July 19 2018
Professor Jennifer Golbeck uses running to balance a full roster of work, travel and her pack of famous pups.
My life as a wife, runner and mother of three changed drastically just over a year ago. My husband, Ryan, died at 38 after a four-year battle with cancer.
Cancer destroys dreams and steals able bodies. During his fight with sarcoma, I ran. I ran through the chemo, the radiation, the surgeries and the recovery. One of the chemo regimens involved us being separated. Ryan would spend up to 10 days in a hospital that was over an hour away, being hammered daily with drugs. When he returned home, he felt horrible. Just as he was starting to feel better, it would be time to return to the hospital and do it all over again. We did this for six months. I ran through it all. Ryan didn’t quit, so I wouldn’t either. He always said: “What can we try next?” After many failed treatments, we turned to clinical trials. Clinical trials are hard, very hard.
I ran three marathons during those treatments. Even though his chance of survival was grim from the beginning, we never believed that would be how our story would end. We mentally would not accept it. As the cancer spread, we just fought harder. I turned to running for mental toughness. It helped me cling to any kind of normalcy and small reminders of my old life. I ran because I knew what I had to come home to was going to challenge me more than any long run ever could.
Ryan died unexpectedly after a trip to the emergency room. I didn’t get to say goodbye and neither did my children. When Ryan died, I decided I would not run again for a very long time. Even though I knew he would have wanted me to, I couldn’t. I had pushed so hard for those four years that I didn’t have anything left. Months went by. My kids would ask on the weekends if I was going to go for a run. I would make up excuses. Running exposes emotions and I wasn’t ready for the depth of loss and loneliness to surface.
Then one day, I just ran. I didn’t go far, but the sun, the road and the rhythm of my feet all soothed my aching heart. I am a runner again. This time, I am not running for Ryan, my kids or a cause. I am running for me. Every run that I am able to feel my lungs burn and legs throb, I am reminded of my strength and able body. As a mom, I don’t just get to quit. I run, fl exing my muscles, searching for hope along the way. You don’t get to run away when the fairy tale falls apart. You have to run straight on through it to the other side.