Note: Please don’t mistake any cheekiness in this post for glib or indifference. If you have yet to read productively about how to prevent or deal with COVID-19 (because you won’t do it here) learn what the people at the World Health Organization have to say. Let’s do our part and flatten the curve.
At one point in your life, you thought about what the apocalypse might look like. If you’re an optimist, you might even have envisioned what your life might look like after the end of the world. So much that you probably uttered a variation of this cool thought experiment out loud, embedded in a sigh, in the middle of a busy workweek:
If the world I know ended, and my commitments went away, what things could I do with all my free time?
Having a chance to start over because you survived the apocalypse is nothing more than that – a thought experiment. It will never happen. We have classes and jobs and friends and unfinished projects. We have mortgages and training plans and pathetic fantasy hockey teams that require our attention, frustration and continuity. Waking up in dystopia is but a funny dream – and I’ve never been this close.
I sit on a beige reclining chair, squinting beneath my sunglasses, watching my parents amble carelessly in a six feet-deep leisure pool. I pick up the Kissimmee, Florida newspaper. COVID-19 has chased even the prolific Florida Man from the front page (you can still find him on Google). Between paragraphs, I drink Coors Light and red Gatorade because that, for some reason, is what was nestled in our fridge between myriad dishes of mom’s cooking. Here, at the retirement community condo my parents rented on Airbnb, I have no responsibility.
I changed the date of my flight home - my supposed one-week vacation just tripled in prognosis. I have no reason to go back to crowded Toronto, where the virus is bound to run rampant. I’d rather stay inside our gated community’s pastel-coloured fences that shield us from dystopia. Beyond them, it’s chaos. Disney World just shut down. Grocery stores are empty. People are hoarding toilet paper like Taco Bell is having a sale. Even by our pool, one has to work hard to be oblivious to surrounding panic because, between our fence’s cracks, the virus tries to creep in. For that, I’m not sure when, or if, I want to leave this senior’s paradise.
I’ve made friends. One is Phil – he is well into his sixties, drinks warm beer and forgot to rip the price tag off the shorts he wore to dinner last night. Another is Terry – he golfs every morning, banters constantly with his wife Cheryl, and brags to me about how cheap is the gas at the Circle-K right now. We got to know each other for no other reason than we were all hanging by the pool, away from noise. On those reclining chairs, I am not a writer, a runner, a Montreal Canadiens fan or a guy who can name the first 150 Pokemon in order (yeah, weird flex). I am one of them, the retirees, each of my days a blank slate, asking myself at 7:00 every morning: What things could I do with all my free time?
I came across this passage by Ryan Holiday, who writes a newsletter called Daily Stoic:
Use your time wisely: don’t let the possible weeks or months of isolation be for nothing. You can’t control how long you’ll need to engage in social distancing, but you can control if you spend that time productively. The version of you who steps out of quarantine at some future date can be better than the version that entered it, if you try.
He's right. Perhaps this craziness gives way to a great new enterprise - Shakespeare wrote King Lear when he was in quarantine, apparently. But, to do justice to our time away from normal life, we don’t have to set out to write an era defining story, and we don’t all have to be sipping on water-flavoured beer while listening to Conway Twittie with Terry and Phil.
Maybe a good goal is to find out what exactly are those things we tend to do when we have nothing to do at all. Maybe it’s reading a good book, writing a cool thing, quitting social media for a few days to see if our brains still work. Maybe this is the perfect time to discover something we like to do, as opposed to something we have to do.
Because no, the world is not ending. But the world we know is on hold, making way for a degree of liberty we’ve always kind of wondered about, for better or for worse.
So like Shakespeare, Terry, and Phil, let’s make the most of our new limitations, viral or otherwise, and allow them to make us stronger.
.How great is it to live in a time when we each have our own virtual platform?
We can use our social media to stay in closer contact with friends, tweet at celebrities, and age our faces 60 years and compare them to Bob Barker in an Instagram split frame. But we can also take to our channels to propagate false information, strip someone of their reputation, and signal the crap out of our own made-up virtue.
Here is a problem with social media: it can make us feel like we belong.
Here is a problem with people: we will do a lot of weird shit to belong.
