By Tim Deady
We hardly ever spoke and we didn’t know each other’s names until the last time we saw one another. But every Sunday morning, and many Saturday mornings, for at least 12 years, we saw each other on our runs. We would wave and go about our business, which was completing our runs. We ran around the grounds of Falls Church High School. He would mostly run endless laps around the track while I would run the stadium steps and then do loops around the school property.
I recently retired and relocated to Southern California and the person I miss most is that runner (I can’t remember his name because like I said, we never really knew each other’s names.) I’m 65 and he was about five younger. He was an Asian man who I learned only near the end of our acquaintance was an attorney at the U.S. Department of Defense. I think he worked at the Pentagon because I saw a Pentagon parking permit on his car.
Over the years, if our runs ended at the same time or we met coming or going in the school’s parking lot, we would exchange a few words. I knew he was a family man, wanted to retire and move back to Oregon where he was born and raised, and started to run. The only other thing I knew about him was that he was a real runner, like me. He started running when he was about 14, competed through school and just continued to run, just like me. He ran everyday, just like me, so I knew him well.
As I sit here writing this I’m getting a little sad thinking of him. My eyes are a little teary. If there is any reason why I would want to return to the Washington, D.C. area it would be to go to Falls Church High School on a Sunday about 9 a.m. and run, and hopefully see him running, too. I might start to cry. He might start to cry, too, because like I said, he was a real runner, like me, and that’s all I needed to know.
When we did speak, I had told him I was going to retire and move away so he knew when the time was coming. On my last run at Falls Church High school, on a beautiful March 22, 2015 Sunday morning, he gave me what is the greatest compliment one runner could give another and that was to stop his run before he was finished and say good bye. We didn’t hug, or cry but I remember telling him to remember that I will always be out there running, too, just like him. For the first time, we exchanged our names. We knew we would miss seeing each other, but we never said it out loud. We really didn’t have to say anything because we both knew. We shook hands, he turned away and started running. I watched him for a minute, got in my car and drove home. It was sad because I knew I would never again run at Falls Church High School, and I would never see him again, either.
I will never forget him. I hope somehow he sees this. I know he feels the same way.
No matter what the weather — freezing cold, snowy winter mornings or brutally hot Washington, D.C. summer mornings — we would both be out there running. On beautiful days, we would be out there, too. He would do his laps dressed in his usual running gear, I would pass by going the other direction and we would wave. That was the usual extent of our contact — a wave. When I saw him I knew the world was in the right place. When I didn’t see him, the world was a little off. When he wasn’t there, I asked myself, “Where is he?”
For years it was the same thing — a simple wave. We would both be out there for at least an hour, sometimes way longer. On nice days, other people would be there, too. On days when the weather was lousy, it would be just the two of us. Those bad days sealed the deal and it was then that we both knew each other. We didn’t have to say anything. The wave was enough and it said everything.
On Sunday mornings now I go out and run in the Southern California desert. I don’t see anyone. The Santa Ana Mountains are beautiful. The lake is beautiful and the weather is always great.
On my Sunday morning runs my mind always spends some time thinking of him. Because of the time difference, I think he has probably been finished for a couple of hours. There is no question in my mind, though, that he ran this Sunday morning, too. Even though I’m 2,800 miles away, I can see him running. I know what he’s doing and where he is. I know how he’s feeling. I know he’s tired but he keeps going.
In my mind, I’m still giving him a wave, and I know he’s waving back.