by Nancy Laythorpe
It all started with a simple phone call to my friend Sara: “Do you want to join the Running Room?” I had a lot of free time on my hands and Sara had just had her son William. We thought it would be a good way to spend some time together. We didn’t know what was in store for us.
We completed the Learn to Run training program and thought, “That was all right, let’s try the 10K program.” Now, we are both people who “used to run in high school,” but who were we kidding: high school wasn’t exactly last year! Anyway, we went into it with open hearts and figured it would be do-able.
We walked in on Tuesday night and recognized a few people from around the store, but then “she” came into the middle of the little circle: Irene. Talk about energy! This lady was old enough to be my mom, yet she had more going for her than anybody I knew. She was so excited to meet everyone and it made all of us excited to meet her. We went through the whole introduction and then headed out for our run. I think Sara and I giggled about her the whole time. Irene encouraged us all the way through the 10K clinic, and then without hesitation we followed her to the half marathon program. (Actually, she told us to sign up.)
As time went on, it became clear that we had made a friend – a very special friend. Irene was more than a clinic instructor. At times, she was a second mom. She made the sun shine for you on days you didn’t see it, and she never stopped believing in you. She would give up a day running for her own training in a heartbeat to run with you instead. When Sara was five months pregnant, Irene ran a half marathon with her. Somehow, even hill training was great when you were with Irene.
It was a sad day when we learned that Irene had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Sometimes you wonder how it could happen to someone like her. But, she looked at it in the face and said, “Boy, did you choose the wrong body to hit.” She had her tough days, like anyone would, but she never dwelled on it.
In an effort to make her feel as great as she had always made us feel, we held the first annual “It’s All About Irene” run. This was inspired by her famous catch phrase, as every night she would remind us that we were all there because of her and that “It’s all about Irene, people.” We raised some money to donate to the hospital where she was getting her treatments and all her friends and family were in attendance. The sun was shining and it couldn’t have been a nicer day.
Irene toughed it out for as long as she could, but she couldn’t overcome the cancer. Everyone at the Running Room lost a very special friend. It’s hard to sum her up in a couple of paragraphs – I’ve only lightly touched on what kind of person she will always be to us. When I’m out there in the pouring rain or blowing snow, I know it’s because she told me that means I’m a real runner. I think the most important thing that I want to let everyone know is even though her memorial run is called “It’s All About Irene,” it was actually always about us. She will forever be a legend and she will forever be missed.