It was a bitterly cold clear day last week when I met my long-time friend Ray Shevenell for a walk through Fort Williams Park in Cape Elizabeth. It was so great to see him face to face and to share in his joy about being able to take a walk.
Almost to this day one year ago, Ray was driving to the movies with his wife Diane when he started feeling a strange and sharp pain in his jaw. It moved down his throat and chest and he knew something was terribly wrong. He pulled over and Diane drove them to the emergency room where it was quickly discovered that Ray had a tear in his ascending aorta. After an emergency surgery, which by the way had to be performed twice because of subsequent leaking, Ray embarked on his recovery journey which eventually led him back to work at UNUM in late February, and to running again.
But it wasn't over. During this past summer, Ray learned the once life-saving dacron graft was causing problems. The top of the graft had become constricted, creating a bottleneck which made the heart work overtime to push the re-oxygenated blood through the aorta to the rest of his body. Without repair, the long-term prognosis was not good. It was bad. So what was it going to be, surgery or wait? His response was to go for it, of course. He had surgery in Boston on October 8th.
You see, Ray is a runner with a goal to live an active life until he's 110 years-old. That means 43 more years.
We met nearly twenty years ago; I distinctly remember Ray coming up to me before the April Amble Four-Miler at Westbrook College, introducing himself, flattering me about my running results, and then proceeding to beat me in that race. (I haven't forgotten that sly strategy.) Ray recalls another race when we ran together, Doc's Tavern Three-Miler in Biddeford. Eventually, he became one of the "select men" to join the Run to Win Ladies Team, coached by Ziggy Gillespie, and a true friend to me.
Long-distance running is such a gift. Over the years, Ray and I ran many many miles together and had many many wonderful running conversations. We got to know each other and our families, shared our hopes and aspirations, and like recently, have shared some of the scarier times.
Yesterday, I received an e-mail from Ray. He said it is his last Recovery Update. Here's an excerpt:
"The post op restrictions issued by the cardiac surgeon will cease on January 7, 2009, so I am being released to return to work on January 8, 2009, and am planning to do so. And, I cannot wait to rejoin my Unum teammates!
I am now walking three and one-half miles five days each week and plan to increase that total to five miles at a fifteen-minute-per-mile pace by January 8, 2009. That I am able to make this progress during my walks is why I am optimistic about being able to retain my active, albeit less vigorous, lifestyle. Biking, swimming and dancing are activities on the horizon. AND the doctors say that I may be ready to do some light jogging in the Spring!"
So, this is why I run: to have people like Ray Shevenell in my life; to try and have a long and productive life; and to remain hopeful and vital, like Ray, despite the uncertain challenges that will undoubtedly cross my path.