Ironman Redefined

I can’t believe it has been 6 years. On this date in 2005 I lost my father. He checked into a hospital in June and never left the ICU. This is always a hard time for me and it’s been a rough couple of days. Today, for obvious reasons, is the worst. I really wish he could have met his newest great granddaughter. Last week when Brynn was opening a birthday present, she stuck the bow on her forehead; just like dad used to. He loved his kids, grandkids, and great grandkids so much.

For the last several weeks I have had this sad and recurring thought. I guess it’s more of a wish than anything else. I wish I could have a catch with him. I wish I was standing on our front lawn on Malvern Road in Ardmore Pennsylvania throwing a baseball with my dad.

It’s something we did all the time. It seems like we did it every night when I was a kid. In reality we probably did do it any night that I didn’t actually have a baseball game … that he coached. He was a good man, and was loved by many people…

I am recycling something I wrote shortly after he passed …

Up until recently, I had a pretty good understanding of what it meant to be an “Ironman”. I knew they came in all ages, shapes and sizes but after all was said and done, at the end of the day, I knew an ironman to be someone who crossed the finish line after 2.4 miles of swimming, 112 miles of biking, and 26.2 miles of running.  And whether you cross that line in 8:30, or 16:59:59, an ironman is an ironman. This definition changed for me in the summer of 2005.

My dad was 82 years old and never competed in a triathlon. My dad had only a very basic understanding of what a triathlon even is. But he knew that I loved the sport, and for that reason, it interested him. He probably hadn’t done any running since his days in WWII. He probably only biked as a kid for transportation and fun. And I’m sure he, like most people, believed that man was not born an amphibious creature and pools were meant for relaxing and cooling off – not for laps. Still, my dad was more of an ironman than I will ever be.

My dad had undergone surgery to remove a tumor in his chest cavity. Surgery itself was successful, but recovery had been a long, rough road. ICU became our base camp for two months.

With each visit to the hospital, I stared at him in amazement. He had his share of ups and downs. Additional procedures were required to handle multiple postoperative complications. Dad did not like hospitals and did not like to be dependent on anyone. So, you can imagine his frustration being in an intensive care unit for so long with all kinds of tubes running in, out, and all around him. He continued to press on. He continued to fight. Even in his times of frailty and weakness, his strength was apparent. He continued to press on even while he was resting. I could feel his determination to get the heck out of that hospital.

Dad fought an amazing fight. But all great fighters and superstars must reach the twilight of their career. It’s a part of the cycle.  Although dad’s will and determination remained as tough as nails until the end, the physical body knew that it was time.  And on Friday, August 5, with a room full of family by his side, dad was finally able to get his rest, and his peace, with the dignity that he deserved. He crossed the eternal finish line. He crossed a finish line with far greater rewards and a much bigger celebration than I’ve ever seen. And I know when it’s my turn to cross that same finish line, dad will be there to lead the cheers of the crowd and bring me home.

I learned more about my dad in those two months than I had in the 45 years that I’d known him. I have always known him to be strong, yet very caring and sensitive. But it wasn’t until recently that I began to fully understand the depths of his strength. I now have a better understanding of the man who earned a Purple Heart in the War, and the man who always remained loyal and committed to family.  I better understand the man who always did everything within his power to provide a safe and happy existence for his children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren.

I saw a man whose credo was the same as that of the ironman – “To fight…to finish”.

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