Crossing the Line
Running to Stand Still
I’d not yet made it out of first period the first day of Grade 8 when I was summoned to the principal’s office. Open on his desk was a high school yearbook. 1972. He pointed at a black-and-white photo. Front and center stood a lithe, black-haired stunner. It was my mother, pride of the Burnaby North Vikings track team. With my red hair and fair skin it was a stretch to believe we shared dna but the principal didn’t care. It was not up for discussion. Judy Forster’s daughter would run. My mother was 18 when she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. By then she had already raced, and won, every middle and long distance title in the region. In her senior year she received her diagnosis and a track scholarship only days apart. Knowing what lay ahead, and that her miles were numbered, she eschewed university altogether.
I heeded orders from both the principal and my mother. The team practiced several times a week and meets appropriated valuable weekend hours. Several seasons came and went and despite my mother’s hopes to the contrary, I remained a reluctant runner.
In a fit of high school rebellion against my mother I retired from track. “Why do I run?” I asked her (and even more so, myself ). Knowing I’d spend the rest of my time on the track chasing her pace, never the fastest and always feeling like a disappointment. Running had been her thing and would never be mine.
My mother was magnetic. She was a firecracker that could lead you deep into adventure, occasionally resulting in trouble, mostly resulting in laughter and an infectious joy that was her trademark. Once a year, without warning, she’d declare it race day. We’d establish a finish line and be off. For most of my life it was a forgone conclusion I’d lose. Her speed seemed improbable and her ability unattainable.
Something shifted the day I was finally able to overtake her. It would have been easy for the casual observer to incorrectly attribute it to age and the inevitable slowing of the body. Since her diagnosis my mother had been running a new race, one that would nip at her heels and tingle her fingertips as a dull but constant reminder of the clock ’s ticking. The signs had been there for years but we avoided the obvious. Her legs no longer served her as they once had. She was slowed and tired and walked across the finish line. There was no glory in this victory and the guilt hung heavier than the silence in which we both sat. In that moment she was no longer the track star. No longer a recordholder I’d never beat. She was my mother and she was losing a battle we both knew she could never win. The walk home couldn’t have been more than a few blocks but we travelled slowly, pausing when she needed to rest. Until this moment we had only known each other in one way and the heaviness of that left us both not quite knowing the right thing to say. We never raced again. It wasn’t until many years after we lost her that a friend forced me out for a run. She routinely ran 50k races and I was winded within a kilometre.
It was a perfect fall day and we travelled slowly, pausing when I needed to rest.
As a child I felt forced to run. As an adult I feel privileged to have the ability. Time and age finally allowed me to understand. This would be our connection, no longer our divide. And so, 13 years after her passing, Judy Forster’s daughter finally became a runner.
I’ve since accumulated multiple half-marathon medals and a near daily commitment to running. I’m no better than I was in high school. I’ll still never be the fastest or a sliver of the gifted athlete she was. So, why do I run?
For my mother, for every step she didn’t get to take – I run for her.
Lauren Stope can be found running along Vancouver’s beautiful beaches and forest trails (weather permitting), and on rainy days spins or does pilates.
“She was slowed and tired and walked across the finish line. There was no glory in this victory and the guilt hung heavier than the silence in which we both sat.”
ABOVE Lauren Stope at the front of a local crew run