The picture on the back of our race shirts reads “I’m running in loving memory of my beautiful friend Kim Paradise Ross.” It is difficult for me to feel comfortable with calling myself a “friend” of Kim. Looking at one possible definition we find the meaning as “one attached to another by affection or esteem”. In today’s virtual society the term has become so watered down that its value more closely resembles acquaintance, and it is there that my comfort level is found. Friend is a title to be earned, not assigned.
Kim succumbed to breast cancer July 8th of last year. My memories of her are primarily grounded in our teenage years. She and I attended Fort Caroline Middle School and Terry Parker High School. While we did not necessarily run in the same social circles Kim’s personality elevated her above the social cliques. It was not difficult to be drawn to her smile and undaunted optimism, things she shared with all who drifted into her path. After graduation she became nothing more than a yearbook photograph but one not forgotten.
Last year a mutual friend of ours, Amanda Farmer, asked me to participate in the Team Kim Ross relay for the 26.2 with Donna. When Amanda gave me the back story it was impossible to say no. Kim had fought and overcome the cancer but was now in the throes of a second attack, one which would be described to me as virtually insurmountable. Both the pre and post race feasts were a mix of joy for the cause and sadness for the reality that this would probably be the last race Kim would run.
While those friends in attendance consisted of both close and casual relations within my extended world, this was my first time ever meeting her parents. Shaking the hand of a father and mother whose daughter was in her final days was difficult. Yet they (and other family members) welcomed me as a familiar face, answering questions about Kim’s battle with comfort and honesty. This was a group of people who fed off the positive outlook of the one person who could have very easily accepted her condition with defeat.
In spite of Kim’s absence there were many similarities between this and last years race. I would be running the first leg (6 miles) with my friend Vicki Schoonmaker. I would be handing off the baton to Kim’s dad Art. The weather, unfortunately, was again at freezing. And even without Kim the group maintained its focus and decidedness.
The 26.2 With Donna is a great community event. People line the streets with encouraging signs, food and a variety of beverages. The longer you run the more of the experience you absorb. Personally 6 miles is not a long distance and with 2012 being my first run I wanted to soak it up and go until my body told me to stop, which ended up being around 15 miles. This year I decided to simply run the 1/2 marathon route which would allow me to experience crossing the finish line for my run’s duration (last year we met up with the final leg of the team and crossed together).
For anyone who runs competitively you know you are battling the clock as a means of gauging your strength and endurance level from race to race. Running as a relay team, and with teammates who are at differing pace levels, your speed is less important. If deciding to go beyond the 6 mile mark my time could not possibly be a personal goal for the event.
The longest I had ever run was a 1/2 marathon so going 15 miles the previous year, especially considering I did not train for such a distance, was both a mental and physical challenge. What pushed me was Kim, the pain she had and was about to experience. It was a mindset that carried over into this weekend’s race too. My goal was to simply do my best, finish strong and embrace the joy of the experience and not the pain of the effort.
Burdened by the need for meaning it is impossible not to reflect upon the collective why. One bloom to be found is that community, love and optimism may very well be the foundation of a successful life. Everything else is heated seats. For someone who defines themselves as a “hopeful cynic” being part of the Kim Ross extended family is nothing short of a blessing. The few hours spent reconnecting with Kim in 2012 were a life’s worth of impact, usually that which would fall within the relationships many of us have with our close friends. Being in the presence of someone how knows death is imminent, but who refuses to believe it is an absolute certainty changes you. When their family and friends allow you, a virtual stranger, into their years of shared memories you must stand in reverence to their convictions.
In many ways our relationships are all about time: treasuring them due to their ephemeral nature and valuing the moment so that we do not regret it. In other ways it is about effort and not fearing the moment will be wasted. It may be that I only see most of these people once a year but I know that every February I will be reminded of how we can impact those around us in spite of our circumstances.
The words of Helen Lowrie Marshall may best sum up my sentiments of how Kim reminded us to embrace the very challenge that is life. They are words which were chosen to define her and can be found on her memorial website.
I’d like the memory of me
to be a happy one.
I’d like to leave an afterglow
of smiles when life is done.
I’d like to leave an echo
whispering softly down the ways
of happy times and laughing times
and bright and sunny days.
I’d like the tears of those who grieve,
to dry before the sun,
of happy memories that I leave
when life is done.
If you would like to see how Kim has affected others go to the following links.