When I first met Eva Donahue, I didn’t realize what an impact she would have on my life.
Knowing her has, in fact, lengthened my life.
I was never a big one for exercise. I was on the swim team in high school, and enjoyed it, but hung up my goggles upon graduation.
I got by, not huffing and puffing up stairs, but certainly not anything that could remotely be referred to as “in shape.” I ate what I wanted, when I wanted. I worked, I played, got married, had my two children, and so life goes, and the years get on.
Then, before I knew it, there was this person next to me, talking to me about how much she enjoyed running.
“Well, it’s really more like ‘shuffling,’” Eva said, in her usual, modest way. “The people I run with are great runners, but they’re so nice — they wait for me along the way on our runs.”
I saw her get more and more in shape. I saw how she had more energy, how she always had a spring in her step and time to listen to anyone with a story.
I started thinking, “Maybe I should try this.”
But then, life took over again, and I was busy with the kids, work, the everyday stress that sometimes keeps you from seeing the big picture.
And still, there was Eva, not insistent, but persistent.
“Why don’t we meet up in the morning and go running?” she asked me one day.
“Maybe next weekend,” I said as, most weekends, she and I could be found on the beach in front of my camp on Lake Ontario, with a drink in our hands and our toes in the sand as we watch our kids play in the surf and marvel at the frogs they’ve caught from the local “crick.”
“OK,” she’d say with a shrug. “Next weekend.”
And so it went on, a full summer, I believe. That winter, I decided I was ready to at least try to have the gumption to run with her come spring, and hopped on the treadmill at the YMCA in Fayetteville, sometimes for an hour at a time, just walking, and never faster than a brisk trot.
The following June when, sure enough, Eva extended the invitation, I accepted. I figured I could maintain a shuffle for a mile or so.
So, we met up the next morning, and took to the back roads of Jefferson County. As we ran, I could sense that she was holding back to keep to my slower pace as we chatted about nothing in particular.
I got winded. She kept up with what had become a cheerful monologue, since my only contributions consisted of the occasional “uh-huhs” in between gasps and wheezes.
At the end, I was soaked in sweat and had to assure everyone that I was not, in fact, having a heart attack.
But, after I cooled down, I realized something: I felt better than I had in years, maybe even than I ever had. My muscles were nice and fluid and I felt energized.
So, the next morning, we ran again, a littler further, a little faster.
And thus the summer went by; towards its end, I was able to run the “longer route” that Eva favored. We jogged in the sunshine, with cornflowers and butterflies bordering views of cottonwoods and tall stalks of corn.
Eva passed away from cancer on July 29 of last year. She died as she lived, surrounded by those who loved her, in her favorite place, the camp she shared with her husband and two little boys.
The weekend after her passing, I ran our route together, and felt her with me as I jogged with tears in my eyes.
Because of her, I have been a runner for four years now, starting with that persistence and wisdom that hid behind that unforgettably beautiful smile.
So, you see, knowing her has made me healthier, and most likely, added years to my own life.
Thank you, Eva.
See related story on page 1. Jennifer Wing is managing editor at Eagle Newspapers. She can be reached at jwing @eaglenewsonline.com.