Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Sat, 26 Dec 1998 09:28:17 -0500

Ernie's Return

(from RC 279)

When Ernie DeCaro's story appeared in Running Commentary last winter, he was coming off surgery. "An angiosarcoma, a violent soft-tissue cancer, had formed around the hamstring in my upper rear left leg and buttock," he wrote. "A lot of muscle and tissue was removed with the cancer."

He told of being "truly a half-assed runner" now. But he never thought his running had ended -- even as he weathered six surgeries in less than a year, even after he received last rites during his most serious downturn, and even as he required twice-daily changes of dressing for the wound (which is still open 10 months later).

Ernie talked about Dr. George Sheehan in the original article: "The most memorable column he ever wrote was the one in which he told us all he had cancer. While reading this article, I hung on every word. Doc had cancer, and so did I -- leukemia of the same type Marty Liquori now has.

"From then on, reading Doc took on a new importance. His passing struck me as deeply as the loss of friends and the death of family members."

Ernie recalled a line from George: "I think of dying as a blood sport, like bull fighting." Ernie added, "The bull will have us all someday. But when we live with feeling, commitment and guts, we make the statement, 'Not today.' "

He wrote from the hospital last February, after 10 hours of surgery, that "I have been gored once again." He could stand on only one leg and wanted to ask George Sheehan, "What the hell do I do now?

"In my heart I can hear him say, 'Run the best race you can, and when you cross the finish line there will be more of us waiting here to greet you than you can possibly imagine.' "

Ernie, 54, vowed last February to run this year's New York City Marathon. He finished it in 5:57 -- on the fifth anniversary of Dr. Sheehan's death.

"Of all the New Yorks I've watched, the one I remember most is 1992 when Grete Waitz and Fred Lebow ran together," Ernie wrote. "When I crossed the finish line with Cathy Troisi [who coached and coaxed Ernie to and through his marathon], that's what I was thinking of -- Fred and Grete.

"At times I fear I'm turning into a cold-hearted S.O.B., but I'm sitting here now with tears in my eyes as I remember Fred and that I crossed the same finish line. If there is a God in heaven, then He gave me this marathon."

Ernie wrote a few days after the marathon, "I'm still in the process of trying to figure out recovery training. I still have leukemia, still have an open wound. My life is seldom simple.

"But my thoughts go immediately to next time. I'm determining where the next mountain is."

He'd like to run another marathon. He'd like to show that his first marathon wasn't a one-time-only gift.


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