I opened the November issue of Runner's World magazine with the same anticipation I do every month when it arrives at my house. I usually sit in a comfy chair near the fireplace with a honey sweetened, warm cup of green tea while devouring the pages of training tips, shoe recommendations and lists of races to enter around the country. But this issue was different. There on page 82 was a story about a friend I'd known during my corporate days in Wisconsin. Jenny Crain. There she was with those big, expressive eyes peering out at me from page 82. I paused after reading the title and my mind drifted to memories of years past.
Jenny and I first met at Northwestern Mutual in the late 90s. She was known around the company as a talented runner, had won many titles and was always training for something. While I never trained at her level, I do remember occasionally seeing Jenny when I ran along Milwaukee's beautiful lakefront or eastside.
We reconnected again in 2006. Our professional paths crossed as we both worked with field representatives and participated in events sponsored by Women in Insurance and Financial Services. I'll never forget during a conference in Colorado, all of the women swarmed the dance floor and we gyrated to the music showing off our best albeit pitiful dance moves. We laughed at the top of our lungs and enjoyed the moment of freedom from our serious corporate lives. Someone had a feather boa. Jenny wrapped it around her neck dancing the whole time and we all thought that was a hysterically funny sight. We continued dancing and laughing the night away.
Just before I left Milwaukee, Jenny and I had dinner at Hotel Metro in downtown Milwaukee. We joked about how our lives were rapidly changing and we could not predict the future. We talked business too. We spoke about how we might partner on projects to help coach women financial representatives to more successful practices. Jenny was full of good ideas. And of course, we talked about running. Jenny was training for the Olympic Marathon Trials. I shared how I was planning to run a half marathon soon. Jenny was her usual helpful, positive self and gave me tips on training properly. She made me feel like even my small goal was important and equally as impressive. We hugged and promised to stay in touch. By the middle of 2007, my husband and I had relocated to another state. With so much going on, I had not spoken to Jenny in about a year.
I remember getting the email informing Northwestern Mutual friends and colleagues that Jenny had been hit by a car while on a training run. I spoke to several of my former colleagues and we were joined together in our shock as we learned of the severity of her injuries. Someone created a care page and we left motivational messages for Jenny and her family. Being in another state, the last I'd heard was that Jenny was undergoing extensive rehabilitation and recuperating in a nursing home in Wisconsin.
Now as I held the pages of the November issue of Runner's World magazine, there was Jenny Crain peering back at me from her wheelchair. Those big, expressive eyes staring at me, yet I could tell this was a different Jenny. I read more of the story which was gut-wrenching. It contained details I did not know since I was not in Wisconsin at the time of the accident and have not lived there since. The accident had fractured her vertabrae, shattered her jaw, bruised her aorta and caused massive, severe brain damage. I now know that the brain damage has limited her ability to read, impaired her spatial awareness, limits her ability to swallow, prevents her from walking more than 50 feet and she even struggles to grasp a tea cup.
Last week, I was was complaining to no one in particular about having gained a few pounds, not feeling physically strong and not being sure if I was making a difference in my work. I was having a bad day. Heck, it was a bad week. It seemed nothing was going quite right. Whether we are searching for a new job/career or trying to figure out our life's purpose, I'm reminded of the truth found in cliche's: Live life to the fullest. Make plans but be flexible. Don't place limits on yourself or others (but be realistic). Avoid becoming self-absorbed. You always have something to give to another and its not always a material gift. Set goals and do one thing each day to bring you closer to your goals. Be kind to others. Live. Love. Laugh. Never give up. And most of all, don't wait too long to contact a friend, family member or colleague. These truths can also be found in another book that offers great wisdom and comfort. The Bible.
So my mind returns to Jenny. I'll think of the determination and endurance it takes for Jenny to take a simple step. I'll think of the strength it takes for her to try to lift a tea cup or to form a word.
As I sit here with my cup of green tea, I savor the golden, warm liquid and fond memories of my last conversation with Jenny. Her bright smile and that warm embrace. I read the final pages of my issue of Runner's World magazine and raise my teacup with a tear rolling down my cheek. Here's to Jenny Crain, a former colleague, friend and still a runner--just in a different way. I don't cry because of what she's lost I cry because of what she's still teaching us all. I can clearly see Jenny impacting lives and motivating us all from her wheelchair in Wisconsin, running just as she's always done. I promise even when I'm having a bad day, a bad week or doubtful moments, I'll keep running too! Thanks Jenny!