Thursday, June 3, 2010

A Runner's Dedication to Karen Bouvier

Karen Bouvier

There are people out there that are a powerful force of nature, that simply get things done. If you're lucky, you get to meet a few people like that. Immediately upon meeting them, you know this, and you wonder what there secret is.

Karen was one of those people. It turns out, her secret was as simple as valuing every day she had, and every person she met.

Among other things, Karen was known for organizing the HP/Compaq marathon running team. Because of heavy sponsorship money, some running spots are allotted to be given to non-qualified runners to be used at the sponsors' discretion. (Believe me, I fully understand the potential controversy of situations like this, and am not here to discuss this in this post, other than to offer some observations). As a qualified runner, however, I sent an email to Karen, asking about meeting up with the team, and enjoying some of the perks, which included a nifty jacket and singlet, and "team" buses.

My first impressions of Karen were virtual, via email. She sent out regular status updates to a list of runners, which generally erred on the side of containing too much information, but actually got us more excited about the marathon as it approached. In addition, her email lists used a giant, visible "CC" list, rather than a "BCC" list, which led to some frustrating (at the time) "Reply All" situations. Only later did I know that she preferred the visible list so that everyone could see and contact everyone else -- that is, making it easy for people to get to know each other.

The day before race day, I finally had the chance to meet her in person. It was clear and obvious that she was a leader that took charge of things and put people at ease about details. Keep in mind, many of the folks on the team had never been to Boston before, or had even come from abroad, so she made everything seemless for nervous and restless runners. I also met her boyfriend, Phil, who exuded as much warmth as she did but perhaps less intensity -- a good balance -- along with some other runners filtering in and out of the hotel rooms. I got fitted for the singlet and jacket, as well as some warm running gloves.

In the morning, I was debating wearing the singlet -- was it too "corporate?" Did I need to mix business with my running? In the end, I decided to wear the singlet, moreso to represent the "Team" aspect and the folks I had met. Plus, it was comfy. The team bus system worked flawlessly, and I enjoyed meeting other folks from HP. I was happy to run into John Mick from Fort Collins, as well as meeting other folks from around the world. To a person, they all recognized low bib numbers and congratulated qualifying runners, and commented on how lucky and fortunate they were -- well, we all were -- to be running such a race.

After the race, I hobbled back to the hotel room with my family and friend Jeff, where my stuff was conveniently transported and stored from the bus. Karen and Phil organized a neat reception with raffle prizes, and she gave me a Boston pin. I didn't stick around for the reception, but gladly accepted my first post-race beer from them. All runners signed a banner for Karen as a Thank You, as well, and Jessica snapped the photo of Karen and I that you see above.

All this time, I knew nothing about Karen's battle with breast cancer.

And now, through a Facebook dedication, I see that the picture I saw wasn't sufficiently flattering, so I'd also like to share another one:

I now know that she passionately advocated for breast cancer research, but she didn't put it out there in front of her ability and desire to lead and promote running, and the Boston marathon in particular. That is, she put her focus on life and living first.

Months after one of the most memorable days of my life, I learned that the HP Team "New England Initiative" was being discontinued. That is, 2009 was the last year it would happen, and Karen would no longer be a part of it, due to economic circumstances. Still, she used the same mailing list to say only positive things about her experiences, relationships, and memories.

Of course, I thought about all these great memories this April, 2010, as the next marathon rolled on. I wasn't part of it, but cherished the memories of 2009.

And then, one final use of the mailing list in May, just before Memorial Day weekend: Karen had a recurrence of cancer, and had lost the battle, at 46 years old.

Normally, you don't register as much shock when you've just met someone for minutes, but when they're such a positive force of energy, you can't believe they're gone. My wife and mother-in-law had the same feeling of denial when I told them. Personally, and selfishly, her memory is wrapped up in one of the biggest, most exciting days of my life. The best I can do is emulate a small fraction of her enthusiasm and energy. At times like these, you say, "At least we can live in her memory," but that's a trite consolation, written only by the survivors. We'd be better off with her, and we're all at a loss without her bright soul.

In hindsight, I don't know what it means to "qualify" for anything. Life has an incredible amount of luck to it. None of us are "qualified" to receive certain blessings and fortunes that others do not. The best we can do is to do our best and share what we have, and anything less is unfair to those who have less.

Thanks so much, and rest in peace, Karen.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Mike,

    Thank you for that wonderful dedication to Karen. I’m sorry I don’t remember meeting you that weekend and apologize for that if we did. It's not surprising to me that someone like yourself who only knew Karen for a very short time and only meet her in person the day prior to the 2009 Boston marathon would feel the way you do about her. She had that effect on everyone she met. You wouldn’t believe me if I told how many friends she touched that way around the world. She was larger than life and lots of people would agree.

    Karen was involved in the HP/Compaq/Digital Boston Marathon incentive program for ten years and loved every minute of it. She made it what it is today. I was fortunate enough to meet Karen 10 years ago while she was organizing the first team working for Compaq which I became a member of and it’s also how we meet. I guess you could say it was love a first sight and we have been together ever since.

    She was so very proud of each team she assembled and work for months trying to make it as comfortable and complete for each runner even months before the race. She was your servant and she loved it. Ask her for anything and she would deliver.

    Karen and I always wanted to run Boston together but never had the chance. Karen was always working Marathon weekend as you know, but she didn't mind. She encouraged me to run the race every year even thought she couldn’t and help me train for each race. Karen was quite a runner herself and in her early years and won many 5k in California. But she never talked about her abilities or what was aligning her. She was not about that, she was about living life to the fullest no matter what it took and helping people and making new friends. I’m not surprised you didn’t know about Karen’s cancer. Most runners on the team didn’t know either. That wasn’t important to her to let everyone know.

    I only knew Karen for a few months when we found out Karen had cancer. I was there that day when she was told she had cancer. She never blinked an eye at the news and that same day was organizing a team of doctors planning her next move.

    Since that day Karen has raised thousands of dollars for cancer. Walked in many 3 day walk for the cure. And for years lead the aerobic warm-ups in Manchester NH for the making strides walk for cure. She raised 25,000 for portable ultra machine so women wouldn’t have to wait long periods of time for another exam if one was needed quickly. She kept herself one step ahead of the game and never gave up. She was my inspiration, my true companion and was always thinking of me wondering what she could do for me so our lives could be better.

    Let me tell you more about who she was. She was a Radio personality for 10 years. Lived on Guam for 6 years while doing radio was a very popular on the island. She taught aerobics, Pilates and was strength and personal trainer. Model for magazines in her spare time. She was a dog trainer. She sky dived, bungee jumped and skin dived. Ran marathons. Wrote for many magazines. Was in the Air force for 4 years. Even work for a promotional company where she spent much time in Japan traveling with Van Halen. She got around. But her favorite job was working with you and all that ran in the Boston Marathon. That was her labor of love and I got see behind the scenes as it unfolded each year.

    So thank for letting me write about Karen for few moments it really felt good and warmed my heart and thank you again for all your kind words. I was the lucky one to have had the chance to share my life with her. She was indeed a very special person who I miss so very much each day.

    I would like to send your dedication to a few of our friends, her boss and family if that is okay with you. They would love to read it.

    I hope to hear back from you.

    Kind regards,
    Phil DiSalvo