For the Love of Running

This is a letter I wrote to my former high school cross-country coach who has been diagnosed with colon cancer. At his age (Gosh! He’s probably more than 80 years old now), he is choosing not to fight it or seek treatment for it. I just learned this news this morning and wrote this letter for my mother to deliver to him for me.

Dear Mr. Ugly –

You know it’s a funny thing….maybe even a premonition, really….but the other day I was thinking about you and the speech you gave when you awarded me with the Coach’s Award in Cross-Country in the 10th grade. Then I started to recall the first time I met you in middle school when you started intramural track and field. I remember that cramped hot weight room in the basement of the middle school with its asbestos-covered pipes running above us. You introduced yourself but your name wasn’t important. You told us that we could call you “Ugly.” And ever since then I’ve only ever called you “Mr. Ugly.” Whenever I yelled out, “Hey! Mr. Ugly,” your response always put a smile on my face as you pushed up your glasses with your middle finger! Now today, I come back from a run to read an email from mom saying that you aren’t doing well and would I write you a letter. I immediately started to cry because not only do I still remember the first time I met you, but I remember all you have done for me throughout the years.

I think I can safely say that you are the first man I ever respected -and even now more than 25 years later, there are only a handful who gain my respect. You never yelled or screamed at us. You just wanted us to enjoy what we were doing. In middle school, you had a ribbon for every place we finished for every event. Even if it was last place, everyone got a ribbon. I have scrapbooks filled with those ribbons; even the shelves in my room back home are still lined with my running trophies. And the trophy I cherish most is that Coach’s Award. Maybe I wasn’t the fastest that year, but I had heart, I was dedicated and most of all, I had fun running! And because the trophy and accompanying speech came from your heart, it is still my favorite and most cherished.

How many finish lines have I crossed where you were there to catch me, literally, as I expended every last ounce of effort I had just to pass one last person near the end? One time I even vomited on you from pushing so hard toward the finish. You would catch me and hold me upright while walking around with me so I wouldn’t cramp up or fall to the ground. I can still hear you cheering me on, “Get ‘em, kid,” which only made me run all the harder, giving it all I had.

You helped me find running and running helped me with self-respect and self-esteem issues in middle school and high school. I passed running down to my sister and my mother. Even dad tried it for a few years. I went onto college and ran cross-country but I didn’t have a coach like you. After two years, I quit, telling him I could run anytime, anywhere, on my own. I didn’t respect him; he wasn’t a runner.

After Jody’s death, running helped me but I think it helped mom the most. In fact, I think it saved her although it made her a bit psychotic at times, I thought. And I’m still running to this day. I’ve been here in Ghana, West Africa for almost three years now with the United States Peace Corps as an agriculture volunteer, now a leader. I leave this country on June 3rd. I’ve run in the African bush to train for a ½ marathon in Accra, Ghana during which I had the time of my life – high-fiving spectators along the way, picking up and carrying off small children for a little ways, cheering on others as I passed them and even slowing my pace to run and chat with them for a bit – mostly just enjoying myself. My time didn’t matter – I finished strong and with a smile on my face! Even now during hot season when temperatures exceed 110 degrees (the hottest I’ve had on my thermometer is 132.5 degrees Fahrenheit), I get up nearly every morning and go for a run. I yell out my morning greetings to those I pass and take pride when women walking off to market with full baskets balanced on top of their head, tell me I’m doing well or raise both arms to show me the sign for strength. That’s what I’ve learned from you and the running you showed me – enjoy it! You don’t have to win; you don’t have to train for marathons; you don’t need to break records – you just have to have fun with it!

Thank you for all you’ve shown me, Mr. Ugly! And if someone hasn’t already noted your service to Montoursville Athletics, thank you for all you’ve done for all the sports teams there. I’m sure everyone misses seeing you in your yellow jacket on the sidelines of the football games or in the doorframes at the basketball games or jogging around the track with Mr. Shimp!!

God bless you and your family!!

Love always,

Cory Loudenslager

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MS Awareness Week...What's Your Stuff?