Like, making decisions about what we post based on how many likes we might get.
Our drive for likes probably motivates cancel culture, political polarity on Twitter, and those anonymous crappers who troll Oldster on Trackie. It can do bad.
And it makes sense. We love a dopamine hit, a little red notification circle, a vibration of approval that doesn’t come from one of our aunts. So much so that, sometimes, we post frivolously. And there is no better day to garner likes than #BellLetsTalk day.
Now, I get the mechanism behind #BellLetsTalk – for every use of the hashtag, Bell donates money to mental health research. So yeah, tweet away tomorrow. Press buttons until Bell blows through their budget, or whatever – it’s a good cause. Sometimes we dismiss the movement as insincere and glib, but that's only true if we butcher its purpose. How do we butcher it? By forgetting to be there for those in need on January 29 and beyond because we are too busy refreshing and scrolling.
#BellLetsTalk can be useful if it reminds us to truly connect - I don’t think our job is simply to retweet as much shit as we can, or to make the post that gets the highest number of likes.
It’s asking someone how things are going.
It’s telling someone you admire them for something.
It’s inviting someone lonely to your place to watch the Leafs game.
It’s consoling them after Tyler Seguin scores five hole on Andersen, twice.
It’s connecting with someone beyond a notification.
It's telling someone you're available to talk, and hope that when it's your turn they'll reciprocate.
It's carrying out these behaviours for long after the middle of February.
We’ve increased our means of communication so much in the last decade that it’s so easy to forget that our likes and shares don’t carry as much weight as a text message, a phone call, a visit. I hope that tomorrow reminds us of our responsibility to offer real contact to the people close to us.
And let's not dismiss the power of real contact. Because nothing de-stigmatizes mental illness better than going to its house, staring it in its face, putting the phones away, and playing dominoes with it.
If anybody on this earth remembers how to play dominoes.
I met Gary Malloy in the lobby of Hotel Le Concorde in the heart of Old Quebec, on the Friday night before my final cross-country race as a St. FX X-Man in 2016.
I really met Gary Malloy at 4 am on Sunday morning, more than 24 hours later and 10k deeper into my running career, following the race that made Runners of the Nish a book of clear tragedy. In the early hours of the cold morning he aimlessly stood outside our hotel, after a night of licking his wounds. Quite like us, the Lancers had sorely missed their team goal, and he was the head coach.
“Alex?” he asks as if not sure (who’s sure of anything at 4 am?), and fair enough, we don’t know each other. “You hungry?”
What else am I to do? It’s morning. I haven’t stomached anything since an arsenal of OUA athletes passed me in the final stretch of the race, almost a full day ago now. So I’m starving. Plus, this old dude is the Windsor coach - that’s where I want to go to school next year. His weird invitation is definitely a sly recruiting ploy – this guy must have been waiting for me in front of the hotel for hours (Gary later told me his cab driver that night was a 2:12 marathoner from Ethiopia – needless to say I was a distant consolation prize).
I followed him up the road and then down a few stairs into a grungy basement cum fast food eatery cum dystopian mosh pit filled with crestfallen runners, running on nothing much. Years later, Gary still called it a “Donair restaurant.”
We ordered some “Donairs” and I got ready for the job-like interview that a prospective coach might deliver to a prospective athlete. I was ready to rhyme off my PBs, what my mileage was like, and whether I thought Salazar was doping his athletes and whether Centro was a douche on Instagram. But we didn’t talk about running. Gary instead amused himself telling silly stories about the night that just passed. I jumped in and told him I had been kicked out of the bar, only to be negotiated back in by Emmanuel Boisvert in a messy Québécois war of words with the bouncer that my Acadian dialect just could not win. Gary laughed.
“Ahhh, alcohol,” he said, “The great equalizer.” By no mistake did the erudite retiree borrow Horace Mann’s assessment of education itself and apply it to what some would call his second passion.
“It brings us all down to the same level.”
As if Gary ever thought he was above anyone.
