Thoughts of her come and go, sometimes they linger, waiting to be noticed. This morning I was fired up to ride on Tony’s bike with a newly purchased used trainer. I’ve been looking for something convenient for my cross-training days and I was pretty excited to have this new outlet for training right in my own home.
I set up the bike, grabbed both of the phones and plugged in the laptop to watch a movie, I was all set. I no sooner started to pedal when she entered my thoughts. The next ninety minutes would bring me in and out of the past, the present and how it’s all connected.
Missy, my best friend from childhood, unlike me at the time, was athletic. She was tall and thin, with big curious blue-grey eyes. I was sure that she was blessed with the fastest metabolism on earth and would never consider that there was such a thing as too much pizza. She was at the age where her body was trying to get in sync with itself and her spirit was racing into the teen years.
It was the first day of school for her and Richard, her younger brother. Her mom, Peggy, a single mom, was working long hours, doing what she needed to do to provide for them. Peggy would soon find herself, as most Mom’s do, caught between holding on and letting go.
That morning Peggy rushed home from her late shift at the telephone company, tired, stressed, and preoccupied but never wavering. Missy and Richard were all abuzz, anxious about the school year starting, sifting through emotions of both joy and dread. They were hurried, scattered about the house trying to get ready, still feeling the effects of the late summer nights.
At quick glance, there is a forgotten Cheerio floating in a cereal bowl, crumbs from half eaten toast on the table, and dishes on the counter. I imagine Missy yelling at Richard to hurry up as she ran back to the mirror to check her outfit for the hundredth time. She wanted to be cool, but not too cool. You know, it was eighth grade after all.
Missy wanted to ride her bike to school that morning. Peggy, not sure if it would work out, pushed back, “Let me drive you, it will be faster“. Missy wouldn’t budge, Peggy continued to run through her mental list of pro’s and con’s while trying to figure out the logistics of their schedule, doing her best to avoid an argument with her very feisty and determined thirteen year old.
She may have hesitated, or given in too quickly as she wasn’t completely convinced that she wanted her to ride that morning, for whatever the reason. Missy pleads, “C’mon Mom, I’ll be fine, I’m old enough!“. Peggy does what most mom’s would have done, she decides that she is too tired to argue, and really, Missy’s right. Missy is indeed old enough and Peggy is confident that she will be fine, she let’s her go, though wanting to hold on. Hold on just a little bit longer, give her one more hug, if she would let her.
Missy was hit by a car that morning on the way to school. She was in a coma for ten weeks before her tired little body and strong spirit decided that it was better for her to move on. At the time we lived in Wisconsin. Looking back I am grateful that my Mom was able to take me with her the few times that we were able to fly down to be with Peggy and Richard when Missy was in the coma.
I remember being in the hospital with Missy, she was hooked up to machines that were keeping her alive, but oddly enough, she always felt present to me. I remember holding her hand while the nurse stretched out her fingers and put lotion on her skin, as I was secretly believing that her hands really were squeezing mine and it wasn’t some kind of reflex. What did they know.
As I thought about her today I had wondered if this was the right place to share her story, and then I recalled the book “Kathy”. It was a book written about Kathy Miller, a 13-year-old that was also struck by a car and at the end of her ten weeks she came out of her coma. I remember seeing the book being passed between my mom and Peggy, the whispers of hope that if Kathy Miller, who had a very similar experience as Missy, came out of the coma, well then, Missy would too.
Over the years our copy of the book had been lost or given away, so when I came across it about a year ago at a used book store, I’m pretty sure that I yelled out loud. I remember hesitating for a moment, wondering if I should buy it or if it was just something that I needed to remember. I opened it up, and noticed that it had been signed by both Kathy and Barbara, Kathy’s mom. Barbara wrote, “To Robert and Zoe, know that you are winners!“. There was also another inscription that noted a family reunion in Florida. There were so many little connections, Zoe being my daughter’s name, Florida being where Missy and I were both born, and the book being signed by both Barbara and Kathy, I knew that I couldn’t pass it up.
I scanned my bookshelf today after I finished my ride, looking for Kathy’s book, wondering what it all meant, if anything. Should I share about Missy? Then it dawned on me that she was with me when I made my first trip to Colorado, years and years ago when our Moms packed us up like Thelma and Louise and took the four of us kids to Durango.
Still, I hesitated to share. What does it have to do with my training? As I flipped through the pages I noticed something that did not resonate with me years earlier when I first read the book. Kathy Miller’s family had helped her train and run in a 10k only six months after she was out of the hospital. Her family was told that she might not ever walk or talk again, though her family felt otherwise, lucky her. With that, it all came together for me, full circle. Mothers, daughters, loss, triumph and ultimately, overcoming obstacles.
Missy will always be with me in some way, and today she led me to Kathy. Remembering Kathy’s story will inspire me to keep moving even when it all seems overwhelming, near impossible or when I doubt my body’s ability.
Even though I have always made some type of connection with Missy and riding a bicycle, it does not burden my heart. Thoughts of riding also bring me joy. It reminds me of a time when my Mom and Dad rode their bikes all over Key West. In which I have fond memories of being on the back of the bike when they were toting me around the Island. I also think of my friend Mary and how she can’t help but give in to her squeals of delight when she comes down big hills on her long rides. I think of Dimity and how she fondly calls her bike “Lyle” because she Loves-it. I also think of Jenni and how her bike has given her body respite, freedom and power when she was dealing with injuries. I’m not sure what I will call my bike when I finally get one, or if I will let my big kid self be as brave as Mary and enjoy the big hills, but I do believe that it will give me a sense of power and freedom on the days that my body craves something other than running.
Missy’s story is about tragedy, courage, determination, triumph and faith. Kathy’s story is about tragedy, courage, determination, triumph and faith. I realize that this is indeed the perfect place to share.
I trust that this is where we all come together in thought, knowing that no one is immune to such tragedy, that we may walk similar paths, yet they lead us in different directions. Believing that we all have the power to advocate, to overcome, to be kind and to pay it forward.
Over the years we have lost touch with Peggy and Richard, but I know that Missy is up there cheering me on. Today when I got to a point where I felt like stopping I thought to myself, “No, I’m not going to stop just yet, I’m going to envision Missy on her bike, finishing that bike ride from her house to school that day” and so I did. I finished that ride for and with Missy, I gave her my miles and I know that she will be with me every time my foot touches the pedal.
Kathy Miller – Where is she now?
Naturally, I became curious about Kathy Miller today and wondered where she might be and how she was doing. After a few minutes searching on the internet I eventually found a comment on Amazon.com, under her book’s listing. Someone had posted that Kathy was doing well, living with her mother in Santa Fe and that she had trained and accomplished a big dive. I have provided the link to the article, and I’m so glad I found it, there is a fantastic quote from Kathy that I have now taped to my fridge.
“Life is worth stretching for. Reach your goals.” – Kat Weil (Kathy Miller)
To learn more about bicycle safety and how to advocate for better support for cyclists in your community please follow the links below.
Kathy Miller’s book-
Article highlighting Kathy’s dive, her training and a glimpse into her accident and recovery. Remarkable women, both her and her mother-