Robin Carrington fought back hard after her first bout with melanoma. She trained with a team for a triathlon to raise money for research on cancer, and she invited them all to her home to work out. She never gave up.
Robin was a creative visionary. A life loss had knocked me flat, so Robin, who knew well how to get back up and get going, decided that I needed to start running. She gave me a t-shirt that said “Behind Every Successful Woman is Herself,” and said I needed to wear it and run 30 minutes every day.
She convinced me to ask my friend Vando Ribeira, who had won the Paris Marathon twice, to give me a basic couch potato to 10K workout plan. Then, three times a week, Robin came to my house and refused to leave until I had gotten on my running clothes and gotten out the door to run with her. I panted and heaved while she kept the conversation going.
“I’m doing this why?” I asked her, grumpy.
“You’ll be glad,” she said.
“When?” I asked.
“Soon,” she promised.
And we ran. Soon, I could run a 5K, and then a 10K. She ran my first 10K with me — the Eerie Erie — and she wore a cheerleader costume, while I wore a bat suit. She said, “I’m coming back from a cold, so I’ll run at your pace today,” and she ran almost the whole way with me.
Then, she ran up ahead — I thought she wanted to finish the 10K in under an hour, but she had run ahead for me, not for herself. As I turned the corner, she leaped out from behind a pickup truck, waving pompons, hollering, “Go, Kiesa! Go, Kiesa! Go, go, go!”
I laughed so hard, and then she ran up to me. She said, “You are not going to be the last person running this 10K, because I am right behind you!” Then she chased me to the end of the 10K. I finished in 62 minutes, a world record for me. We weren’t last place…and it didn’t matter.
“It isn’t about being better than anyone else,” Robin said. “It’s about being your best. Every time you get up and run, you win.”
Robin ran. That last year of her life, she went kayaking with her husband and daughters, and she visited Costa Rica. Robin never gave up. She invited the eight women who had loved her best in all her life to join together at a cabin in Colorado for a weekend, so we could get to know each other. We hiked, did yoga together, told stories. None of us knew each other, but after that weekend, the local ones formed a Round Robin, meeting monthly for YAs Robin got sicker, getting chemotherapy, we took turns helping in every way we could. At the last potluck before her death, I sang “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” to her.
The day she died, she gave us all the most beautiful gift: her last smile. She had been sick a long time, unable to talk. She died late at night with a beautiful smile on her face, looking out toward the moon. When the morticians came to get her, I walked her to the hearse and kissed her cheek for the last time.
“Go, Robin,” I whispered. “Go, go.”
This morning, I’m lacing on my running shoes. I miss everybody, all the lives and loves lost in this life, and it’s time to outrun my ghosts. The air cuts cold and crystal clear. My New Year’s resolution will be to run every day, with Robin’s encouragement always in my heart.
A place called Wind River Cancer Wellness and Retreats offers comfort and retreats for no cost to anyone struggling with cancer, at windriverservices.org. Anyone can go to the North Carolina mountains and enjoy the retreats for free, to journal and learn about eating well, eating the rainbow plate of many colors. They do kayaking trips, hikes, and relaxing weekends, too, kind of like the one Robin created for her best friends. Wind River brings new friends together. The founder, Shannon Carney, a cancer survivor, wrote today to tell me that she’s putting Robin Carrington’s name on their memorial roster.
I’m wearing my running clothes and my dog’s ready to go. This morning, we’ll run near Gardner Lake, in memory of Robin, who’s running the rainbow. I know when it’s time for me to cross that final finish line, Robin will be there, cheering.
Go, Robin. Go, go, go.
Carrington’s encouragement creates hope