Two and a half years have passed since our first interaction. I went to Windsor for a Master’s degree and I have been injured for most of that time. To allude to Steve Boyd’s eloquent post from a few weeks ago, my injuries, to me, had been a more crude intimation with death than anything I had encountered. Until death itself, that is. Gary was there for me, helping me through the tough times with words, Wings tickets and the occasional outing with friends. Without his optimism – which I have yet to see paralleled –, and the support of my teammates, amidst the injuries I would have left Windsor.
But I didn’t, and when I got healthy, Gary made my summer of 2018 a special one. He brought us to historic Hayward Field (and begged the meet director to let me race despite my off-standard 1500m PB, and white lied his way into convincing them I’d pace the race - I didn’t). He hosted “Cyr you later” BBQs when I left town and, obviously, he helped me reach my running goals for the year. He was the first one (slightly before Evan Ubene over the Hamilton track microphone) to tell me I had broken 3:50 in the 1500m, a goal I had chased all summer.
“Trois Quarante Sept!” he said in my mother tongue, clenching his stopwatch, giddy at the finish line.
I was so happy with myself – mainly because I thought my race had made Gary smile so hard. But in reality, he wore the same grin he bore when I finished any other race, and when we’d come back from a cool down or show up for a warm-up. It was never about the results. It was about our personal growth – about us learning something new, and coming back tomorrow for more. He was the truest form of teacher – full of wisdom and free of judgment. Maybe because of that, he was someone you toiled to make proud, but never someone you were afraid to disappoint.
Gary was the same every day, with everyone he encountered. He lifted us when we were down, and challenged us to buckle down if we were flying close to the sun. He offered the same time, respect and friendship to everyone, regardless of age, standing in life or mile time. He was a rare peacekeeper in a track world full of egos and quarrels. He was a better equalizer than the drink he praised.
Funerals are also a great equalizer, but they offer no buzz. No matter who dies, the hymns don’t change, people hug when they run out of things to say, and every visitation room smells the God damn same. The strongest – and most haunting – equalizer, however, is the following: everyone is painted in a glowing white light when they die. No matter who they were, what they did, whom they touched and what they left behind, the discourse in church is roughly the same. It inflates some and does justice to others. And I get it, how do you go about using words to accurately credit (or God forbid, discredit) a life?
But what happens when the person in the casket is remarkable beyond measure? How can we, observers brutally intimated with death, tell that someone truly special has left us, when most variables around the funeral are the same? Maybe today it had to do with how the priest was choked up and how the church was packed - how tears flowed despite yesterday’s long preparatory visiting hours and how a whole varsity program transcending generations dropped their chores and came back to honour Gary. Maybe it’s simpler than that. Maybe it’s about how you feel after you leave the funeral. Today, I feel like I lost a stalwart friend and a role model, and I feel like many others have lost just as much and more.
Gary, thank you for picking me up on the street in Quebec, and many times after that. Thank you for helping me reach new heights on the track and beyond. Thank you for teaching me how to be good for the sake of being good. I can’t imagine what you did for those you had known longer.
Rest in peace, dear friend.
“Read what you believe, teach what you believe, practice what you preach.”
I’ll cut right to the chase, as some Law student who calls Biology a pseudoscience accused me of waxing lyrical in previous posts (lawyer me that one, Frisky F ;) ).
I have been out since July - no running or cross training. I have not been able to do consistent aerobic exercise without having knee pain, and it has completely changed my lifestyle. I eat less, sleep less, and go for walks to get some sort of blood flow going. I am a tablet of Metamucil away from becoming Mister Rogers circa 2000. I have never endured a more trying five months - I am living my worst nightmare.
I have been seeing world-class therapists here in Windsor and have been doing so many glute exercises that I can probably crack open three walnuts at once. Yet, there has been no change in pain levels. So, I have no choice but to fight this injury with more fire - I'm getting arthroscopic surgery.
The date: December 14th
Passengers in the Cyrmobile: so far, two (three more seats available – come see me recover from anaesthetics as you may be able to convince me to buy you dinner pretty easily).
Recovery time: 6 weeks to 3 months
Surgery efficacy rate: 50/50
I met the surgeon today, and after reading my MRI, he told me I have patellar tendinopathy. That was always what we thought, but it is nice to know that nothing else is going on in there, and it is nice to have the diagnosis confirmed. The pain has been pretty severe at times, so it got me worried that its cause was something more sinister.
