Friday, July 10, 2015

It's Fan Boy Friday! Meet Nancy Howard.

A couple of years ago, I started a short-lived series of posts called "Fan Boy Friday," in which I took the time to celebrate some of the truly wonderful people in my life. I don't know why I stopped doing it, but I really need to bring that series back. Writing those posts reminded me just how fortunate I am to be surrounded by so much love and compassion and intelligence and humor and... well, the list could go on forever. And all of it is worth bragging about.

So first up, I am celebrating my friend Nancy Howard.

We first crossed paths through a health and fitness website where she was an online coach and I was a new member struggling to find the motivation to continue. She was such an inspiration, always making the time to engage with me (and others). She had found her joy in running and more than anything, she felt the drive to help the rest of us find that joy, too, whether through running, biking, swimming, walking, etc. We didn't have to make her choices, just make our own and be happy with them.

We first met in person in June 2011, when Nancy came out to San Diego to run the Rock and Roll Half Marathon. Turns out, she was even more of a joy in person.

In the four years we have been friends, we have run together from coast to coast (literally), in shared races and on shared teams. We've run relays and marathons and logged more miles together than I can even remember.

But it isn't the running that has made us friends. That's just an activity that we share in common. We are friends because, quite simply, she has a heart as big as Texas and my life is immeasurably better because she is in it.

Years ago, I stumbled across a post from a mother concerned that she had nothing... honestly, nothing... to give to her two boys on Christmas morning. For reasons unimportant here, her life had come unraveled and she was in dire straits. Knowing I had a support group of friends who would help me, I made it my mission to deliver the most amazing Christmas those boys had ever had. Immediately, and I mean not ten minutes later, Nancy had already PayPal'd me the money to buy one of the boys a bicycle.

She didn't ask, "who is this woman?" She didn't wonder, "why is she unable to do this herself?" And she didn't ask, "is she truly in need?" She just sent the money. And because of her (and my husband buying the second bike), those two boys really did have the greatest Christmas Day ever.

Fast forward to April 2014. I really wanted to join a relay team to run the American Odyssey Relay, but I just couldn't get it into the budget. When a runner dropped out last minute and the team asked me again, it was Nancy (and our friend, Bruce) who told me, "we want you and we're going to buy your plane ticket and cover expenses to make sure you get here."

I was used to being on the giving end of something like that, and being on the receiving end was unbelievable. And, of course, the entire weekend was an amazing experience and one of the best weekends I've had.

Despite all of that generosity, it isn't giving money that shows the person Nancy is. She has a huge heart and she wears it proudly on her shoulder for all the world to see. And when someone she cares about is hurting, there isn't anything she wouldn't do to try to make them feel better.

This was her Facebook status yesterday morning:

That friend in a funk? That was me. I was having a really bad day yesterday, and Nancy took the time to reach out to me to see if there was anything she could do and to let me know that I was important to her, that I was a light in her life, and that I was a good person who was loved.

That, people. THAT is what she does. That is who she is. Whether it's stepping into the CrossFit box, convincing someone that they can do something brand new, running a new longer distance, or shedding tears because someone she knows is hurting... if she does something, she does it with her whole heart and her entire passion.

Nancy and her husband, Shawn, are two of the most wonderful people that I have ever known. And today, like every other day since June 2011, I consider myself so fortunate to have the two of them in my life as friends.

Nancy, I've said this before and I'll say it again. We may not share the same beliefs about the hereafter, but you are absolute proof to me of angels here on earth.

And I'll close this with my very favorite photo of the two of us together. This was the finish line at the Marine Corps Marathon, October 2013. We both had a bad race and were disappointed with our overall results. But standing together, in the shadow of a monument honoring the single proudest moment in Marine Corps history, the two of us realized that the only thing we should be feeling at the end of 26.2 grueling miles was pride, happiness, and joy. And that is why our injured little bodies are way less important than the big ol' smiles on our faces.

I love you, friend. Thank you for being exactly the person you are.

P.S. I thought you might need these, too. You always were a big softy.

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