Do you remember when you were a kid and your parents told you to be careful running around or you’d “fall and break your neck?”
It actually happens. A few weeks ago my grandma fell and broke her neck. She definitely wasn’t running around, more like walking or standing, but the end result is the same.
She spent a few days in the hospital and is now in a nursing home rehab. She has to wear a neck brace that she hates and is always, as she says, “just falling off.”
Grandma is 92. She also has dementia meaning a lot of the times she doesn’t know who we are and often tells us about how she entertained, cooked and danced the day away. What a nursing home, eh? One big party!
Rarely does she know who I am when I visit, often referring to me as my mom. I’m too young; she lives in a time long ago when her and my grandpa traveled the world, went square dancing a few times a week and my grandpa ran half-marathons. And there you were thinking “Wait, no running connection?”
My grandparents have been married for 67 years.
67 YEARS! That is a looooong time.
I admit, with embarrassment, that I didn’t get to know them as well as I wish I had growing up. But like all good couples, grandpa complements grandma with memories of the old days clearer than mine are from yesterday. I did NOT get my poor memory from him.
He loves the story about when he was in the airforce and they had their first child, my uncle, without a penny to their name out in Colorado. Grandma had to take Amtrak back to NY herself with an infant when grandpa got stationed elsewhere. Maybe that’s where my love for traveling across countries comes from. He talks about his career in the fire department. He talks about his bout with alcoholism and the subsequent decades in AA and all the friends he made as a result. But what he talks about most of all, and the one consistent in all his stories, is grandma.
“I knew right away she was the one for me. Sure I’d dated other girls but as soon as I met her, I knew she was it,” he told me during one of our hospital visits. “Course she didn’t think the same thing. She was dating like three other guys. (Grandma was/is a big flirt!) Finally I told her to make a decision.
But I knew right away… have you ever felt that way about a guy?”
“Ummm, I’m single grandpa.”
He shrugged and smirked.
According to my grandpa, grandma got him off the couch. Perfectly content to sit around and watch TV, grandma encouraged him to go dancing with her and to travel the world.
“She gave me a life,” he is always saying.
She is that type of person. Even with a broken neck and her mind hanging out anywhere between 1919 and Roosevelt’s presidency, she’s still smiling, flirting with young doctors, making wise arse remarks in response to everything she hears, laughing at her nursing-home housemates and sharing nothing but happy memories — even if it does become a game for us to guess what time period and who she’s speaking about.
Grandpa also reminds us how lucky he feels to have had her stick by him when his favorite pastime was alcohol.
“She could have, and rightly at times should have, walked away. I wasn’t nice.”
But she didn’t. Instead she stuck around to see him drop drinking like it was hot, buy a pair of running shoes and cheer him on through his first half-marathon.
And his second for that matter.
My grandpa took up running when he was in his 60s. And here I am complaining about my 29-year-old aches and pains? He just ran for fun, to have something positive to indulge in; he wasn’t out to set any records or race. But he did. He ran 13.1 miles… Twice!
I always knew this about my grandpa, I remember watching him run past the end of our block during the Long Island Half-Marathon when I was a wee-youngin’. He also talks about after the run: A lot of the guys were going off to celebrate with a beer, which Grandpa was obviously not feelin’. My dad offered him a BBQ and it made his day. ha. In our house a good BBQ’d burger has always been the key to happiness.
I love that my grandpa ran. I love that someone in my family loved something that I love. I love that when I talk about a runner’s high, his eyes light up.
He seems to like it too. During dinner one night a couple months ago, he went through all the tips he could think of.
Start slow, save your energy.
Make sure you stretch.
Do you have good shoes? You need good shoes.
What are you eating? I always liked to eat a piece of toast with peanut butter. (or something like that)
I had told him I had numerous coaches teaching me the ins and outs of running without catastrophe, but he obviously knew better. I mean, he is 92, dont all 92-year-olds know best? So I listened and thanked him and told him stories about my coaches and the runs I had completed so far.
I saw him the weekend I ran my first 10-miler… the Jackrabbit race. He was very proud. It was cute.
My grandparents are another reason I am running. Grandpa did it — in his 60s nonetheless — so I want to do it too. And even though Grandma wasn’t pounding pavement with him, she guided him through life. Sixty-seven years together and they are still 100% in love with each other. Grandma’s dementia sometimes thinks there are two grandpas — which grandpa uses to his advantage blaming the not-so-good dinners on “the other guy” — but in her heart, he’s the only one that’s ever been there. He’s the one that makes her light up like she’s a 20-something year old in love for the first time.
And he still looks at her like a 20-something year old who found “the one.”