pain and inspiration

My brother Scott is a world-class Master’s swimmer. He’s in his early fifties still swimming times nearly as good—if not better in some cases—as he did in College. Scott has competed in countless Master’s Nationals. Over the years he’s broken a few world records in his age group.

Our dad was an athlete in his own right, running a 4:28 mile at the Naval Academy back in 1948. He was adept at hurling a javelin with the innate grace of his lithe animal self—a six foot four inch, one hundred seventy pound gazelle. As a family man my dad continued to run for exercise and the sheer joy of it. Along the way he’d stash roadside aluminum cans in plastic bags and donate the proceeds to my swim team. He lifted weights and repeated hundreds of crunches, sit-ups and push-ups—the only bald-headed old dude I’ve ever seen with a washboard stomach.

Tragically, my dad developed cancer at the age of sixty-five. I don't recall him ever being sick until then. Several courses of toxic chemotherapy for multiple myeloma, a type of blood cancer, took its toll on him. I remember my mom describing the time he had to give a bone marrow sample. My dad denied anesthesia when the doctor bore a hole deep into his hipbone to extract a core. My mother said his clothes were completely drenched in sweat from the immense pain, but that he had remained silent and stoic throughout the procedure.

At one Master’s Nationals, when my father was still alive, my brother won his best event, the two-hundred backstroke. He received a gold medal, dangling from a wide red white and blue satin ribbon. He sent it to my father in a velvet-lined case along with a hand written letter on ruled yellow paper. I remember reading it and sobbing. Scott described the event, my father not having been able to attend. He spoke of slightly trailing his opponent, his muscles and lungs burning. He wrote how he worked through the pain thinking of the unimaginable agony my dad was suffering from the cancer, the chemo. He focused on that image and nothing else, just being one with the blazing pain, all for my dad. My brother poured it on in the last lap, his adrenaline taking him hard to the finish, muscles on fire, shredding, fatiguing. He won the race.

My brother has always been a great inspiration to me. He’s helped me win races, swim my fastest times, break plateaus. I often think of that letter he wrote to my dad, and of my dad’s suffering. Both of these men have inspired me to work through the pain and suffering in my own life, and now in my life with Calvin and with his chronic epilepsy. I only wish I could share that same magnificent influence with my own son ... and with others.

Please share.
Give to cure epilepsy: http://www.calvinscure.com

Originally published 5.2.11.

my big brother, and ham, Scott

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