In the spring of 2009, the instructor of my favorite fitness class at work, Laurel, managed to talk me into joining this running/walking group called San Jose Fit. At the time, my knee was dodgy and my walking endurance was pathetic. I remember being really tired after three miles.
San Jose Fit was started more than ten years ago by some guy named Tom. Early every Saturday morning, before heading out on our walk, Tom would do a quick "Tom's Tips" bit. I loved them - they were funny and most often actually useful.
But that was about all I knew about Tom. I'd see him on the trail and he'd always say something encouraging, but that's about it. I had heard that he did a LOT of ultra-marathons, and he certainly looked the part. I had also heard he was having some health issues, but to me he looked like he could still go pretty good.
A bench was dedicated to him along the Los Gatos trail.
The coolest part of the bench was this on the back:
This is his belt buckle for finishing the Western States 100 mile endurance race. This kind of race was still WAY beyond my comprehension.
In any case, I made it through the summer program, and by October I was ready to do my first marathon. One of the coolest things was, as I was heading down that last tenth of a mile, waiting there was Tom. This was a bit surprising since it was late and hot out. Walkers take a LONG time to finish a marathon - certainly way more than twice as long as the faster runners. This meant he had been there for around four hours congratulating runners as they came in.
I loved that he was there and loved his enthusiastic congratulations. I continued on and finished (Laurel was also still there, as were the walking coaches and a few others hanging around for the bitter end) and that was that.
I joined the Fitters again this spring, and there was Tom giving his Tom's Tips again in the morning. He was still perky and funny (his pooping talk was my favorite), but his health seemed to be deteriorating a bit.
And then I started finding out a bit about what he was going through and realized just how amazing he was. I heard about how he had found out in 2008 that he had mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer usually caused by asbestos exposure. And then I found out about how, after he had been diagnosed and had started treatment, he was still determined to compete in the 2008 Silicon Valley Marathon.
He was given permission to do the marathon in bits and pieces over the course of five weeks, doing the final five miles on marathon day. Here is a nice blog post of the day and a bunch of great pictures from the day. Here are him and Laurel, part of over 100 people that were there to support him that day.
If I had known any of this, I would probably have totally lost it when he came up to congratulate me when I finished my race a year later. He would have had to carry me to the finish line. (He wouldn't have though - he would have instead convinced me to not only finish the race, but do it running, and then to go back out and help drag the others to the finish line.)
Tom passed away a little over two weeks ago. Well before then, he had arranged a BBQ picnic for all of his friends to get together and have a good time.
A course was set up with lots of these sorts of posters and lots of pictures and such. I've posted more pictures here.
I loved this quilt made from a number of his race t-shirts.
There was a ton of great food. (That's his son on the left serving the cake.)
It was a great time. It was also extremely inspiring, which was Tom to a T. He loved running and started San Jose Fit in an effort to get others addicted to it. I heard MANY stories about how selfless he was in helping others during races and workouts. I was reminded about how, before our first long training run in 2009, he led us all in the singing of "Oh What a Beautiful Morning."
So what has Tom's little "social club with a running problem" done to me? It's turned me into someone who loves walking/running trails. Someone who has gone on to compete in a number of trail and road race events. Someone that actually can see one of those belt buckles potentially in his future. (WAY in the future, and only if I squint real hard, but who knows...) And I'm just one person. Think of how many thousands of others he has inspired.
I never really knew him but will miss him a lot. I won't forget him though, and will hear him saying those little bits of wisdom that made him so wonderful.
"If the bones ain't showing, keep on goin'."
"Those of us that finish near the back make the rest of you look good!"
"Run 30 steps, walk 15. The trick is to do this before you realize you need to do it."
That's it - move along...