By Doug Milch, DPM
I have been running with Neil since 1986. He had a barbershop near my office. We ran the same pace and he knew all the streets. We had a problem understanding each other. Neil has a strong southern accent. I’m from New Jersey. It made communication interesting.
Neil is a talker which is an asset for a barber. I understood about half of what he said. He’d ask me a question and I would just say, “Uh, huh.”
One time on a run Neil asked me, “What do you think of my running shoes?” I replied, “uh, huh” at which point he stopped and said, “You don’t understand a word I say.” “Well, Neil, it is difficult. You say, ‘My left hill is killin’ me. This is a tough hill we’re runnin’. And, I hurt like hill.’ The word comes out the same whether it’s heel, hill, or hell. How am I supposed to understand you?”
Through the years, we’ve become accustomed to each other’s accents and can finally understand each other. But now that we are both going deaf, and his knees are totally shot and he can’t run anymore, it doesn’t matter.
Neil was a mid-pack runner with one exception. He excelled at running the Shut-In Trail Race. He loved trail running. But now that he is well into his seventies, his knees are beyond shot. It’s bone on bone. He’s so bowlegged that he makes a bull rider’s knees look straight by comparison. The perfect course for him would’ve been the crest of a roof.
He went to the doctor a few years ago and heard the bad news that his knees were shot. The MRI read like a primer on knee pathology. Still, every Sunday morning he would hit the trail, though not without a lot of pain. His doctor sat him down once and asked him point-blank, “Is it worth it?” Without blinking, Neil answered, “Yep.”
One Sunday back then, he admitted that he was almost in tears. I asked, “Because of the pain?” He said, “No, because I realize that I may not be able to continue doing this.” I looked around at the beautiful trail we were running and knew what he meant.
It eventually comes to an end for each of us. Neil’s running days are over. But he is leaving a legacy. Both of his children are runners. It would be perfect if they both came and ran Shut In as their father did years ago. That way, Neil could run it again, albeit vicariously. I expressed this idea to him and he said, “What the hill!”