This one’s for John

Susan Flanagan
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The Tely 10 is more about why you’re running than how fast you are

I first met Art Meaney while training for the Tely 10 at the Running Room.
Art, 1979 Tely 10 winner and holder of three age group records, is an exceptional coach. He praises each runner’s personal accomplishments even if it means, like in the case of Peter Power, that they have toppled one of Art’s own records. So when I, stuck for years at a time of 90 minutes or more, made it down to 80 minutes in 2012, Art was my biggest cheerleader.

“Good job, kid,” he said. I couldn’t have been prouder.

This past April Art turned 70. To celebrate this milestone, his wife of 43 years, Heather, had an epiphany. Wouldn’t it be fun, she said, if all three of their children — Jim, 39, Paul, 36, and Richard, 34 — lined up at the start line with their father to run the 87th Tely 10 Mile Road Race in honour of their father’s 70th birthday?

This idea was greeted with such enthusiasm that Paul’s wife Megan decided to sign up, too. Paul, Megan and Richard all live in Toronto, so committing to such a goal involved more than just training. It involved the logistics of getting time off and finding their way to St. John’s at the height of the summer travel season.

This may sound farfetched, but on Sunday morning, it happened. Running together as a family is not a foreign concept.

Jim and Deborah Slade and their two children Logan, 16, and Lydia, 14, all ran the Tely this Sunday as well.

“When we were signing up, (the children) just asked if we could sign them up, too,” says Deborah. Logan, and Lydia are primarily swimmers, but have come to enjoy running with their parents.

“Now we have something we can all do together,” says Deborah. “Our Sunday morning runs are my favourite time of the week.”

Lydia, who crossed the line holding hands with her mother in a time of 93 minutes and 18 seconds, says that “although I experienced a few challenges along the way, I was able to push through and cross the finish line with my mom.”

Logan, who snuck a little bit ahead of his father, finishing in a remarkable time of 71.35, said of his first Tely: “I loved the race atmosphere and did my best run time ever.”

And although Logan did exceptionally well in his Tely debut, I bet, in 10 years’ time, if you ask him or any member of his family the best part of Tely 10 2014, it won’t be their Tely times that stand out in their mind, but rather the time they spent together running as a family.

In fact, I’m going to let you in on a little secret.

The trick to running a good Tely, I have discovered, is to run 20 minutes slower than your best time. You get to slow down and enjoy the crowds. You can take time to read the

T-shirts and signs of support: “Is Santa at the end of this parade?” Or “Hurry up, Aunt (so and so). This is boring.” You can thank the volunteers for giving up their Sunday morning to stand on the side of Topsail Road and dish out water to 4,000 thirsty runners.

Today, I realized that running a good race is not always about the time it takes you to cross the finish line. What’s more important sometimes is the journey you take to the start line. What matters is the reason you decided to run in the first place.

You see it all the time, people running as part of a team supporting their loved one or running buddy who may be in ill.

Derrick Roul, from Lawn, was more shocked than anyone to learn he had leukemia while training for the 2012 New York marathon. Last year, many runners sported Team Roul T-shirts while they ran the Tely in support of Derrick. When Derrick ran his first post-treatment Tely on Sunday he was awarded The Dr. John Williams Award which is presented “to the Tely 10 participant who has inspired others through enthusiastic and spirited participation in the annual Telegram 10 Mile Road Race.”

This year I ran as part of Team Furlong, which we set up in honour of my brother-in-law, John Furlong, three-time Tely 10 finisher (’03, ‘04, ‘09), Tely 10 volunteer and husband to my sister Gerry Marshall.  

John left us too early in April of this year. I loved John because he loved my sister and made her happy. I loved him because he wasn’t afraid to laugh at his own mistakes. I loved John because when he was irreverent or politically incorrect, he admitted to it. I loved him because he was smart and enjoyed a good debate. I loved him because he stood up for those who couldn’t stand up for themselves.

Let me tell you about when I first heard that John Furlong and my sister, Gerry, had gone on a date. It was the one and only time in my life that I had to sit down when I heard news. You see, I had worked with John at CBC TV long before he and Gerry became an item, and if you were to ask me what I thought (no one did, mind you), I would have told you John and my sister did not a good pair make. John swore, for goodness sake. I could not fathom him and my sister together.

Boy, was I wrong. It didn’t take long to realize John and Gerry were meant to be together. They enjoyed each other’s company more than any other married couple I know. They made each other laugh. They took pleasure in simple things like an early morning walk together. They made the best of life when things went sideways. When Gerry ended up on an extended work stint in Labrador, John convinced CBC to allow him to host “The Fisheries Broadcast” from the Big Land. While in Labrador, they got out and saw places and met people and did things most people would only think about.

And John did more for my family than we do for ourselves.

If my mother wanted a ride home from somewhere on a weeknight, rather than call one of her own offspring, she’d call John Furlong, her own personal taxi. And John visited my Uncle Bud in Escasoni every night.

In fact John’s final outing before he died in April was to Escasoni to attend my Uncle Bud’s 82nd birthday party.

John didn’t have to go. He was sick with the cancer that had eaten up his body. He was so weak he needed assistance walking.

But he went.

John went because my Uncle Bud was his friend, one of the few Bud had.

John was friend to all the residents of that home. He always had time to listen to the stories of the residents on the dementia ward. He remembered their names and where they were from and how many children they had and if they liked going out in a boat to catch a fish. If someone wanted a Dixie Cup and there wasn’t one in the fridge on their floor, John made time to run around to different wings until he found one. And if he felt someone was being treated unfairly, boy oh boy, you’d better watch out.

For all these reasons I was honoured to have John Furlong as a brother-in-law and proud on Sunday to wear a Tely 10 shirt bearing his name (and moustache). And even though I ran the race more than 20 minutes slower than my best time, this was my best Tely yet. I have never been prouder. And I’m sure next time I run into Art, he’ll say, “Good job, kid.”

Susan Flanagan is a journalist who would like to thank the staff at the Basilica for ringing the church bells to encourage runners in to the finish line. Next year she hopes they might be a bit more musical. She can be reached at susan@48degrees.ca.

Organizations: CBC, Basilica

Geographic location: Toronto, Topsail Road, New York Labrador

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Recent comments

  • Louise
    August 07, 2014 - 03:12

    Susan...this was such a great story to read...inspiring and touching and filled with so much love!well done!!

  • Brenda
    July 30, 2014 - 11:52

    Wonderful-John is missed by many who knew him only on the radio-but I think his goodness came over the airwaves. Great remembrance.

  • Debi Steacy
    July 29, 2014 - 09:14

    I knew John back in the 70's when he and my husband were friends in Marystown and then continued when we all moved into St. John's. Even after we moved to Texas in 1980 our friendship continued and I can tell that John stayed the same throughout all the years. Loved John so much! So good to read this story. Thank you.