Friday, May 3, 2013

Running with Reed

"I think a hero is any person really intent on making this a better place for all people."

-       Maya Angelou

Do you remember arguing with your friends about whose dad was tougher, smarter, and all around better? 

“Yeah well my dad can lift a car up by himself.”

“So, my dad can lift a semi-truck up…with the trailer loaded.”

“Well, my dad could beat Superman in an arm wrestle.”

Eventually most of us grow up and realize that our dad isn’t quite as strong as Superman or as smart as Albert Einstein.  One thing that never changed for me, however, was knowing that my dad was much cooler than all the other dads.  The others wanted a hero for a dad, someone like Batman who helps those in need and protects the weak, who isn’t afraid to put himself in danger or discomfort.  I have that kind of dad.

For the past thirty years my dad has dedicated himself to helping others.  He’s managed to be successful in two careers at the same time—as a police officer and as a Navy Reservist.  Throughout his career as a police officer he’s worked the bad hours, the holidays, and the bad cases.  He’s spent many years as a detective looking after the interests of abused children in particular.  During his time in the Navy he has been deployed away from his family, his friends, and his primary career for extended periods of time more than once.  Despite competing demands he’s been able to become an amazing leader and public servant.  He is now a lieutenant with the Provo City Police Department and a Command Master Chief Petty Officer in the Navy Reserve. 

With all of his career success and devotion to serving others, he is first and foremost a husband, a father, and a friend.  He works hard at developing and maintaining his relationships with those he loves.  A few years ago he found a new way to get his family and friends to spend time together.  He started running marathons, relay races, and a few others in between.  In the past three years I have ran the following types of races with my dad: three full marathons, a half marathon, a handful of 5Ks, a 19 mile road race, and seven or so long distance relay races to include a trail relay in the rain and mud.  Along the way he’s managed to bring in his children, his sons-in-law, his daughter-in-law, a granddaughter, some colleagues, the sister of a son-in-law, friends of others, an assistant in his physical therapists office, a niece, and probably a few others I can’t remember.  He’s convinced people to travel from all over the country to races in California, Nevada, and Utah.  

I just want to point out that my dad is the steady runner who takes time to speak with all the other runners on the course, whether it's a quick greeting to the people passing him, giving encouragement to those he passes, or long, in-depth conversations on a variety of topics.  He runs to spend time with people in a common pursuit.  I think that is what makes it so much fun for him.

This past fall my dad was preparing to retire from the Navy Reserve and hang up his uniform when he learned that deployment orders were coming through for his unit—another trip to the Middle East.  Now, my dad was at the point in his career that he could have politely declined the opportunity to deploy with a number of valid reasons for staying behind.  After mulling it over for a period of time, my dad decided to go to support his troops and colleagues who are going. 

Deployments are always difficult for our family.  Nobody, especially my mother, likes to have my dad away for extended periods of time.  My dad hates being away from his family and friends.  Now, our races aren’t the most important thing in the lives of our family members, but this year the gap left by my dad in our races and on our teams.

The first race he missed this year was the Ragnar Trail Relay – Zion.  Back in October of 2012 he ran the Ragnar Trail Experiment running through a stead rain and treacherous mud.  After that race all of were excited for the first official Ragnar Trail Relay, a chance to hit the same trails again in good weather with family and friends.  So, as his deployment schedule was set it became clear he was going to miss not only the Ragnar Trail Relay but every other race he was planning on running with us this year to include our fourth running of the Ogden Marathon.  He even gave me his position on his Wasatch Back Ragnar Team with his friends from the Provo Police Department. 

My dad left for the initial phase of his deployment to Virginia back in late March.  Early on he half-jokingly suggested that we each carry the Navy flag with us on our legs at the Ragnar Trail Relay to honor his absence.  I laughed him off not wanting to focus on the fact that he would be absent.  As the day of the race approached I realized that we, or at least I, needed to do something to honor his absence and his service.  So, with the solid encouragement of my wife I reached out to Stew West, a friend from church who prints church for a living.  He agreed to print some shirts for us at cost and on short notice.  I quickly sent out an announcement to family, friends, and running partners that we were putting together a t-shirt to honor my dad to be used for the upcoming race and the entire race season.  Within a few short hours I was happy and surprised to have requests for a dozen shirts.  The shirts are gold with the word “Navy” on the front, “Van Wagoner” on the back, and the anchor on the sleeve all in navy blue lettering.  To go with the shirts I purchased a US Navy flag from the Base Exchange at Nellis AFB to fly at our campsite. 

I spoke with my dad the day before the race.  His sadness at not being able to run with us came through in his voice and in his words.  He asked me to give him regular updates on the race.  I decided not to tell him about the shirts or the flag until after the race so we could send him pictures.

The day of the race came and we handed out the shirts and hung the Navy flag.  We had another runner stop by to ask about the Navy flag, a Chief Petty Officer in the Navy Reserve from Chicago.  We chatted about my dad’s deployment and the fact that some of the sailors from this Chief’s unit are deploying with my dad’s unit.  Each of us ran in our Navy shirts for our last leg and then took the following photos.  (Please excuse Brett for his white shirt and for showing off his hiney.)

On Saturday after the race my dad called me while I was in St. George eating dinner on my way home.  He was a little bummed that I hadn’t given him many updates during the race.  Part of the reason was because my phone battery was almost dead and also because I wasn’t tough enough to speak with him.  It was difficult for me not having him at the race.  I’m sure that I missed him the most.  I enjoy watching him interact with everyone on the team, encouraging them on their runs and cheering for them.  I enjoy watching him run, listening to him get psyched for his next run and swapping stories about the last leg we ran or the next one coming up.  The gap for me during the race was real and more than a bit painful. 

As I spoke with him from the hamburger place in St. George, I apologized for not keeping him updated and gave him a quick overview of the race.  Then I told him to go look at the photos on Facebook of all of us in his shirts and with the US Navy flag.

My dad is my biggest hero and friend.  The race sort of encapsulated the whole fact that he’s going to be away for the next six to seven months.  I hoped that doing the t-shirts and the flag would make me feel better about him not being there with us.  They didn’t make it better but it felt good to show our support for him and to show that we miss him.  While I couldn’t bring myself to talk with my dad during the race or even speak with the others about him, I did spend my time during each run reminiscing about all of our races ran together and everything that my dad does for everyone else.  And, I’ll be honest, a part of me wished he was there experiencing the pain of running the brutal hill on the yellow leg of trail relay.

So, while my dad is away I will run each of my races (or at least a leg of each race) in my gold Navy shirt, despite the fact that I served in the Air Force.  Each race will remind me that he is away serving others, doing what he’s done so well for over thirty years.  And during each race I’ll repeat to myself, “My dad is way better than your dad.”

-- Jarad Van Wagoner


Tommy said...

Jarad - what a great tribute!

Tommy said...
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