Date: July 10, 2016
Where do I start?
In 2006 when Angie told me she had cancer? In 2009 when she convinced a bunch of us to complete our first full marathon in Portland? In 2014 when we completed the Missoula Half marathon together? In 2015 when we walked a 5K in Missoula wearing shirts that said “F-you, cancer?” Or do I just go straight to the day when Angie told Todd & Jen she wouldn’t be doing this year’s half marathon with us and two days later passed away?
There’s no good way to start any story than ends in utter sadness, but this is also a story of enduring friendships and the close bonds people can share when they come together in love and support.
I got to be with Angie for three Portland races–in 2009, 2010, and in 2011. For awhile, a group of us were using the Portland race as an annual reason to get together. For Ang, it was also a way to express physical strength despite living with cancer. We all looked forward to those race weekends and the time we got to spend together. In truth, these were all her idea and I’m so glad she made our gatherings happen.
A group of us also completed the Missoula Half in 2014 and celebrated the fact that Jen qualified for the Boston Marathon during that race. That was an amazing day.
When Ang asked some of us to join her for a 5K race in Missoula last October, we were happy to use that as a reason to see each other and offer Angie additional support. That’s when things definitely took a turn, however.
Following that race, we went to lunch and began talking about the next race we would sign up for. Jen, Heather, Holly, and I readily agreed to sign up for the Missoula Half–scheduled nine months later. Angie expressed some hesitation, though, and poignantly said she would join us, “If I’m still around.” None of us really knew what to say and I remember that we all did our best to keep the mood as lighthearted as we could. None of us wanted to face the reality that there might be a time when Angie was gone. This was also the first time Angie ever expressed hesitation about an upcoming race.
Over the next several months as the Missoula Half drew near, Angie’s health deteriorated as her medications lost their effectiveness and particularly after she was told she wasn’t healthy enough to participate in an experimental trial for new medication.
On April 27th, Angie sent me the saddest text I’ve ever gotten after I asked how her appointment with her specialist went. She responded, “Thank you. I’m avoiding updating you guys. There’s officially nothing left to do.”
We talked by phone following that and I simply tried to wrap my head around the news over the next several days.
Two days later, because I had no words, I reached out with simply a heart-symbol text. Her response was, “xoxoxo!”
She passed away eleven days later, on May 10th.
I was shocked at how fast she left us. I thought I would be able to see her and tell her goodbye in person. Instead, I will have to be satisfied with the texts, calls, and Facebook posts we shared in those remaining days. Too sudden. Too soon. Too heartbreaking.
Angie’s family honored her wishes and did not hold a formal memorial service or funeral so Todd, Jennifer, Holly, Heather, Debi, and I determined that the Missoula Half would become our way to gather, pay tribute to Angie, and serve as our own sort of memorial.
We met up on Saturday, picked up race packets–including Angie’s–and spent the rest of the day together just talking and sharing stories. Deb and I had also scheduled an appointment to get tattoos. We made sure to schedule with the same tattoo artist that Angie had used when she got her ankle tattoo a few years ago.
It was easy for me to decide what to get–the xoxoxo text Ang had sent me.
It was perfect not only because it was her way of expressing love (hugs and kisses symbols), but it also fits because X in Roman numerals represents the number ten. Angie passed away on May 10th, she had cancer for ten years, the Missoula race was celebrating its ten-year anniversary (on the tenth), and even one of the Portland races I ran with Angie was held on 10-10-10. To our surprise, the number ten also kept showing up throughout the weekend.
Even Angie’s race bib ended in the number 10.
Most importantly, my tattoo will be a constant reminder that I should show love in everything I do and it will remind me of all the love she brought into my life.
The morning of the race, we all made our way to the starting line as fireworks were cheerfully marking the start of the race and the sun was rising. I shed a few tears at the start–missing the fact that Angie wasn’t with us like she had been the last time we were gathered at the start of the Missoula race–but went on to thoroughly enjoy the race experience. We all walked and talked the whole way–marveling at the fact that it didn’t rain through the whole race, despite the forecast promising it would and despite the fact that later in the day and well into the next morning, it rained HARD.
The best part of the race was crossing the finish line, hand-in-hand with our whole group. And, because we carried Angie’s race bib and timing chip with us, the race announcer exclaimed that, “Heather, Todd, Jennifer, Holly, Debi, Gail, and Angie are all crossing the finish line together!” Angie was truly with us and we completed the race for her, just as Todd and Jen promised her we would.
Yeah. Tears flowed then too.
After the race, we grabbed pizza and ice cream from two of Angie’s favorite restaurants and spent more time with each other as we decorated river rocks and shared stories.
This race weekend is over, but we can’t let this be the last time we all get together. Angie brought us together and we look forward to supporting each other through whatever life has in store for us next.
Thank you, Ang. You are truly loved and you will never be forgotten. We do, however, miss you terribly. xoxoxo!