Tuesday, January 1, 2002

Tribute to a Running Partner

By Dr. Tim Maggs
© 2002

I’ve had the enjoyment over the past 25 years of having very special training partners. In our complicated and busy lives, a training partner becomes our other self. They listen to us, talk to us, live through us and share our aches, pains and joys.

Two years ago I gave a running clinic at the Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid. Mary Peck was there. A short time later, Mary came in as a patient and, as a result, we began to train together. Once, twice and even three times a week for the next two years, we ran together. We had so much not in common, but we also had a need for each other. She was 18, I was 46. She was totally driven, I was laid back. She didn’t like to talk, I loved to tell all. Opposites attract, evidently. And with each and every run, Mary’s grandmother would drive her to my office and sit and wait for us to return. I don’t know if Mary ever really understood how blessed she was.

In May, 2001, I needed Mary to help me reach a goal I thought was virtually impossible. I had gone 14 years without running a marathon. I had no confidence I would ever get back to running marathons, while Mary’s youthful optimism had me running marathons and her running in the 2004 Olympics. I stole this fire from Mary each and every run. I was the benefactor.

I finished that marathon, my first in 14 years, and wildly celebrated this improbable accomplishment. Mary deserved much of the credit because she believed when I didn’t. But, I believed in her. Not once in 2 years did Mary ever fail to show for a run. She also pushed every step of every run. I finished my first marathon in over 14 years. Mary helped my life get so much better.

Another Road Traveled

While Mary helped me reach improbable successes, her life continued to suffer. Although her back problem certainly played a part in her training, she also suffered with other issues, and much of our energy was spent on helping her get well. Mary worked obsessively every day of her life, one hour at a time. There were many days I wanted to cancel due to my busy schedule, but she’d patiently sit in my waiting room, and I wouldn’t have the guts to not run with her.

After finishing 3 marathons since my return back, with the latest being this year’s Vermont City Marathon on May 26, 2002, Mary was always the first to congratulate and celebrate with me. She may have even lived through my successes.

Fast forward to June 10th of this year. Mary waited longer than usual this day to do our 4-mile run through the woods. Never a complaint, as this was not a part of her make-up. Before treating her that day, I asked her how she felt, and it was the first time in a long time she replied, “better”. Mary ran that day as well as she had in the prior 6 months. Several times during the run, I’d ask, “Are you okay Mary?”. “Yup”. That day was a great run. The best we’d had in weeks. She was starting to feel good again.

For me, that day’s routine continued as usual. The next morning, my life changed forever. I sat at my computer reading e mails. My wife, Trudy, was reading the morning paper, and let out a horrible sound; “Where does Mary live?”. I told her, and she froze. There in the paper, in bold, clear and horrible, horrible print were the words that would change my life forever---“Mary Peck killed in a cycling accident”. As simple as that, Mary had died. She died. Mary was gone. That simple. The 4 miles we ran the day before would be the last I’d ever run with her. Almost 2 years of together, and now, just like that, we were apart. A short 25 minutes after leaving my office, Mary was hit by a dump truck while riding her bike home and killed almost instantly. Where do you go when something like this happens? Can life ever be the same?

As hard as this loss has been for me, I live with unconditional faith in God’s plan. There is some larger purpose for what I see as a senseless death, but in time, I’m sure I’ll better understand why this happened.

Mary’s grandmother, who took total care of her, is relieved to know that Mary is now out of pain. I’m saddened by the fact that Mary took such good care of me and I was helpless when she needed me most. I cherish the opportunity to have spent so much time over the past couple years with her, and hope I gave as much as possible whenever possible.

In reflecting back over the many runs we had together, one common question would always be, “Mary, are you okay?”. She never answered anything but “yeah”. She was one of the most focused, determined people I’d ever met. I wonder if I have the ability to train and run a marathon without her help.

Life is a fragile and perilous trip, and the loss of someone so close, so fast is difficult. Mary represents all of our training partners. Please realize the value of all of them, before it’s too late. I run most of my runs alone now, and I’ll continue to do so, as running is still the answer, not the problem. All of us have had troubles in our lives, and running should be part of the reason we’re able to handle them better than those who don’t run. We know the price, the pain, the lessons of life. That’s what it’s all about. Mary’s death taught me more than any life experience I’ve ever had.

As a representative of all training partners, please consider giving to the Mary C. Peck Scholarship Fund to help provide support to 5 female athletes with Olympic aspirations. If interested, donations can be sent to my office, with checks made out to The Mary C. Peck Foundation. My office address is 1310 Union St., Schenectady, New York 12308. Never take your partner for granted.

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