Running has given me many gifts, but perhaps the greatest gift has been my friendship with Marie Murray.
Five years ago I received a Facebook message from my friend Rick asking for advice on behalf of his friend who had just qualified for the Boston Marathon. Over the next few months I gave his friend advice, but not the running kind. I figured if she’d already qualified, she knew what she was doing. Rather, I felt that guiding her toward the city’s best pizza and donuts was far more beneficial.
Although we lived only miles apart, I first laid eyes on Marie Murray at the Boston Marathon Expo. We chatted briefly, exchanged some war stories and shared some nervous tension. She and her husband were on their way to a Duck Tour. I was on my way to the North End in search of sugar and carbs. She was a tiny woman- the only person I’ve ever met that made me feel like a squatty gorilla! My first impressions were she was one tough, determined chick. I had no idea how right I was.
Over the next few years, Marie and I ran many relay races together. If running makes friends out of strangers, overnight relay races make family out of friends. We were bonded together with sweat and Swedish Fish.
During one of these relays, Marie and I, being confined to the backseat of the Suburban since we were the only ones small enough to comfortably fit, fell asleep while our trusty driver, Scott drove us to our next exchange. Suddenly we were jerked awake as the van hit a bump. Both of us bolted upright in that sleepy haze of confusion. Scott yelled out, “Nailed it!” In our stupor, we both thought he’d hit one of our runners and began to panic, scanning the road for our friend. Thankfully he’s only hit a dead skunk. It took us a moment to realize we weren’t going to jail. It was hilarious in the way that things are only funny in the middle of the night.
One of my favorite runs with Marie was a 20-miler we did with the Huntsman Hometown Heroes, a team that trains for races while raising money for cancer research, just weeks before the 2013 Boston Marathon. It was my first run with the team, but Marie was a veteran. I jokingly said I would stick with her because she knew where the bathroom stops were. I was unfamiliar with the Sugarhouse area and without her, would most assuredly still be trying to find me way back to our cars. “No sign-y, no turn-y,” she kept telling me. It was a long run in many ways and when our trusty coach Elfi came looking for us near the end, I was in a port-o-potty. It was Marie who gleefully pointed out that I, typically one of the faster runners, was the one holding everybody up.
After every marathon, we shared a donut. That was our thing. “What good is a life without sugar?” she’d ask. I’d found my longed-for sister.
The last race we ran together was the 2014 Boston Marathon. Funny how these things come full circle.
She had a hard time recovering from that marathon. Four months later she found that her cancer, which she had defeated once almost ten years earlier, had returned.
For the next 18 months, she kept us updated while she kept her sense of humor. She took her daughter to California to see One Direction. While she couldn’t run, she joined us on another relay race just to hang out. She remodeled her house. She just kept going. While her prognosis didn’t look good, I don’t know if any of us actually believed it would get the best of her. She’d beaten the odds once. Surely she would beat them again.
The terminology used with cancer is interesting. Battling. Fighting. No doubt it’s a war on the body, but how do we define victory? Marie passed away on January 4 after her battle with cancer. Does that mean she lost? Did cancer win? The way I see it, the only way cancer wins is if we let it. We beat cancer by living life to its fullest. Marie’s life may have been taken by cancer, but she wasn’t defeated. She wasn’t dying of cancer. She was living with cancer.
Grief is a funny thing. I’m sad. I miss my friend. I miss our runs. I miss sharing donuts with her after marathons. I miss her voice. One moment the memories make me cry. The next moment I’m laughing at another. While my heart feels like it’s been ripped wide open, I also feel at peace. I’m grateful she was my friend. I’m grateful I got to see her and say goodbye- steal one more hug. I’m so grateful to have been one among her legions of fans.
If the measure of a woman is determined by the lives she’s touched, then tiny Marie towers over us all.
On New Year’s Eve, Marie’s husband Dan orchestrated a celebration outside her window at the Huntsman Cancer Institute Hospital. Over 100 of Marie’s friends hiked her favorite Bonneville Shoreline Trail with flashlights, glow sticks and lighters to shine a light on a woman whose light shone brighter than any other. Hundreds of others who couldn’t make it posted pictures on Facebook of their own lights shining in her honor. A joyful tribute to a woman who brought so much joy to us.
If Marie taught me anything, it’s to make each moment matter. Life isn’t about races we’ve run, trips we’ve taken, money we’ve made or stuff we’ve collected. It’s about people we’ve loved, friendships we’ve made, relationships we’ve fostered. A house full of things can feel quite empty. A heart full of love can leave you bursting at the seams.
Cheers to you, my friend. Save a donut for me.