Sunday, January 25, 2009

The hand of a friend

Yesterday I spent severely overdue time with one of the most amazing people I know. It has been nearly seven years since I last saw Kaarin Knudson. I consider the opportunity to get together this weekend with her a huge help in light of this past week's events. 

It's not possible for me it to think about my relationship with Laird and not think of Kaarin.  Again, it wasn't just because they were amazing runners, they were incredible individuals period. That I was lucky enough to coach one of them would be enough. To have that opportunity at the same time goes beyond lucky - it was truly a blessing.

"Ah, how good it feels, the hand of a friend"

Like Laird, I can't possibly convey what a titan of a individual Kaarin is. Last year when she called me to tell me that she had developed a very aggressive form of breast cancer, it was a moment of concern and sadness for me followed by 30 minutes of positive conversation that almost made forget that she was going through the toughest race of her life. The only time I have never felt better after talking to Kaarin was when I had to tell her about Laird's death. 

I think Kaarin also knew that we had to meet this weekend before the memorial for Laird so she made the drive up from Eugene where she lives. We had a four-hour "lunch" and talked about the great memories we've experienced and caught up on where we are at. Invariably the topic would circle around to Laird. Kaarin was one year older than Laird at Dimond High but their lives in many ways were a carbon copy. Both won state 800 and 1600-meter track titles, both won individual state cross-country titles. Both were graceful, beautiful runners, the picture of perfection you see when you close your eyes. 

They dated through high school and college while at the University of Oregon. Though their relationship ended after college the mark both left on each other is indelible. Everything one would say about Laird is the same they would say about Kaarin. It's obvious that each of their live's were richer for the time they spent together.

To meet with Kaarin yesterday and again today gave us both the opportunity to buffer our grief with the great memories we have shared together and with Laird. I expected that each memory we recalled would make us sadder and shed more tears, but rather we seemed to smile more and laugh at the funny stories and situations. After a couple of hours we were joined by another friend, Ryan Moody, who had driven down from Seattle to meet with us. Ryan was a fellow Dimond grad who also ran with Laird and Kaarin.

We avoided being thrown out of the crowded restaurant for hogging a table for so long and found a quiet booth at the bar where we took up another six hours recounting an incredible amount of memories. Again, the conversation continually circled back to Laird. We finally had to call it a night, not because we had run out of conversation or interest but rather time. I suspect that we could still be draining beers and talking about all the great times we shared and shared with Laird. It was a positive evening that did so much to help us deal with our need to communicate our feelings with another who felt the same pain and shared the same memories.

Kaarin has finally finished her chemo treatment and her hair has grown back. She has also begun running again and has come up with some very powerful goals for herself in the future. She has asked me to help her with them and I simply couldn't be more honored that she wants me to assist. The opportunity to help her with these goals will be so much fun and I look forward to the coming years and more close contact. I also look forward to passing along our journey. 

Consider that nearly 20 years ago Kaarin was a 14-year-old, 5-4 freshman who talked faster than the human brain can process. I never could have imagined that the befreckled waif, who surprised us all when she popped out of the woods in her first state meet and placed fifth would be the 5-10 (still befreckled) woman who inspires me with her strength and kindness today.

Thanks Kaarin. 

No comments: