I Saw a Man Die…

1 09 2008

My father is hugely into running, and has been since he was a teenager. He’s run all of the “big” marathons, numerous trail runs, 10k’s, 20k’s, you name it. There was a race this weekend that has been, for over 30 years, his “pinnacle” event each year. A 15 mile course through town, up into the hills, and finishing in grand style inside a stadium–usually to scores of well wishers and family.

Some years back, in an attempt to bring more interest to this signature 15-mile run, the organizers added a 5k fun walk, and a 5k run. (Dad can do a 5K run in his sleep, and generally won’t bother with such a short distance.) I think it’s been dad’s secret wish (though he would never push any of us to do anything that didn’t make us happy) that one of his boy’s would follow in his running footsteps. But, other than a few one mile fun runs when we were very young, none of us has.

This year, since I was going to be in town for a family reunion anyway, and because I’ve been trying to get into better shape,  I decided to sign up for the 5K portion of the race. At the last minute, a good friend of mine back home decided to join me, and my stepmother and a coworker signed up for the 5K walk.

The night before the race, as part of the host of events that came with it, my friend and I joined Dad and my aunt at a pre-game dinner. Dad told us about his best times, best placements, and other stories from his past years doing this race–including one a few years back where he pushed himself extra hard once he got inside the stadium in order to cross the finish line under 2 hours. It was a bad idea on his part, as he got seized with Charlie horses in both legs at once and went down on the track, to the horror of the family members who had gathered to cheer him on. Of course, he didn’t wound anything but his pride, but I thought to myself “I’m glad I wasn’t there that year, it would have been really scary to see that.”

So the morning of the race came–those doing the 15 mile portion started first, with the 5K runners going ten minutes or so later, and the walkers a bit behind us. My friend and I had decided to stick together, walk if we needed to, and realizing that we were out of shape concluded that we would be breaking no land speed records that morning. Still, to be passed along the route by 6 year olds, 80 year olds, people wearing ankle and knee braces, and people pushing strollers was a bit disheartening. We crossed the finish line a somewhat disappointing 36 minutes later, and joined my aunt, uncle and cousin in the stands to wait for dad to cross.

Twenty minutes or so later, as we sort of half heartedly clapped for the last of the 5K runners and the start of the walkers, a man collapsed on the finish line. I first thought of dad’s charlie horses, but when the man didn’t move, we realized something much worse was wrong. The race is very well staffed with volunteers, and almost as soon as we noticed he fell, EMTs were at his side. When they rolled him over onto his back, his face was purple, his body was rigid, and he was clutching his chest.

My immediate thought was his family–were any of them in the stands watching this? Had he left a wife at home earlier that morning, who now waited to hear how he had done in the race? Was there a grandchild somewhere looking forward to getting a trophy or t-shirt that her grandfather had won for her? The man was gurnied off the field and put into a waiting ambulance. The ambulance seemed to take quite a while to leave, which I thought must be a good sign.

When dad crossed the finish line (3 minutes under his goal time, I might add) one of the medical volunteers approached him to let him know what had happened and to report that it “didn’t look good”. Later that evening, we learned the man had died that morning. Though I didn’t know him it was hard to wrap my head around–a guy out getting some exercise, doing something he enjoyed, and then, suddenly, his life was over.




18 responses

1 09 2008

That is terrible. I hate to hear when someone is out at an event and a terrible accident or heart attack/stroke/blood clot kills someone instantly. It throws you off.

I’ve seen people die twice, and it wasn’t pretty …

1 09 2008
The Vinyl Villager

I was just reading on someone elses blog a few weeks ago–they were writing about how theyd witnessed a traffic accident that took someone life, and I recall commenting that I had never, and hoped I never did, witness someone else dying. While I suppose this man actually died at the hospital, it nonetheless was a very sobering thing to witness.

1 09 2008

I know that makes a person stop and think.
I’ll say the same to you that I said to Red…
Dance as if no one were watching,
Sing as if no one were listening,
And live every day as if it were your last.
— Irish Proverb

1 09 2008
The Vinyl Villager

Kim, was it Red that made the post Im thinking of?

1 09 2008


I’ve seen some pretty scary things in my time but (as far as I know) I’ve not actually seen somebody die. I can understand why you were thinking the things you did, I would have too. I hope, for their sake, none of his family saw him collapse.

1 09 2008
The Incredible Woody

Back when I was a better person, we were at church listening to a guest speaker. All of the sudden, he grabbed his chest and fell, limp, on the stage. There were a couple of EMTs that were at the service – they immediately started performing CPR while waiting on the ambulance. He was pronounced DOA when he arrived at the hospital. The doctors said he was probably dead before he hit the floor.