According to the surgeon, the injury could go away by itself in several more months, in a year, or in a few years. It is curable with rest and physiotherapy, but surgery often accelerates the process. Since arthroscopy is non-invasive and relatively low risk, and since I was able to get under the knife this fast, I saw it as the best option.
So that’s where we are. I am optimistic (thanks Warren Buffet) and I try to approach this challenge with a positive outlook, but I can’t help being nervous. Living as a non-athlete has been an interesting experiment, but it has strengthened my conviction that, health willing, I will never quit running. I hate this loss of structure and I don’t feel like myself – running has become a huge part of my life in these last five years.
Plus, it is very hard to explain to people who are not in the sport (or sport in general) what I am dealing with. It’s not that I am missing out on making the Olympics. It’s not about the Olympics – it never was. What I am missing out on is trying to crack the top 10 at U Sports XC. It’s travelling to new places for training camps. It’s running on new grounds with new people. It’s logging 100 miles in a week and smugly posting on Strava about it. It’s going for a run with my sister and my two little bros when I get home for Christmas. It’s putting Angus Rawling in his place, dammit (which seems increasingly hard to do)!
I love this sport, and the people in it. I am meant to run. I don’t know how fast, and I don’t know how far, but I am meant to run.
So let’s end this.
I decided I would make it in the sport of running in December of 2014 when I was exiting the Halifax QEII hospital with a little scar on my chest and a deeper one in my ego. A doctor had nestled a heart rate monitor underneath my skin, shallow to my ribcage, following my second fainting episode in a few anemic months. I had just missed my third consecutive season with the X-Men. I was 19, confused, a relative nobody with no credentials. Nothing mattered to me nearly as much as did running, and that pursuit had in no way been fruitful. Still, I wanted to put everything I had into it.
I was not even marginally successful, but I was hungry. I wanted to turn heads so badly. Back then, I was motivated by a combination of sources. There were the wholesome satisfactions of feeling fit and setting new PBs, and then the hellish desires to make incredulous jaws drop and gain recognition from my superiors. Like only an immature 19-year-old speed-obsessed teenager in an Eminem and testosterone-induced perma-trance could, I wanted to rub my nameless spikes on a seldom frequented East-Coast track and set the damn world on fire. It did not matter who cared. I romanticized the craft too much to notice that most people probably didn't.
I wanted so badly to get faster that I probably wished it into existence. Soon, things started clicking. By my arbitrary standards, I was fulfilling my promise - I was starting to make it. A few months removed from that small surgery, I won a conference bronze medal. Then silvers, then I finished my time at St. FX with gold. Our team won championships, our group travelled the country for road, cross and track races. I beat Cal's PB. He beat mine. Neuffer crushed both of us, we crushed him back. I beat Riley for the first time. I beat Lee for the first time. Angus came in and beat me for the first time. Scott stayed for a fifth year and raised us to his level. I chose to move to Windsor to keep running. There were new personal bests. I ran on Hayward Field. I chased Nick Falk on grass, on dirt, on pure hate. I came back to PEI for the summer, by then having run faster on the track than any Islander before me. I won road races at the Highland Games. I saw Luc, a runner from my hometown whom I helped coach make his first strides at St. FX. I wrote and published a book on our team's journey to the 2016 U Sports championship.
I love reminiscing on these moments, no matter how insignificant they may seem to whomever. Not because I want to boast - many would have much more to boast about anyway - but because they are rewarding to me. Lately, I have been inclined to reminisce, because the memory of these moments has been my crutch.
Immediately following a fun weekend of racing at the Antigonish Highland Games in early July, I gradually descended from a rarely-interrupted three-and a-half-year-long high. Now three months into a knee injury, I was told there is bone degeneration on my left patella. I am not surprised, as my knee hurts to walk on. The development of pain was insidious, and crept up on me so discreetly that I don't think I could have been more diligent in trying to catch it. According to the doctor I am working with, the healing potential for this kind of injury, like its best treatment option, is unknown. Tomorrow, I am being given a PRP (platelet-rich plasma) injection to stimulate healing. If it does not work, I might have to opt for something more invasive.
