It was a beautiful day on Crissy Field. The sun shone brightly illuminating the span of the Golden Gate Bridge.
She stared intently at the bridge. I couldn't quite read what she was feeling, but it was non-trivial.
'This is a big deal for me,' she finally said.
I hardly knew her. I assumed she was referring to the number of miles we'd be covering that day.
'I know. It's a big deal for most. You won't be alone.' I replied.
'The last time I was on the Golden Gate Bridge, they had to pull me off,' she stated matter of factly.
Her face turned dark and tears welled up in her eyes. She stifled a sob. I did my best to maintain a poker face. Fortunately, I had my hat and my sunglasses on. After a pregnant pause that seemed to last an eternity, I finally thought of something to say.
'Well...think of this as a cathartic experience....a cleansing experience. What we're doing today will be profoundly life affirming'.
Not perfect, but it was the best I could do.
She smiled a bit behind her tears and nodded quietly. Five minutes prior, I knew nothing of her. Now, I knew more about her than I needed to know and perhaps more than a lot of people knew about her.
I knew she was deeply troubled. I knew she had dealt with many dark nights of the soul. I knew she tried to take her own life. But, why she chose to share this part of herself with me I don't really know.
Maybe she could tell I battled demons of my own. Maybe she knew I had a few dark nights of the soul as well. Maybe she knew I would understand her and wouldn't judge her.
Mercifully, a few more of my runners arrived breaking the tension. My assistant coach arrived and I quickly pulled him aside.
Without going into exhaustive detail, I told him what she had disclosed and asked him to keep an eye on her when we traveled across the bridge. As we headed towards the bridge, I reflected on my past.
I'd suffered from depression multiple times. I'd never been suicidal, but I'd definitely thought about not being around. I'd been on medication. I'd sought counseling. Did she smell it? Did I say something inadvertently that tipped her off?
The run proceeded uneventfully and I was relieved to see her smiling at the end of the run chatting with some fellow runners. I wondered if she would tell any of them what she told me. I also wondered if I would see her again.
Fortunately, I would see her again. While she didn't revisit what she'd disclosed previously, she told me more about herself. She used to be obese. She'd lost a ton of weight. She was looking forward to running a half marathon. She also had plans to go skydiving. She smiled frequently that day.
I couldn't help but feel that in some small way, her time with me was acting as a catalyst of sorts. Whether it was the natural anti-depressants secreted while running, the contact with other people, the knowledge that I was in her corner, or some combination of the aforementioned, I don't know.
She was happy when she ran and after a few weeks I nearly forgot about her words prior to our journey across the Golden Gate Bridge. I clung to the hope that she was turning the corner and the simple act of running was a big part of this change. One step at a time, one mile at a time she was pulling herself out of the dark abyss that she was trapped in.
As the season progressed the darkness I saw in her that first day seemed to wane as the number of miles she logged waxed. My darkest periods have often been associated with not running, so it was no surprise to me to see her become lighter as her mileage increased.
She eventually traveled to Europe to complete her first half marathon in Dublin. I was thrilled to see her post a picture of herself on Facebook smiling proudly with her race shirt. She had come so far in such a short period of time.
Months passed and I didn't see her. As with many people I work with, they come and go. I assumed life had simply taken her in a different direction. I hoped it was a positive one that still included running in some way, shape, or form as it clearly had helped her a great deal.
I don't know exactly what inspired me to look at her facebook page months later. I suppose I missed her. I was worried about her. Was she still running? Was she still moving in the right direction?
I found the following on her page, 'Our wonderful daughter is no longer tormented and is finally at peace.'
While I didn't really know her or the demons she battled for so long, I was crestfallen. Should I have done something else? Could I have done something else?
After the fog of grief had lifted a bit, I realized there was very little I could have done. I don't know if there's anything anyone could have done.
I struggle to understand what happened despite my own personal dalliances with the dark side. I've never found myself in a place as dark as she did. I just can't know how dark things got with her.
The only thing I do know is that she was happy when she ran. In one of our last exchanges she told me, 'The lands end trail always inspires me. I love all the twists, turns, ups and downs through bushes and trees. I feel like a carefree kid again. I always find myself laughing as if I just took a carnival ride.'
I know she's running now like a carefree kid, laughing as if she just took a carnival ride. I know how she feels. I run because it makes her happy....and me too.