It took quite some time to wrap my head around it as well. However, I did let the event spur me into calling my family and telling them how much I loved them!

1 09 2008

Freaky. It just reminds you that we could all go at any moment. The other day on the freeway near my house, a motorcycle was stopped in the middle lane for some unknown reason. A car screeched to a halt behind him. But a big truck behind the car plowed right into both of them, killing three people.

Sometimes it just doesn’t matter how careful you are.

1 09 2008
Peter Parkour

While I’m sure it was hard on everyone in the stands, and I hope he didn’t have any friends or family there, the man died at the finish line, doing something he wanted to do. Kinda beautiful in a way. If not for the running perhaps he would have died years sooner, doing something he hated, with no one there to even know.

1 09 2008

Wow, mister villager . . what a turn of events! as i read, i kept hoping and hoping and hoping that it wasn’t your dad !
what a sight to witness. so incredibly terrible.

2 09 2008

Like Red, I too was hoping (and thankful) it wasn’t your Dad. Things like this aren’t really “scary” to me. per se, but rather more like a wake up call. Inside my head, I am a serious pessimist – I guess I figure expect the worst and you’ll always be thankful for what you actually get – corny, huh? But the fact remains that because of that, no natter how angry I am, distracted I am, where I am or who I’m with, and no matter how long or short the conversation is, I will never leave the presence of those I love (including “phone” or “text” presence) without telling them I love them. I have been so mad at my hunny I could have cheerfully carved him into little pieces and fed him to my Chow, but when he left the house, I still kissed him, gave him a hug and told him I loved him (that wasn’t easy, either, lemme tell ya!)…it’s gotten to be almost a superstition or ritual type thing with me. Like always telling EVERYONE I know “Be safe” when they leave. It’s almost as if I believe that if I don’t do it, something terrible will happen – how arrogant of me is that? LOL But I still do it & think it. I never want to be the one saying “Oh my Goddess, we had a horrible fight, and the last words I said to him/her were hateful and hurtful. Now I can never take them back or apologize”

2 09 2008

And that’s why running is bad. Did he cross the finish line? Just wondering.

2 09 2008
The Vinyl Villager

1.5 cents–me too!

Woody–and just how were you a better person then? (just curious) I think its good to use this kind of thing as a wake up call not to take life or our loved ones for granted.

Jason–thats exactly what I was reminded of–that none of us are promised tomorrow.

Peter–thats a great way to look at it!

Red– I thought it was you, but I couldnt find that post.

Jodi–excellent advice and “ritual” to never let your loved ones leave on bad terms.

Stephen–well, part of him did. He literally collapsed on the line–half over and half behind it.

2 09 2008

I’d say that counts. Not that dying anytime is fun, but it would suck more to not finish…

2 09 2008
Queen of Planet Hotflash

Thank goodness it wasn’t your Dad. It was still however something that affects you just by witnessing it. Unfortunetly, I have seen death alot and in different ways and places. Some peaceful and others not so. This man’s death was un expected and quite sorrowful for his family and friends, but a way to look at it is he died doing something he probably loved.
This shows that even the healthiest and physically fit of people can die from health related issues.

2 09 2008
The Vinyl Villager

Queen…my dad’s as healthy as an ox. He’ll outlive me, Im quite sure. That’s a good way to look at it…and while I think such a sudden death is, in some ways, harder for the family, I hope when my time is up I can go fast and go doing something I enjoy.

2 09 2008

Amen to everything already said. I hope that when my time comes I can go quickly, but often have the fear my time will be slow & painful, lol. I’ve seen death enough times to know I want mine to go quickly, but we never really can predict the future, can we?

I would die happy if it were while I was doing something I loved or was obsessed with. I hope he & his family and friends felt that way.

And you survived! How great is that? And your Dad survived (apparently kicking butts), which is so amazing. He must really be something.

3 09 2008

Be happy EVERYDAY. Do something FUN everyday. LAUGH everyday. LOVE everyday. If you have something to tell someone, no matter how embarrassing or frightening, SAY IT.
I could go on, but you know VV, but it was a great to spend time with you and your family that day. Maybe we have to witness such things to remind us how important those little trips, those little things in life are to us all.

3 09 2008
The Vinyl Villager

Liz–my dad is a great guy all around. We’re lucky to have him.

Steve–aww thanks. You’re right–we never know when our time is up, so we better make the most of it.

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