Dawn to Dusk: One Father’s Marathon Love

One can never be sure what to expect of Marathon Sunday’s weather in New York City. Reflecting back on that Sunday, November 5, 2006, for spectators, the temperature was seasonably brisk. But for runners, like my husband Paul and his running mates, the weather was perfect. Although this would be a second marathon for Paul, this event marked the first organized fundraiser for the Skye Foundation, and a first marathon for TEAM SKY. The team was comprised of a special group of fathers recruited by what I would describe as Divine serendipity, as their lives had been either touched or directly impacted by Black infant death.

After months of training, Paul and the team left for the start in Staten Island at dusk. I said a prayer for Paul and the team, praying for protection and strength, especially for Paul, whose knee had never been the same after a freak accident on the basketball court a few years prior. The cheering squad, comprised of family and friends, left later that morning. We dispersed ourselves throughout New York City at different points on the race’s course.

At mile 8, it seemed as if Paul and TEAM SKY were progressing through the course almost effortlessly. I, along with my mother-in-law, sister and her husband, headed uptown to mile 21. But it would be several hours before I would see Paul again, a lot longer than I had anticipated. Most of TEAM SKY had passed mile 21, but there was still no sight of Paul. Using his time from the first marathon as a gauge, even with my slowest estimate, I thought Paul should have reached mile 21 by now.

Finally, my mother-in-law yelled, “There he is!”  And then, through the sea of runners, we saw him. Paul was limping terribly; the pained look that we saw made it clear that he was in agony. He stopped to tell us how his knee gave out at mile 14, his legs were hard to move, and he had been limping for the last seven miles.

Knowing Paul’s proclivity to finish what he starts, I figured that it would be a long shot, but I had to say it anyway: “Babe, really, you can stop if you want. You have absolutely nothing to prove; you are already my hero.” His mom agreed, “That’s right, you’re my hero, too.”

Paul responded to my invitation without words; with a quiet and steely determination, he limped away from the sidelines, toward the race to re-join the participants. Without much thought about what to do next, I started walking with him.

Now walking the last five miles of the marathon together, Paul and I didn’t say much. I can only remember Paul saying once, “Daddy’s tired. Daddy’s really tired,” and I knew that he was focused on Skye, the Foundation and finishing his course. Paul later told me that he equated giving up the race to giving up on Skye, which for him was non-negotiable.

Despite the thousands of runners and spectators around us, it seemed as if Paul and I were in our own private bubble. My thoughts about the last year seemed to drown out what was happening with the race.

I thought about our own personal marathon and the complex grief experience that followed Skye’s birth and death. I thought about how many times I had not completely understood the difference between Paul’s style of grieving and my own.

My emotions after Skye’s death were visible and intense, but had I interpreted this to mean that Paul was not as impacted by her death? With every step Paul took, I realized that although our expressions of grief may differ, it did not mean that Paul was affected by Skye’s death any less than I was.

When it would have been understandable for him to opt out, only an enduring love for Skye kept Paul in the race. As dusk settled on the finish line, and Paul took his last steps of the marathon, I watched him with tears in my eyes and promised myself that one day I would share this story with fathers worldwide.

In the end, family, friends and TEAM SKYE runners were reunited at the finish line, celebrating the team’s accomplishment. And in the midst of the celebration, I could almost imagine our one-year old Skye, cheering wildly for her amazing father.

Nicole Alston

More Articles Written by Nicole

As Founder and Executive Director of The Skye Foundation, Nicole Alston’s mission is as heartfelt as it is hard-won. The New Jersey-based nonprofit organization was established in memory of Nicole’s firstborn daughter, Skye, in 2005. Skye’s sudden death deluged Nicole in grief. In seeking a new “normal,” her life’s work was revealed. Drawing on experiential knowledge, Nicole has spoken to audiences internationally about providing comprehensive psychosocial support for families who are grieving the death of a baby. Nicole’s story has been shared in Essence and Parents magazines, the Amsterdam News, on radio, Hallmark television’s New Morning Show, and a host of local venues. In 2006, she produced a video about bereaved parents and their grief experience, interspersed with commentary from the medical community. Nicole serves on various state and national boards, focusing on improving birth outcomes and providing compassionate care to families experiencing reproductive loss: the Northern New Jersey Maternal Child Health Consortium, the Black Infant Mortality Reduction Resource Center Advisory Board, and on the national expert panel of the African American Faith-Based Initiative. Passionately driven, Nicole addresses standards of care for bereaved women and families coping with reproductive loss. “Physicians, nurses and the health care system at-large play a vitally important role. What is done and said in moments of acute grief can either set families in motion toward healing, or make an already arduous journey much more difficult,” Nicole explains. Currently pursuing her Master’s Degree in Social Work at Columbia University, Nicole hopes to continue to explore her twin research interests, reproductive loss and suicide, particularly among those who are disproportionately affected by adverse birth outcomes. Reach Nicole at skyefoundation@aol.com or through one of her website -- http://www.theskyefoundation.org or www.complicatedgrief.org.

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  • Earline says:

    What an emotional and touching article. The strenght shown by the Dad to show his little girl that he is still working hard for her even in her death. The love portrayed by his dedication to finish the race through all of his pain. My heart is filled with admiration. My God continue to provide strenght and happiness to both Paul and Nicole. Good job on the article Nicole!

    Love always

  • Warren says:

    What a powerfully moving story! Paul appears to be a most unusually strong man, able to maintain his vision and focus and commitment to Team Skye, to the memory of Skye, and particularly to his wife Nicole.

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