Sunday, June 18, 2017

Really, it all started like a cool winter breeze. The calm before the storm if you will. When I look back on it all, it seems impossible. It’s not the least bit funny, but the entire late winter/early spring for me seems almost laughable. Where do I even begin? How about with some background. It was February, 2016 and we thought we were dealing with kidney stones for our dog Jasmine. We decided to have a “cat scan” done. I remember the sinking feeling that came from that appointment, and right after the greatest sigh of relief I had known in a while. The technician was checking her bladder for stones and indicated to us that all looked clear. It was great relief and I thought it was over. I actually immediately thought to myself, “what a waste of money, but then again, now we know.”  Before I could even process that thought the tech said, “I don’t like this” and we would come to learn that there was a mass inside of the belly of our sweet girl Jasmine. We waited for a few days to receive the results, which confirmed it was cancer and over the course of the next 12 months we spent our time keeping her comfortable and letting her have as much fun as she wanted. Relief, followed by the most sinking of feelings. I should have known it was a sign of things to come. In a lot of ways I did know, but I would have no idea exactly what was to come.

Fast forward to November and my dad, once again, was hospitalized. This time it was to have his leg amputated. He had overcome so much in the previous two years, but diabetes and the infection that grew in his foot was just too much. I went to see him in November and had that sinking feeling in my stomach, followed by relief when he pulled out of the surgery and seemed to be on the mend. I should have known better.

Later, dad would be hospitalized again and this time while he spent almost two months in and out of the hospital and other settings, we also lost Jasmine and our other dog, Sam. Becky’s grandmother would also pass away while it seemed we waited for the inevitable that came on April 10, 2017.

This website is dedicated to nine years of commitment to writing a book about my experiences chasing the dream of running the Boston Marathon. Mission Accomplished! I honestly don’t even care how many copies of the book I’ve sold. I stopped checking that months ago. There was a certain satisfaction in simply getting the job done. See, I see things through. I finish them. And on this Father’s Day, I revel in the fact that I am for all intents and purposes, my father. He taught me so much about hard work, dedication, and seeing things through. Sure, he had his own way about how to deliver those messages. Sometimes I questioned his tactics and the way he got his point across, but really, who am I to question. Inevitably I learned so much from that man. Does it really matter how? I don’t think so.

The Pittsburgh Penguins won their 5th Stanley Cup just a week ago today and with it they ended the long journey; the juggernaut, of playoff hockey. It takes a lot of the qualities I speak of that I’ve learned from my father. Hard work. Dedication. Drive. And determination. This group of Penguins epitomized those qualities. Their ability to overcome all obstacles that stood in their way was truly amazing. As a lifelong Penguins fan I was elated but also a bit sad. I hated to see their playoff run come to an end. I actually had a ticket to game 7 if there had been one, but I openly hoped I’d never need to use it. Talk about being conflicted. One one hand, I didn’t want it all to end. On the other hand I wanted it to end. A deeper dive into why explains that conflict. The Pens began their playoff run on Wednesday, April 12, 2017. Just two days after I watched my father pass away in room 601 at Conemaugh’s Memorial Medical Center. I have always loved the playoffs. The intensity and the speed are unmatched by anything in this world. But I remember the sinking feeling that I had after dad died. I barely cared that the playoffs were even happening. Reluctantly, I agreed to go to game 2 of the opening round series against Columbus. Again conflicted with the thought that my father lay in a freezer awaiting his funeral because of the Easter holiday weekend. I remember sitting at PPG Paints Arena, watching my team go up two games to none over Columbus and although I was happy, I barely cared.

Shortly after his funeral the Penguins dispatched the Columbus Blue Jackets and began their second round series against Washington. As the days went by and my sadness dissipated slightly, that playoff feeling returned. Every other night (or thereabout) I watched the games and grew more and more interested. It felt like old times, except that my dad wasn’t around. I wouldn’t speak to him and hear his critique of how poorly the Pens were playing. After every playoff game I walked around a mostly quiet house and I would think of my dad. I thought about him and wondered if he would help them continue to win so I could gain some semblance of joy during a mostly sad time in my life. After every win I believed that he was part of it, and I knew he was watching down over all of this. The Pens would drive forward toward back-to-back championships and I began to enjoy the ride, like each spring prior to this one. I hadn’t forgotten about dad, but with each game I felt closer to my dad. And as the playoff season wound down I began to think about our connections to the Penguins past.

I remember the most incredible goal I ever witnessed by a Penguins player and where I was. It was Game 2 of the 1991 Stanley Cup Final and Mario Lemieux did this:

Includes the “national feed” and then the “Mike Lange” call…

I was in our living room, oddly, sitting in my dad’s chair and although he was working on the police force that hot summer night, he had stopped by the house and after having something to eat, sat down to watch a bit of the game with me. In fitting fashion, as I jumped off the chair to scream, dad yelled at me so he could hear Mike Lange’s call of the goal. (Back then no national stations covered the games, so we still had our local broadcast to watch and listen to). I remember getting irritated that he yelled and took a bit of the steam out of that goal for me, but as time has passed I treasure that I watched that goal with my dad. There are countless other times I can think of but that was the pinnacle for me. Most of our family watched the 1980 USA vs. Russia game together in that same living room, but the 91 Final game 2 was just me and him.

As the Pens began their victory laps around the ice with the Cup last Sunday it was a mix of emotions for me to be happy that my team had won the Cup for the 5th time. But I also realized that this playoff run carried with it a very special meaning for me. I suppose it is true that every playoff year is unique in its own way, and I suppose it would be accurate to say that no two playoff years will ever be the same, but this one will stand by itself for me. Never to be repeated in the way that it was in 2017. It began with one of the biggest losses in my life, and ended perhaps with one of the bigger wins I’ve experienced because of all this team had to go through to endure. In many ways, they epitomize the ride of life, and the journey that continues for those of us left behind. It wasn’t ideal, but what a ride it was.

Happy Father’s Day dad. Next year, let’s go for a 3-peat.

Run on…