JUST ONE MORE BOILERMAKER
He sat there in a folding lawn chair off to the side of the start line. I recognized him immediately. He was an elite local runner and one of my idols. I was warming up for the 10K Swamp Rat and didn’t have much time left, but I had to go over to him. I greeted him and said I was so glad to see him. He indicated he was not able to run today but hoped that within a few weeks, he would be running again. “All I want is just one more boilermaker, just one more.”
I knew that he had run everything from 100 meters to 100 miles and set a dozen or more local records. I was never able to match his times except in the marathon and ultras. I wished him well and hoped he could have his wish granted, though I doubted it would happen. When I finished the race, I looked for him and was surprised he was gone. I wondered why after coming to see the race he would leave before the finish.
A few days later I learned he left early because he was experiencing slight chest pain and was worried about it. He managed to drive home but almost immediately had to call 911. He lived alone and had no local relatives. He had lived with his mother all his life and helped care for her in her last years till she died two years ago. He was a perpetual student, working on a PhD for what seemed like decades.
At the hospital, they determined he had suffered a massive coronary. I knew he had a mitral valve replaced years earlier but did not know he had any coronary artery problems. At the hospital, I saw an old, feeble man on oxygen who did not look anything like the strong elite runner I had so often seen at races. His eyes were closed, but they opened when I stroked the back of his hand. “Oh, It’s you.” I didn’t think he really knew who I was, so I said, “It’s Sam, and I came to see how you are doing.” “Thank you for coming. You know, I’ve crossed many finish lines in my time. I know I’m close to crossing one more, the big one.” He was always a big talker, and still was despite being short of breath and having a very weak voice. “You know when I said I just wanted one more Boilermaker, that was silly. I was just being greedy. That’s the way I’ve always been, you know, always wanting more. Never satisfied. But I’ve had enough. Enough races and enough of everything, maybe more than enough. In fact, all in all, I think I’ve had a good life, a good life.” “Yes indeed, you have, I replied.” He closed his eyes and seemed to relax. I looked up at the heart rate monitor on the screen and realized he had flat-lined. An alarm sounded and I knew the medical team would be rushing in within seconds. I looked at him one last time and walked out into the hall. I heard them asking for the paddles to shock his heart. I did not want to see his body jerked so unceremoniously.
And that is how it ended. His last words still echo in my mind: “All in all, I’ve had a good life, a good life.”