A THOUSAND TINY STEPS

Remembering Rusty

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Rusty and I sitting at a table in 2015 at an Indoor Track Meet at UNH
Rusty and I sitting at a table in 2015 at an Indoor Track Meet at UNH

Rusty died this week.

As I age, and an ever-increasing number of co-workers, friends, colleagues and relatives run ahead to heaven, I can become anxious and a bit sad. To keep things in the cognitive realm, I go back to Eric Erickson and his stages of development. Most people will associate him with child development but his stages go all the way through late adulthood.

At age 60 I am in middle adulthood and will remain here until I turn 64. Rusty was just beginning late adulthood. While dying at age 65 is considered young by today’s standards, having made it to late adulthood indicates a developmentally appropriate death. He made it to Erickson’s final stage.

Every stage of development has a psychosocial crisis.

I am currently navigating generativity vs. stagnation.

Rusty had made it into ego Integrity vs. despair.

I am heavy into my current conflict. I feel far too young to be stagnant and spend a lot of time trying to make a difference. Rusty’s brain cancer had rendered him severely impaired cognitively. He was like a young child. While this was hard for his family, I like to imagine that he was living his final days in youthful naivete. That his thoughts of integrity were centered around childhood fun and his despair was small.

I met Rusty in the early 1980’s. He was coaching my sister Johanna. I remember watching him coach in his short-striped running shorts. Copper colored hair and an obvious moustache. Coach Luti had retired and he was the beginning of the next era of coaching at CHS. I joined him in 1990 when I became the girl’s cross-country, indoor and outdoor coach.

We did not get along at first.

In my talks about returning CHS girl’s XC and track to former high levels, he was insulted, telling me I was calling him a poor coach. Our disagreements would span our friendship and coaching relationship but we became close. He understood me and I him. We balanced each other out.

He was a staunch supporter of me when I lost my job in 2011.

He was disgusted by what was done to me. He stopped by my house several times to make sure I was ok. He had a long-time connection to then principal Gene Connolly as they were both Springfield College track athletes and graduates. He visited him regularly after his own early retirement due to brain cancer and up through Gene’s journey with ALS.

He became privy to what had happened to me from the other side.

Like the good friend he was, he separated that from his interactions with both of us and focused on the good. He knew the real me and reminded me again and again the power people at the top can have on those who work for them. I will remember this aspect of our friendship forever.

We officiated together at UNH during several indoor seasons.

He was often the clerk and I was often the ticket writer. As his health failed, we would alternate these tasks so that he could spend a session sitting. We typically ate our lunch together. We would talk about the “good old days” of coaching and all those hours on the bus to and from meets.

He came to my wedding.

He and his wife Shirrill often came to hang out in our yard. When he got rid of his amazing camper, he gave it to us. We enjoyed hours in that pop-up, both in the yard and at campgrounds. I gave it to my cousin years later and it has provided hours of fun for his family as well.

Rusty survived two extremely aggressive brain tumors.

I was at CHS then and organized a Run4Rusty Road Race and put together teamCofrin at the Rockin’ Race. When Molly died, he dedicated his Pedaling for Payson ride to her more than once. That was us. We took care of one another. We were THERE.

Shirrill spent her middle years caring for him. She too had just entered late adulthood when she died. Her death was completely unexpected and shook her family. It still does. In one of the many connections in these kinds of things, her calling hours fell on the same day as The Bill Luti Race. I could not attend.

Nicole, Tim, and Brendan are all pieces of my story.

Like many girls through out my running career Nikki spent a significant amount of time driving around with me after practice. She had a lot going on and needed an ear.) I did this for Gene’s daughter Ally as well.) In his struggles during his young adulthood Timmy would often show up at my house and spend time with me. Brendan, I saw mostly at cross-country practice.

As I continue to navigate now being in my 60’s, I find myself deep into the generativity realm. Concern for others, especially those younger than me, and helping the next generation. Setting up a legacy. Stagnation, never a word in my reality is defined as not being involved in activities that benefit society. My book, podcast and Molly’s Foundation illustrate this stage of life for me.

I am left wondering what Rusty and Shirrill might have done were they healthy.

I do not like the growing number of people my age or close who are dying. It reminds me that I have far less ahead of me than behind me. Having said that, I imagine I will live into my 90’s which is 30 years away. Thirty years ago, I was thirty.

This makes me feel a bit better.

In 30 years, Gracie will be 52 and Jack 32. Had Molly lived she would be 50. Everything  will be ok.

Rusty,

Thank you for driving me nuts, for changing the lives of so many, for years of coaching, teaching, and officiating. Thank you for marrying such a gem of a human. Thank you for having three such amazing kids. You had a good run, literally and figuratively.

Barb

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