Death: The Ultimate Finish Line
Written by: Katie Barrett-Stevens
Death can make you do funny things… like make you in to a runner. My husband’s brother Nathan and his best friend Bryan were killed on the Sphinx Mountain in Madison County, Montana in 2004. It is a formidable looking mountain, maybe because it looks exactly as it sounds.
Nate and Bryan were active outdoorsmen. They ran, they hiked, they climbed, you name it they did it. And then one day it all stopped. And all of us close to them felt that feeling… it just stopped. They were no longer running, they were no longer hiking, they were no longer climbing. Yet, we were all still here. What could we do? Nathan had run the Penticton Peach City Marathon for his 21st birthday. I remember thinking he was crazy, and the crazy part was he took it easy and managed a 3:33 time. After he died in October, we were all searching for ways to best honor these two young men. Fall turned in to winter, and winter was soon going to be spring, the time when we should be celebrating both Nate and Bryan’s birthdays. Then it came, my answer… Penticton was the same weekend that Nathan would have been turning 26. My husband and I had two very small children and lived three states away from family. Training for a marathon just wasn’t going to happen, but Penticton gave an option for a half marathon. It felt so right, so Nate, I signed up right away.
The words from 2 Timothy carried me across the finish line, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith”. I was shocked as I looked at the time and it read 2:10:34! I did it, I made my goal of a 2:10 race and I did it with Nate. About this time my dad had called to tell me that he was in the hospital with congestive heart failure and pancreatitis. Things were not good, but they weren’t so bad either. The heart condition was irreversible, but the pancreatitis was, if he quit drinking. We played this don’t ask don’t tell game for a long time, until dad came to me and said that he hadn’t quit drinking or smoking, and that his last appointment with his cardiologist showed an aneurysm, in his aorta. My husband and now three small children had moved back closer to Missoula in 2007; we made it to Hayden, Idaho. Which was perfect for my dad as the only surgeon on the west side of the states that performed surgeries for aortic abdominal aneurysms was in Spokane. Dad asked if I would come with him.
The conclusion, Dad had a 30% chance of making it off the table alive with the health problems compounding the danger of opening his aorta. If he did survive the surgery he had a 3-6 month recovery period. The doctor told us if the aneurysm did rupture he would bleed out in 4 minutes, it would be painless. We waited 6 months to decide. The decision was let’s take what we can get. He opted no on the surgery.
March 21, 2010 I got the phone call I had been dreading, my dad’s aneurysm had burst and he had died.
Death makes you do funny things, like deciding to keep training for the Missoula ½ Marathon. It took me more than a month to get back on my feet. Not to mention between the two races I had completed, I had another child, and put on 50 pounds. I made my decision to finish my training late one night looking through all my dad’s pictures.
He was 57 years old, I realized (I had just turned 28) that half his life was already over at my age. I made a promise to my husband, my children, and myself. I would not meet my ultimate finish line because of choices I made to make myself unhealthy. If I were needed on the other side it certainly wouldn’t be because of me. So I carried Nate and Dad with me across another finish line, and smiled when I looked to my left and saw my husband finishing Missoula next to me in 2:17!
Death can make you do funny things, like running to the next finish line, and ending the day knowing that if the ultimate one comes tomorrow, at least I did my best today.