The first time I had a real chat with Regis was in the middle of a very dark night. It was during one of the Mohicans. I don’t recall which one and it doesn’t matter which year it was. I’m convinced that memories are supposed to blend into one another.
The Mohican Trails Group has done such wonderful work on the trails in the Mohican State Park and Mohican Wilderness area that it almost seems like a different place today. The trails still get muddy, but years ago a good rainstorm would wreck them. The year Regis and I connected was a wet one. I was sick and my race was reduced to a slow trudge. I walked for hours from the Bridle Staging Area, making my way toward Rock Point. I had seen no one in forever, and I was walking down an eight foot wide strip of six-inch deep mud and horse shit that stretched on for as long as my headlamp would allow me to see. Miles and miles earlier I had given up on my strategy of keeping to the edge of the trail. The edge wasn’t any firmer than the middle of the trail and at least the quagmire in the middle wasn’t full of thorns.
I was young and I was angry. I was angry at the mud and I was angry that it had rained. I was angry that my goal of breaking 24 hours was broken, and I was probably angry at God. Regis appeared from the gloom with his pacer and walked up beside me. He had given up on the edge of the trail as well. Then he told me that he was thinking of dropping out. I couldn’t have been more shocked if we had seen a UFO land. Even though I hadn’t chatted with Regis Shivers before, I knew him well enough to know that HE didn’t quit. Regis couldn’t quit. Regis was a legendary strong-man. He was a pillar. He was fast and he was tough. He had a daring nature and a glint in his eye. Superman was fictional but Regis was real.
Yesterday a bunch of Regis’ friends, and people who would have been Regis’ friends, gathered to run an annual race held in his memory. The run was 50 kilometers, or a bunch of other distances including a half-marathon, an 18 miler, a 21 miler, or a marathon. One runner decided to run 24 miles because that is a fine fine distance. Regis would have approved.
Race director Tanya Cady created the perfect environment in which we could remember our friend. Some runners jogged slowly, some raced their hearts out. Old and new friends reunited and ran together through heavy, slippery snow, slush, and ice. After the run most didn’t seem to want to leave. Regis would have loved the unique ultra running community that has grown in northeastern Ohio. I believe that he would also love the Western Reserve Trail Running Series, of which this event was a part. Facebook and Blogging unite this community today. But just a few years ago this community was held together by Regis, and a few others like him, who liked to run but enjoyed their friends even more than they enjoyed their sport. Runners are forgotten, records are re-written, but love lasts a good long while. That’s why Regis hasn’t left our hearts.
The last time I saw Regis was also at Mohican. It was several years ago. I have always been honest about my successes and failures at Mohican and I can honestly say that the last time I saw Regis I was simply carrying out a planned DNF. I was working on my doctoral degree and my training was nearly non-existent. I entered simply because I wanted to be a part of the event. I planned on running 30 miles and I made it to the 45 mile mark at the Bridle Staging area near where Regis and I had met years before. Regis was well into his battle with cancer at that time. He approached me as I was sitting on the ground, under a tree, waiting for a ride. Speaking through an electronic voice simulator, he urged me to get up and go on. I explained to him that I had met my goal. He smiled at me and told me that I should continue if I could. I now imagine that Regis knew that life’s opportunities can be limited. Regis really wanted me to continue toward my ten-time finisher’s buckle. He would have continued, but I didn’t. I smiled back at him and said “Nope. I’ll finish it next year and so will you. We’ll run it together”.
Regis died later that year. Every single runner I knew grieved. What kind of man must he have been when, at virtually every gathering of ultra runners people tell stories about him, quote him, and just generally miss him? Being a good runner isn’t enough to achieve such status. Sadly, being a good person isn’t even enough. Being famous will carry you for a generation or so. We remember Regis because he served, and loved, and supported. We loved Regis because, to him, life was fun.
I ran really hard yesterday. I figured that Regis might have enjoyed how tough this race was. I imagined, several times during the race, that he would have been happy that I was doing well. I ran hard because I needed to pound on a few demons that have been trying to latch on to me lately. Regis passed away after a courageous battle with cancer and I learned a few days ago that my brother has cancer and his prognosis doesn’t appear too promising. I’d love to chat with Regis about it, but I can’t. So I ran hard instead.
Regis never quit fighting the cancer. The night we met Regis didn’t quit either. I mumbled some sort of advice to him about how he should stare at his pacer’s back and just keep moving. He offered me some kind words as well, and in this way two guys with nothing left exchanged the gift of energy. If that sounds smarmy to you then you simply haven’t experienced life on the trail. Care creates energy. I don’t know why. I just know that it does. The next morning, and for years after that night, Regis credited me with getting him to the finish line. Regis always gave the credit away.
The things I will always remember about Regis are different from the things I originally thought I knew about him. He was a terrific runner and he really was very tough. But Regis was human. Humans sometimes want to quit. God came to earth as a human and, for at least one moment, he wanted to quit too. I think that Regis knew enough to live life for every minute that he was here. I have memories of Regis in motion but the image that I hold closest of this man were the times when he was very still. He seemed overwhelmingly in love with his wife, and he seemed to be surrounded by his kids and grandkids at all times. I have an image burned into my mind of him, seated in a lawn chair, surrounded by those that loved him. At these times he would speak of any topic other than himself. He knew that his running would end but his family would not. I recall closing in on him at the finish at Mohican another year while he walked slowly toward the finish with his young grandson, who couldn’t have been more than 5 years old. Regis must have been desperate to finish…I know I was. But instead of pushing for the finish a couple of hundred yards away they stopped to look at a bug on the ground. Then they held hands and walked along as though they were spending time on a playground. In hindsight I suppose they were.