The initials on the shoes above are for my grandfather, Jerry Schneider. He would have LOVED seeing me at this race next week, along with grandmother, Sylvia. My grandma is still alive, but my grandfather passed away more than five years ago from complications related to heart surgery.
Grandpa was as blue collar as they come. The Cal Ripken of the automotive industry, showing up to work every day at our family-run repair business until the weekend before his surgery. He was 83 at that time, and still savvy.
Grandpa's post-surgery illness lingered for almost a year. Yet he fought every day to overcome it, and almost did. There was no quit in him whatsoever. There never was.
People keep telling me that no matter what I do during the final part of the Ironman, don't stop running those final miles. Don't give up. Don't quit. My teammates tell me it will be easy to do so, as many other people will be walking and encouraging me to do the same.
I may be tempted, but all I have to do is look down at my shoes and I'll be fine.
Grandpa never quit. Neither will I.
I've also got the initials of Brian Rever, one of my oldest childhood friends, on the back of my shoes. Brian wasn't a quitter either, battling cancer for three separate bouts until finally succumbing in December 2001. He was 27. Brian had it rough. Cancer is a nasty, nasty illness to watch let alone experience. But with every round of battle, Brian gritted his teeth and did everything he could to get through it. He may not have had the opportunity to live for very long, but he still taught me as much about the value of living and perseverance as anyone.
Same goes for my high school friend, Jason Moreno. His initials are on the inside arches of my shoes. Jason battled an exceedingly rare and aggressive form of cancer for around five years before passing away almost two years ago. Jason was always the life of every party, with his wit and perverse sense of humor always looming large. Along with his lanky frame. If I somehow become despondent during the course of the race, or just need a pick-me-up, I know I can always think of what Jason would say to tease me or make light of the situation. That easiness of spirit will come in handy next week.
Now I realize that to some this might trivialize the existence of three human beings. Maybe it might seem I'm reducing their lives to mere initials on my shoes. Those people are missing the point. This is just one way for me to honor the memories and legacies of three men who affected my life. Three men who can't physically be with me on one of the biggest days of my life. Three men who valued what I value as well: Toughness. Tenacity. Willpower.
I hope to respond with an effort that will make them proud. And I hope to run with the force of three hearts.
The strength of three. That will be my performance enhancer.
8 days and counting.