On the eve of Ultra-trail Australia (www.ultratrailaustralia.com.au ) amongst the many reflections being offered on the process it has taken to arrive safe and sound at the start line, here is another story. An important memory.
This time last year, my Mum and Dad accompanied us to Katoomba for UTA. We put them up at Echoes (which is more stars than I’ve ever slept under), plied them with a lovely meal there etc. The proviso being, I needed Mum to watch over the boys on Saturday night while I crewed for Ben.
Dad, in particular, was thrilled. He adored Ben and was so chuffed to be there for Ben’s first 100km.
Come the Saturday morning, I positioned Mum and Dad in the Disabled carpark at the Three Sisters platform. Dad then spent the next 9 hours in his wheelchair turning Trail Running into a spectator sport. He and I broke into ‘Happy Birthday’ when I saw Lucy B come through and told him it was her 21st. He kept asking how did I know who these people were? Basically, I’d look up the number on the app and if I knew anything, I’d tell him. We saw most of the front men’s field and all of the women’s field come through. He couldn’t get over the diversity of runners – men, women, young, old, happy, focused, in pain, charging on.
He got to the point where he was rousing on the tourists and brandishing his walking stick. “Don’t you know there’s a race going on? Get out of the way!’ In between, he was ‘Good on ya, Fella’ or ‘Good on ya, Girlie’ to just about everyone who came through. Meanwhile, I was trying to shush my mother as she was making diagnoses regarding peoples apparent level of hydration.
By this time, Dad has been parked at the Three Sisters since 9am. But no way was he going back to the hotel for a snooze. Nope. He might miss Ben coming through. Anyway, he stayed, he cheered and, he grumbled about the tourists. I joked that this year, I’d just get him a fluoro vest and park him somewhere and be done with it. He finally got to see Ben for all of 3 minutes as he came through about 5pm.
And, yep Dad was snuffling as he shook Ben’s hand and waved him on his way.
The following morning, Mum wheeled Dad into pole position up at Scenic World Event Centre, hard against the railing so he could see the tail of the 100km come home and more importantly, watch the Kids Race. He encountered any number of folk who chatted with him which he loved. He loved being able to say his daughter had done the race on Friday but, (more importantly) his son in law, he did the 100km. Dad was funny, telling me that was the first kids race he’d watched since my older sisters were kids and how fast the little buggers were. After the kids race, I jumped into a volunteer role to help out. During that time, I briefly said good-bye to Mum and Dad and off they rolled home.
That would be the last time I saw Dad hale and hearty.
Later that week at home, he took a fall.
He refused medical care. Stubborn ox. His wishes were clear. We did everything we could to support Mum to carry out his wishes, as difficult as it was. But, they were his wishes.
He passed away 2nd of July, aged 86.
I have been through the Three Sisters viewing platform a number of times over the last 12 months. I recognise there is a want to melancholy but, a greater desire to smile.
At the end of the day, I am forever grateful that we (Ben and I) could offer Mum and Dad that weekend away. It is a treasured memory.
So tomorrow I know that on the wind when I need to hear it, I’ll hear ‘Keep going, Love’ and at the end, I’ll damn well enjoy a beer.
But above all, I’ll finish happy.