I met him at the Boston Marathon in 1996; a sturdy little Scotchman with ineffable humor and tenacious athleticism. We were both members of the Achilles Track Club, a worthy organization that pairs an able-bodied runner with a disabled athlete to ensure a safe experience in the marathon. He was a recovering alcoholic, multiple sclerosis victim, and indomitable runner. I was a mature runner with a mission; and Jere Munro was it. My job was to stay with him for the 26.2 miles to see that he successfully completed the marathon and did so in good health.
What a day! I am speaking specifically to mile 25 on the course. He had been a fun and riotous crowd pleaser the whole race, but as he tired and lost feeling in his legs and feet, it became more and more of a struggle to keep him upright and headed in a linear direction. That part was do-able. What was difficult was to remember that the man was operating under a severe handicap, that we were into that portion of the race that is done pretty much on guts, and that I was darn tired myself! As he weaved his way through the still teeming throngs and veered from sideline to sideline to greet the cheering crowds, this was his stentorian chant. “Pain is tempowraary….pride is foweva!”, done in a strong Scottish burr with a distinct Boston accent. (Unspellable.) Or his other shibboleth was “Zeeeeero training! Zeeeeero training! Twenty-five miles on zeeeeero training!” I would laugh a while, gather him up again and steer him down the bright blue line leading to the finish, and then just shake my head.
Jere was unconditional positive regard, profound acceptance, and perpetual good humor wrapped up in a blocky, carrot-topped, twinkly eyed dynamo. He reminded me of a Shetland pony I once had, short choppy stride and amazing leg speed, they both looked like they had little wheels spinning around.
He called tonight, hadn’t heard from him in years. He’s suffered a heart attack, had a bout with cancer, and can no longer run, but still has the same bright and beautiful view of the world he always had. He asked how I was, what I was doing, called me ‘waaanduful’, and made me believe it. We have run together in two Boston’s, a New York City, and the Black Hills Marathon; a bond I wouldn’t trade for even a lope with Frank Shorter. There are no bad days, each tumble is an opportunity to try again, and everything that happens to him has a powerful, significant meaning. He puts a face to spirituality in work clothes.
When he visited here, we took him to my brother’s ranch up north on Grand River. Doug wrangled the Hackamore remuda and saddled up the oldest, most trustworthy horse on the ranch---the one they put the little kids and green horns on…and handed the reins to Jere. Ever the sport, he struggled aboard, settled into the saddle, squared his shoulders and said, “An waat’s dis hawses’ name, Doug?”
“Killer.” My typically taciturn brother responded, Jere blanched.
“Killa? Yuh puttin’ me on a hawse named Killa????? I think I betta get awf. I don’t think I ride a hawse named Killa.”
We all laughed, Doug assured him Killer really was gentle, and we set off for the south forty.
Killer went crazy. He took off at a dead lope, seemingly ‘spurred’ on by his bouncing cargo’s totally ineffective and long drawn out, “Whoaaaaa, Killa! Stop! Stop! Lemme awfa heah!” as the reins hung slack on the big white’s neck and Jere maintained a choke hold on the horn. Those of us mounted on faster horses than ole Killer framed the square little Scotty on the speedy white lightening, and eventually cornered them. I grabbed the loose reins, Jere righted himself in the saddle and Killer immediately went to munching prairie. Animals are tooooo astute.
“I’m not coming back to the faam!” (It’s a RANCH Jere!) “Ranch, faam, just keep me away from Killa!” But he laughed all the way to the house, and you should have heard the story a year later when we again visited him in Boston. Couldn’t have scripted a better experience for the guy.
So, yeah, when I think 25, I remember a tenacious athlete who survived total exhaustion and the ravages of a disease to put on a sporting face and finish the Boston Marathon in style. A spunky hero not afraid to live, not afraid to try, and up to using his body as well as he could for as long as he could.