Her Final Finish Line

Gail (left) with Nikki and Sarah.

Last Thursday, we lost a wonderful friend. Gail was a triathlete. She never did an Ironman. Yet she proved to everyone that she had more stamina than any Ultra Ironman finisher. She battled cancer for more than 16 years, and was never out of remission for more than six months.

We were newbies in each other’s lives. Last January, our mutual friend, Sandy, put out the call out to see if anyone could take her to radiation treatments. I could. So, our friendship did not grow out of epoch workouts, fun races, and mischievous post-race parties. Ours was forged over crack-of-dawn trips to the hospital, decadent breakfasts, and trying to teach her little dog Maggie to say, “I love you!” (It was rendition that would have done David Letterman proud.)

You see what people are really made of when they’re in pain. Each morning, she greeted me with a cheerful face and a little wave when I arrived to help her down the stairs and into the car. After each treatment, she didn’t complain. But she always took extra time to quietly regain her composure in the waiting room before making her way out the door. Over breakfast, she didn’t whine about her illness. She calmly explained her treatments as if giving me a scientific dissertation. There was no doom and gloom as she described her doctors’ plan of attack – MRIs, gamma knives, and potent drugs. Just an earnestness.

No wonder she was a radiology technician. She obviously had a knack for all this stuff, and was dearly missed by the folks at her office that checked in on her daily.

Gail loved telling me stories about the races she’d done over the years with her friends. And I loved hearing about them. One day when I got back to her place, she proudly pulled out a floral-cloth covered album. It was as fat as the fattest Webster’s Dictionary, filled with pictures from century rides, golf tournaments, trail races, and triathlons. Pages and pages of play. She was too sleepy from the drugs to take me through them all. I didn’t want to peek ahead without her having the chance to show them to me. As she drifted off to sleep, I thought to myself, ‘She’s had a good life.’ I felt inspired. I want to fill an album. We all need to fill our albums.