These last few months have been difficult. It's not so much the time missed, as it is the uncertainty about my return timeline that keeps me up sometimes. Hobbling the Windsor campus without answers just weeks since I excelled here makes the setting sobering and dystopian. The possibility that I will not run again - that I will not feel high again - scares me, and brings tough questions to mind: If I do not make a comeback, have I wasted all this time trying to make the unmakable? Have I lost years of my life in vain? Should I have quit years ago?
For four years, I elected running as the focal point of my life. I needed nothing else. Running with the X-Men (and now the Lancers) has pushed me to chase academic degrees. I found a social life during runs, team suppers and the odd after-party. I cultivated business relationships through the sport, and used running as a vehicle to develop other interests and passions I now have. My sport enabled my growth in multiple directions. I needed nothing else. At 23, I am convinced I still don't.
I now think that we never fully make it in running, but running makes us a bit more every time we get out the door. I've been incredibly lucky to stay healthy and grow within this sport over these last four years. Without health, I would not have gotten here. Not even close. I would not be writing, I would not be in a Master's program, I would not have the friends I have, and I probably would not be happy. So, regardless of what's next, how could I regret that rage-fuelled stubborn decision to blindly chase running that 19-year-old me stubbornly and miraculously nailed? I can't.
I am 23, and for the first time in my life, I am facing a career-threatening injury. Stuart overcame one. Myriam overcame one. They are beatable. They have to be, because I cannot stop here. I want to chase more track times. I want to wear the Maple Leaf. I want to move to the roads. Maybe become a Roadhammer. Maybe progress to the marathon. I want to meet up with the boys when I'm fifty-three and tired from my day job and get my creaky but healthy joints out the door. On some level, by chance and circumstance, I've been made. But, I want to be made more. I don't want to be done. I don't want to be done.
I’m quivering. From the cold, I think. I don’t know. Maybe it’s just my rapid breathing that is making my chest twitch almost rhythmically. Either way, I’m beat, mangled. I can open my eyes, but not for long. Long enough to feel the wind on my eyeballs – a continuously present wind – that my somatosensory receptors have selectively ignored for over half an hour now.I cover my eyes to shield them. My hands are pulsing, but so is my forehead. They synchronize and throb together as I roll over to my backside, face still twisted in complete agony.
The Plains of Abraham have not seen such a spectacle for 258 years, buthistory has a weird way of repeating itself. The battle for land, between the French and the English, turned soldiers against each other. Multiple clans, fighting for the same purpose – to extinguish the opponent – depleted their resources, so much so that it was difficult to distinguish the winners from the losers. The line was blurred. Everyone looked the same. Teams were broken down to their purest forms – handfuls of individuals – sprawled out on the battlefield, waiting to learn if their self-sacrifice was worthwhile. Waiting to know if their self-sacrifice was honest enough. Today is not much different.
Here I am, a French-Canadian lying lifelessly, soon listlessly. I’m Montcalm reincarnate. Defeated on the Plains, a heaping pile of war residue. Next to me lies Wolfe, – no, Dewolfe – equally as trashed. We’re unsure of who crossed the finish line before us. We have no idea what’s happened behind. I think Bernie is close by, and the look on his face would be telltale. Too bad I can’t get up. Too bad I can’t see.
I need something – food, maybe. Water…something to make my stomach stop turning. My homeostatic levels are severely threatened from all angles. I feel empty in more ways than one. But there will be a banquet – there will be drinks. We will soon feel alive again. Sustenance is not an issue. I need reassurance. I need comfort so direly that I pick my arms up from the ground and use them as support to push my body up into a sad Vinyasa pose.
I open my eyes, and look at Cal Dewolfe, sitting with his head between his knees – beat, distraught, confused. Thank God he is close. I would surely collapse under the weight of my chest and blood-filled head in seconds. I open my dry mouth, knowing that the moment will unveil the value – the significance – of these last months, of these last years. This moment of clarity and truth will be the one I remember. I sacrificed countless hours for this mid-November moment to be a good one. Hoping that he knows better, I turn towards my lanky training partner, roommate, friend, and rival and hope – wish – for some good news.
“How’d we do?”
Find out what happens next.
Wishing you all a great cross country season