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I anticipate a lot of tears this weekend. First on Saturday, as the NBC broadcast of the Ironman World Championships 2011 from Kona airs at 4:30. I watched a lot of the key moments live online (including before church the next morning to watch the last finishers at the 17hour mark midnight Hawaii time), but there’s something about the Kona broadcast that inspires. The stories of the everyman, which annoy a lot of hardcore types, are exactly why the public knows about Ironman, and in fact, how a lot of finishers (and aspiring finishers) first learned of it. I get choked up watching 2010 again and again.

But then Sunday, the more significant tears will come. I will be attending a funeral. I do that a lot in my line of work. Not only the ones I conduct, but I attend many funerals when it’s family of my members. This time, I’m attending a funeral of an old friend.

Chet Schuman died this week, not long after receiving a diagnosis of metastatic melanoma. He was 62.

Chet was my neighbor as I was growing up. I wouldn’t have called him a friend then, as little kids don’t call their adult neighbors friends. But whatever I should call Chet, he influenced my life. Chet’s daughter Sarah was best friends with my sister Jodi. We did a lot with the Schumans, and our block of Broadway Turbotville had a lot of social functions together, where Chet was an organizer.

Anyone who knew Chet speaks of him as a warm guy with a big personality. I’m seeing connections with facebook friends that I didn’t even realize knew Chet too, but with his work he encountered a lot of people. His absence is very hard, and felt in many places. The Schumans moved outside of town years ago, and I left Turbotville in 1990, so we didn’t stay in touch really except through my sister and Sarah. But when I heard that Chet was gravely ill, Jodi and I made sure to pay a visit last Saturday after a family funeral (my maternal grandfather’s last living sibling). We found Chet in a good mood, able to visit for some time. It was like years in between when I was a teenager, and now a man of almost 40, just evaporated. Sharing memories, and updating on life with new kids and grandkids. I later heard that he asked Pam “why are all these people coming to see me? I’m nothing special.” But oh Chet, you absolutely were, and are.

What I remember about growing up across the street from Chet was that he was the kind of guy who didn’t wait for the rest of the world to tell him what to do. He was always into some new project. He was a stable, sane, family-oriented, Kramer of Turbotville. I loved that. I didn’t have much perspective on it as a kid, but as I grew up, it has been people like Chet Schuman that I have appreciated in life. He was funny, but I don’t recall his humor ever being sarcastic or mean-spirited. He once tried to convince Pam to put in a pool by some complicated system of putting it into the lawn in big letters P – O – O -L. They never put one there, but with the Weaver pool across the street, why bother? We were the neighborhood center, and I’m pretty sure Sarah and Lauren learned to swim there. (Like most of the neighborhood.) Chet’s ideas, projects and even schemes, could fill hours of reminiscing. But the reason I write about him in this space is this….

Chet was the first person I had ever met in my life, who had run a marathon.

I write a lot, and will write more, about the mental hurdles I’ve had to overcome with regards to what John Bingham calls “adult onset athleticism.” I decided there were athletes, and non-athletes. I was the latter.  I only thought in terms of team sports at school.

But right across the street from me, was this normal guy, who was also a runner. He didn’t look like what we thought runners looked like in the 80s, though he wasn’t fat either. He was a normal sized guy, who also ran. I never saw a marathon medal, or a race bib. He didn’t show that stuff off that I noticed, and I was in his house a lot. (Did I mention that whenever I was doing whatever fundraiser was up next, the Schumans were always my first stop?) But we knew Chet was a runner, because we’d see him coming home from runs. It was my parents who told me he did a marathon. (I don’t know how many.)

I talked with him about it very briefly in our visit. I wish I had more time to pick his brain about running. This is what happens when we go without telling the people in our lives that they’ve had a positive influence on us. They may never know. They may die way too early. We shouldn’t hesitate to let the people that mean something to us, know just that.

In the short time that I was able to take to visit Chet, I told him he was an inspiration even if it took me until now to get moving. He smiled, and let me know he’s kept up with my new energy via Sarah’s facebook. He used the word “proud.” I almost teared up then. What he was able to tell me, was that it’s all about what it does for you internally.

That’s all we got to talk about it, and while I wish we had been able to coffeeshop over it more, that was probably enough. Chet was a very outgoing person, but his running was for him. It’s not even in his obituary. I don’t know when he last went running, but for the time I was watching the adults around me for models of how to be an adult when my time came, he was there.

I keep this blog and share my progress to show people like me that it can be done, and don’t give up. But there are far better examples of folks out there who don’t need to shout it from every rooftop or put every workout on facebook, like some of us. They tend to be people at peace with their lives, emotionally, and spiritually.

I will miss Chet Schuman. A lot of people will. We never know if some awful disease will strike us, even if we live well. What matters is not only the days we have on earth, but how we live this life that is a gift, to the fullest. Chet was one who lived life to the fullest. He called himself “nothing special” but in world of cynicism, negativity, and anger, Chet was  guy who still believed in Santa Claus.

Rest eternal grant him O Lord, and let light perpetual shine upon him.

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3 thoughts on “Requiem for a Runner

  1. I’m reading your words with tears in my eyes. I hope Pam and the girls get to read this some day. I’m sure they will appreciate the way you shared how Chet touched your life. You brought back a lot of pleasant memories for me. Chet was a special person. So are you.

  2. Thank you for your beautiful words … and memories. I was at Chet’s service yesterday. Thanks for speaking there too. What you shared was extraordinary in its ordinary-ness. The entire service was exquisitely profound … inspiring … hilarious … memorable. I’m sure most people left, like I did, wanting to live their lives better … like Chet lived his! Thank you again for sharing your inspiration!

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