Angels with Flashlights
Submitted by Kathy Dippolito, in loving memory of Shelly
We’d trained for months and flown in from across the country. Some of us were sisters, some of us were strangers. Some had run marathons, some had never run a “real” race before. But there we were, excited and anxious to start our running adventure — a 12-person relay race, running 200 consecutive miles (day and night) from Saratoga Springs to Lake Placid, New York in late September 2012.
The cold, rainy weather did not deter us or dampen our spirits. This was the adventure of a lifetime and we were determined to enjoy every minute of it, no matter what the weather or the terrain had in mind. It was early afternoon when I got the call.
“Shelly collapsed on the course. She’s on her way to the hospital in an ambulance now.”
She had been training for 8 months, lost 60 pounds. She, more than anyone, wanted to be here, loving this race and changing her life. We made a plan to get other runners to take her spots, until her friends (who were on their way to the hospital to be with her) could re-join the race after they knew Shelly was OK.
I never could have imagined – and never would have believed – the call which followed.
“Unfortunately, Shelly passed away.”
My world stopped spinning. To this day, it’s hard for me to believe it happened. The official cause of death was a massive heart attack and fluid on the lungs. She was 37 years old and left behind a young son. Darkness surrounded and haunted me. I did not know how to move forward.
In the days and weeks after this tragedy, I was connected with so many people that helped me move ahead. An EMT from the only other team (out of 250 teams) who we knew on the course, who was the second person to reach her. He was not supposed to be running that leg of the race, but made a last minute switch with someone else and ended up at Shelly’s side. He somehow found blankets, made sure her airway was open and monitored her vital signs until the ambulance arrived. The woman from Canada who was the first to come up to Shelly after she collapsed, who held her hand and spoke gentle words to her as she took her last breath. The rest of that Canadian team who – although they didn’t know us – organized a fund raiser in Toronto and raised $3,000 to donate to Shelly’s son’s educational fund. The race organizers, family, friends and strangers who went out of their way, above and beyond, to make sure the rest of our team was comfortable and cared for. The woman on our own team – who flew all the way from Phoenix and we had met only 36 hours earlier – who encouraged the last remaining team members (after hours at the hospital and making sure everyone was taken care of) to keep running, in honor of Shelly.
The race tradition goes that each person writes their name on the window of the team van, with 3 little boxes next to it. As a runner completes one of their three legs, they check it off. What started out as 12 individuals running as their own legs became 3 determined women running only for Shelly. We finished her remaining 2 legs and crossed the finish line as a team, in her honor and because we knew she would not have wanted it any other way.
In the days and weeks that followed, as I attempted to put the pieces back together and find a way out of the darkness, so many people appeared at the right time or place, with the right words, shining a light to guide me. Sometimes a word, sometimes an action, sometimes a hug… these people became my “angels with flashlights” to light the dark path ahead. For all of the words, expressions and deeds full of love and concern, for all of the kindness and support that was shown, I will be eternally thankful. From the darkest of times, those lights shown bright, guiding me through and out of the darkness…. my angels with flashlights.
A native Upstate New Yorker who now lives in South Florida, Kathy is a mom, wife, quilter and amateur runner who does her best to balance all those things with a full time corporate job. She strives to live every day with Purpose, Fun, Love and Ladybug Hugs. When she’s not too busy trying to climb out from under her stack of sticky-note to-do lists, you can find her blogging about her crafting adventures at www.andladybughugs.blogspot.com.