June 17, 2024
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June 17, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

“And so, castles made of sand fall into the sea eventually” —Jimmy Hendrix

2020 looked to be just another year of the usual benchmarks. April would be marked with my shuffling to and from work during Passover on my bike, trying to remember not to eat any of the snacks left in the staff lounge. May would be marked by a ramping up of my training to three plus hour, middle of the night runs. June would mark the end of the school year with my grading U.S. History Regents exams in a room with my department colleagues and a week later I would be on a beach. July would be marked by Friday beach swims, summer school and a family vacation that just so happened to be taking place at an Ironman race.

Well, none of that happened.

(Beach swims did.)

What happened was COVID-19. By March 15, my school was on remote and so was my life. I stopped training. I stopped caring about my weight.

What happened was my 88-year-old father fell down a flight of stairs in the house I grew up in and spent eight weeks in rehab. Thanks to COVID, I couldn’t see him and the phone conversations I had with him made me think I needed to start writing a eulogy.

Every night when I would call him, we would talk about his meals. I’d hear about the soup and think, “Waiter, there’s a fly in da soup.”

A recurring question from Dad was, “Is it morning or evening?”

I kept thinking, “I saw this with my father-in-law. Now my dad is slowly losing his mind…and he is gonna die.”

Well, he never got that memo, so he fought. He came home and started learning to walk with a walker.

(Why did you think he was going to die?)

He sounded confused. Little did I know that he was in a windowless room with an analog wrist watch. He had no idea if it was night or day.

When you get to your 50s like me, you may start to see your relationship with your Dad as I do, friends who share “dad jokes” and compare notes on parenting and how not to anger your wife too much with your own idiosyncrasies.

My dad was always there for me. He got me through seventh and eighth grade when the teachers had given up. He got me through algebra and biology in ninth grade. He once remarked that he was prepared to go to college with me if I had needed him to. He taught me how to tie a bow tie. He taught me to drive and what to look out for as a parent when my eldest was born. I was crushed that he was slipping away from me like “castles made of sand fall into the sea.” Just writing this out a year later makes me start crying again.

In the recess of my mind lived two emotions I had forgotten about. The combination of helplessness that I couldn’t hold the crumbling “castles” together and the fear of not knowing what to do next as a new parent.

By July I was starting to emotionally shut down. I began to feel that fear and helplessness were going to eclipse me, if I let them.

I could not help my dad, but I had a wife, a mother and two children were counting on me…and I could count on them.

In addition to talking to my mother every day and verbally vomiting everything to my wife, I created new benchmarks.

I signed up for virtual races. This meant that I had a set number of days to complete the race. I had to keep training.

First thing I did was Hadrian’s wall so I would keep running.

Then the 245-mile NYC Subway Challenge Run.

Then I added the 21-mile English Channel Swim.

Then, I saw the Mandalorian 5k,

(You can run a 5k, so I don’t count that.)

Neither did I, so I made it a 5k swim.

Then in mid-August, the NYC Marathon announced a virtual marathon.

So instead of eight months I had eight weeks to get ready to run 26.2 miles, all, in one evening.

(You can’t train for a marathon in eight weeks.)

That is true, and the results were horrific.

The first 13 miles of running were OK, then I started to fatigue, but I refused to quit. I walked, I shuffled. At one point I sat to catch my breath.

(Why didn’t you? It was just a virtual race.)

I had my mind on the apple.

My wife gave me a paperweight apple and every year she has my NYC Marathon time inscribed. It sits on my desk at work.

I was going to finish this and use this as a reminder to train harder next year.

Bench marks as meant to be reminders; They are meant to measure time. I could choose to ignore the virtual run; I could have the word COVID inscribed on the apple for 2020.

But like my dad, I didn’t get the memo to give up.

Three weeks after that was supposed to be my last race of the year, The Prospect Park Turkey Trot. A race I do every year with my younger son.

Since it was a virtual this year, I decided to involve my dad.

I walked it with him. He wasn’t able to complete the whole one mile, but that’s OK he was making his own benchmark for 2021.


David Roher is a USAT certified triathlon and marathon coach. He is a multi-Ironman finisher and veteran special education teacher. He is on Instagram @David Roher140.6. He can be reached at [email protected]

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