As we come upon the end of another Multiple Sclerosis awareness week, I have started to reflect on my life battling MS and how it has changed me and my life. You might think it's mostly bad, but I would say it's been for the good. It has taught me a lot about myself, my ability to adapt and my willingness to fight. I always had the extreme competitor gene in me thanks to my dad ( Miss you Dad) and it has taught me to know there maybe folks worse off than me and who need more help.

In the end it gave me the opportunity to give back and team up with my childhood friend Aaron and help others by founding SupportLocalStuff. Like battling the disease there has been the good and the tough. Our business has grown but still has a ways to go as we learn and find better and creative ways to help others. Our platform has helped many individuals, groups, teams, organizations and non-profits alike raise money for the things that are important to them, while helping us to raise money to benefit fighting what's important to me, Fighting MS.

I want to take the time to thank all those that have supported us in this venture but also have given us the opportunity and used SLS to help them to raise money for their stuff. But I want to also take this time to challenge those who want to help others or raise money for just about anything, to take your cause online with SupportLocalStuff and let us help you. What's Your Stuff?

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Welcome To Multiple Sclerosis

The white board in the office conference room became slightly blurry, by the end of the meeting it was very much a blur. That night the TV was nothing more than the fuzzy grey and white screen you see when you unplug the cable wire. My vision was gone in one eye. Welcome to Multiple Sclerosis.

My speech started to slur, first ever so slightly but personally noticeable. Quickly it got worse and numbness appeared in one side of my face. Odd sensations and a look in the mirror and my face was paralyzed on one side. Welcome to Multiple Sclerosis.

I was 31 years old and it was supposed to be some of the best times of my life. My wife and I had a brand new house, our first child was on the way and I was still competitively active in sports. The MRI and the doctors at this time could not confirm the diagnosis but in my heart I knew this was my introduction to the disease, this was my very own welcoming committee.

The next three years were a battle with coming back from the vision loss that never fully came back to 100%, it was 3 years of dealing with the residual effects of a face that never fully recovered and can be seen at times in photos. It could have been worse for sure and it always can be worse but times were good and with our second child on the way, I seemed to be back in stride. Nope not so fast, there it was again, I quickly lost my vision, this time in my other eye. Welcome to Multiple Sclerosis

A few MRIs, a spinal tap and other tests and I was diagnosed in 2009, I was 34 years old. At the time this to me, was not a time for grief. I had dealt with loss in my life, I lost my mother unexpectedly when I was 24 years old. It was somewhat of a strange relief to be honest, it was knowing I had a fight ahead of me, a battle for the rest of my life, but I knew my competition and I was ready.

Ahead of me at the time were injections every other day for my medication. Ahead of me were infections from the injections so bad that I couldn’t walk or move my arm. Ahead of me were more struggles and some flare-ups and some steroid infusions to help. But also ahead of me was the first oral medication on the market, successful MS research, ahead of me was great MRI results. Ahead of me was Multiple Sclerosis.

You look at me and like so many others on the outside we show no physical signs of the disease. I know that may not always be the case, the disease may someday define me somewhat physically but I will not let it define me as a person. I often wonder how much at this point I should tell my children, they know their Daddy takes medicine but they know me for who I am now although someday they may remember me differently but it’s all part of the challenge. Welcome To Multiple Sclerosis.

I still wonder from time to time what the future holds. The toughest thing about MS is the unknown, there is no textbook, there are no guarantees. With the support of my family and my friends this journey so far has led me to discover more good than bad. Sure, I wish for a cure. I wish we didn’t need fundraising efforts. I wish that I knew that I would always feel as well as I do writing this. But this whole journey has given me a tremendous opportunity to start a new business with my childhood friend that is centered around helping others support causes they care about while supporting a cause that is close to my heart.

I’m not one to waste time wishing. The thing that MS has taught me is to embrace the moment that I’m in. It’s taught me to look around at what I have, and not to wish my experiences away for what the future may or may not hold. I know now although MS may have taken away my ability to compete on the field and on the court, I will not let it take away me. My competitive nature will always carry me in my fight and my fight for others in this battle against MS. It’s a fight I believe that can be won one day. Welcome to Multiple Sclerosis, GAME ON!

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