Saturday, February 11, 2012

Memorial Run

This morning we did a virtual run in memory of another runner we never knew and never will.  Her name was Sherry Arnold and several weeks ago she started her day exactly the way we did today.  She set out for a Saturday morning long run in Sydney, Montana on her usual route at 6:30am, no doubt taking time out from a busy schedule to do something she loved.  She never returned home.  After several days of searching for her and clues to her disappearance, her family would later learn that she was abducted and murdered by two individuals that intended to do harm to any random person that crossed their path.  Sherry's morning run innocently and unfortunately intersected with their sadistic plans.

The media coverage about Sherry Arnold's abduction reached the running community from coast to coast.  One of my favorite bloggers, Beth Risdon, was her cousin and came up with the idea of a virtual run so others across the country could show their support in her memory.  Our little running crew decided to participate in the virtual run as well.  The running divas and I gathered at our usual meeting spot bundled up against 39 degree temps, set on doing a light run and then relaxing with girl talk over coffee.  We started out huddled in a group prayer for Sherry's final resting state and to give thanks for the gift of running in general.  At first glance, this might not appear to have been a proper memorial run for a fallen fellow runner.  We were upbeat and giggly most of the run, sharing funny stories and updates from the past work week.  We got lost in our conversations and plans for the next big race we are going to complete.  Sherry Arnold's name was not mentioned again as our morning run unfolded.

She was, however at the forefront of my thoughts because it constantly sticks out in my mind how normal and routine that fateful morning probably was for her.  If I were a fly on the wall in her home, my imagination tells me what her final days might have been like.  Since she was a high school math teacher, maybe like me, she left work long before the onslaught of evening rush hour traffic.  Maybe she opted for a fast food Friday night dinner because she knew she would burn off the extra calories during the next day's workout.  Maybe she went to bed early in anticipation of hitting the trail long before other pedestrian traffic crowded the route.  Maybe she laid out her running gear the night before, in hopes of quickly and quietly leaving the house without disturbing anyone else's lazy morning.  But among all these "maybes", the only certainty is that she did not realize it would be her final life event ever.

Having never met this woman, how can I boldly guess at what Sherry Arnold's final hours might have been like?  It is because as a runner, we can assume the same mundane rituals and habits are universal to us all.  The same tried-and-true methods of preparation are carried out by all of us as we transform from career women and mommies into seasoned weekend warriors.  We laugh in the face of fatigue and harsh weather conditions and make our running plans in spite of the obstacles.  We push our limits and call 10 milers "fun", anxiously planning the next big running adventure as if it were a trip to Disneyland.  This missing runner, although a stranger to me, could have been any one of my "sole" sisters.  In a carefree manner we set out on our weekly runs, sometimes as a group and sometimes alone.  Our corner of the urban landscape is fairly quiet, so we naively assume that just because nothing negative has happened to any of us so far that it never will.  We assume that everyone in our small community will be on our side and wish us good travels as we traipse along on our regular running routes.  Unfortunately as Sherry Arnold found out first hand, not everyone you encounter on the trails is just a friendly passerby.

Among my running buds, I have earned the reputation of being the paranoid one.  If you read this blog regularly, then this revelation should not surprise you.  I avoid running in the cold rain for fear it will lead to bronchitis or some other horrible sidelining ailment.  I don't like running solo in the dark, whether it is morning or evening.  I over plan for danger and accidents by always carrying a cell phone, toilet paper and lip balm.  I make a habit of requesting full disclosure of anyone's plans when one of us chooses to "go it alone" on a run.  When we all took our recent trip to the Philadelphia marathon, it was me who insisted everyone take their cell phones along during the race just so I would have peace of mind that they could text me in the event of something going wrong.

Could any of these precautions have saved Sherry Arnold from her tragic fate?  I don't know, but I still feel the need to pass along her story almost as a public service announcement.  I want others to understand that although we runners are strong and tough, we are not invincible in the face of danger.  Although we revel in the camaraderie of our sport, not everyone is looking out for us or cheering us along.  Thanks to social media and the swift pace of digital communication, Sherry's story was able to reach a massive audience very quickly.  For all of our good natured intentions of today's virtual memorial run, it will mean nothing if we don't learn from the lessons of her tragic death.  Prepare for emergencies, stick to daylight runs in a group, have a running route planned out and share it with everyone that matters to you.  We have to be careful out there and stick to the safest possible plan.  Our loved ones support us through long training months, racing seasons and a steady wave of mild injuries we earn with every run.  We owe them the peace of knowing we are making every effort within our power to make it back to them safely, so we can live to experience the next great running event together.  Be careful out there.

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