the among the most kind, giving, funny and accepting people I know. The list of adjectives could go on endlessly, but you get the point.
Today, there was a Memorial Run for Michael Fontes. After his tragic death, the outpouring of support from the Denver running community (and beyond) was remarkable. I heard from a lot of friends who had run with Mike and considered him a friend. But I also heard a lot of stories from people who didn’t know him well. Some knew of him, others saw him cheering them on from the side of the road during a race, and others just saw his smile and wave as they passed on a run. Many of those people seemed to feel almost guilty for the grief they felt. As if they didn’t know him well enough to miss him.
But that was one of the great beauties of Mike. He touched many lives, and even he might not have known how many or how much. Runners have a bond. Most of us will never win a race. And for us, it’s not about beating other people. It’s about doing our best. Steve Prefontaine said, “To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.” While Prefontaine was one of the finest runners the world has ever known, the beauty of that quote is how well it relates to all of us. It’s not about who you beat. It’s about doing your absolute best.
Mike did that. During many weekly long runs, Mike would put his head down and focus on improving while the rest of us were talking and hamming it up. Certainly, he would have a great conversation with any of us, but I always felt like he didn’t necessarily need to talk. It didn’t matter to me, and I’m pretty sure it didn’t matter to Mike. The bond between all of us was there because we were out there hammering out miles. And Mike showed many times that he respected all of us, regardless of what time we crossed a finish line. Mike was there waiting – he did beat many of us a lot of the time – to congratulate us or pick us up if we were unhappy with our results. Whether we were feeling good or bad, Mike had a way of making us feel better.
When I got to the run this morning, I was delighted to see many faces I hadn’t seen in years. It was a celebration of Mike Fontes, and the entire Denver running community was invited. There were people I ran with five years ago, and haven’t seen since. One of those was Anders Hyde. While running together and catching up, we were discussing how business trips sometimes allow us to see old friends. I actually said, “The best friends are the ones you can go years without seeing and pick up mid-sentence from the last time you were together.” I don’t know if Anders caught my pause after saying it, but something occurred to me at that moment. That’s exactly what happened with Anders and I this morning. I would never claim we are really close – in fact, I’m pretty sure I mispronounced his name at one point – but I don’t think it matters. That bond seems rare in everyday life. But with runners, it happens all the time.
I wondered how I was going to feel during the Memorial Run. Certainly there is still grief, and we will carry Mike’s memory with us on almost every run in the future. What I felt this morning was joy. And camaraderie. And love. I’m not going to pretend to know what Mike would have wanted. But I’m pretty sure he would be happy to know that we felt that way this morning.
All that is not to say that people who don’t run are somehow bad or less worthy. I have many great, close friends who wouldn’t run around the block if you paid them. But I will say that for some reason, most runners get along. Age, race, occupation, income, gender, none of that matters. We are equals out there on the roads and tracks and trails. Want proof? Come out and join us. You’re all welcome.