My son, Lucas, quit running only because he stopped living—at least, in this life. He tragically drowned in the San Francisco Bay on Christmas Eve in 2020. He was reported missing on Christmas day and his body was found three weeks later. He left a loving community of runners from the Bay Area to grieve the loss of their running mate. He was loved and admired, and left his family and extended family who gave him the foundation of unconditional love as a springboard to live a life of accomplishments, kindness and giving. He left me with the sweet memories of running with my son. He could not have given me anything more precious.
Lucas is our firstborn. He learned to ride his little red bicycle around 4 or 5 years old. That’s when he started going with me on runs. He excelled in the classroom, so I encouraged him to bet on his intelligence to get him where he needed to go in life. But in junior high, he joined cross country and eventually became a contributing member of a team that won state high school titles. He was also a good sub-2-minute 800-meter runner on the track. One of my favorite pictures is one at the finish of a 10k in Little Rock, Arkansas. The picture is of a mass of people finishing, and right in the middle is me beside a gangly, adolescent Lucas. We are finishing together as we should, but not always would.
He did as I suggested, for once, and stayed with academics until he had a PhD in molecular biology. He spent several years in postdoctoral work in RNA labs and immunology, working first at UC Santa Cruz then Berkley. He finally landed at a biotech company in the Bay Area, working on a treatment for hepatocellular tumors. He continued to run, mostly for fitness, during those years
A few years ago, Lucas started trail running. He became pretty good at it, and over about a four-year timeframe, ran more races than he probably should have. I honestly don’t know how many. I counted at least 40 medals and belt buckles laying around—there were 50 and 100ks and a few 100-milers. My wife and I have received many texts, pictures and videos of beautiful sunsets and sunrises from all over the world, not to mention traveling to be with him in other countries while he ran for days in the Italian Alps or in some far-off Chinese province. My wife made some of those journeys without me just to be with her baby boy. He ran Tor des Géants twice—a 205-mile, five-day run around the Aosta Valley of Italy.
One of his proudest accomplishments was circumnavigating a way to run on trails completely around the Bay. He made that trek twice, connecting public trails with not-so-public areas (he was known for jumping fences), but making the point it could be done. We are working with and asking for donations to the Bay Area Ridge Trail organization in his honor to make the trail system even more accessible for runners and hikers. Lucas loved running in the hills surrounding the bay. He loved sharing it with running partners, family and friends. During the pandemic, he was feeling the effects of loneliness and depression. My advice on a particularly dark day was, “You have to get out and run.” He did and was beginning to see the light at the end of the COVID tunnel before he died. He was always most alive outside. That’s where I feel him most in my own dark moments.
He died at the height of the COVID outbreak in California. Having a traditional funeral was out of the question. Our large extended family and his many friends were grief stricken. How do you comfort each other and honor your loved one in this time of pandemic? That is a question many families have faced. Our large family couldn’t afford the risk of getting together. No one had been vaccinated yet. We ached to hold our son and we ached to hold our friends and family in his absence. I’ve never particularly cared for funerals, but we felt a huge void in lieu of a cultural tradition that I had taken for granted.
In the middle of our horror, confusion and grief, a community of people we had only vaguely known existed stepped in. His girlfriend, who is a very good trail runner, and a host of Lucas’s close friends and acquaintances rallied in a remarkable way. He was initially considered a “missing person” so they searched his favorite trails during the first few days. They gathered to search the coastline for his body. Beautiful meals were brought to our hotel room. My daughters put together a Facebook page where we received story after story of our lovely Lucas and his exploits of running and helping and inspiring other runners. Old friends recounted special times with him. Family wrote words of comfort to us. His best friends put together a memorial at a peak they assured us was one of his favorite places to run. We met with masks and stood safely apart and shared stories about Lucas, poems and readings. Then we all ran or walked a trail he loved to run on Sunday mornings, in his honor. We couldn’t have asked for a better funeral for our son. His running community was his family and even though we greatly missed our family back home, these runners gave us a priceless gift of love and comfort. We met beautiful people who loved Lucas and because love never fails, we were able to receive that love as well.
Lucas and I ran many miles together. That was our time to talk and express our love for each other. Some years I was the pusher, and some years, he was. It didn’t matter since it was always our time and we didn’t even think of not running together step for step. We had an ease in conversation. I think we both felt the safety that our love afforded; that also made it easy to stay together. I cherish every moment I was with him, but our runs were special then, and to me now. Of course I hope I see him again someday. If I do, I will hug him and cry (I don’t care what they say about heaven… I will cry, just as I am now). Then we will most assuredly go for a long run together. A father has no greater joy than to know that he has given something meaningful to his children. What a child gives back is doubly so. One of those things for me was running with Lucas. I miss him, and I miss running with him.