Christian Tackles his first Half-Ironman 70.3 Triathlon & Marathon for Riley
In memory of the 1-year passing of my niece Riley, I will be participating again in the second annual #TeamTKC: Powered by Eli’s Challenge 2022. I will be running my first Half-Ironman 70.3 triathlon in Hawai'i on June 5th and my first marathon at the California International Marathon on December 4th, among other races this year.
My race season has been off to a rocky start with some injuries hampering my training, but the physical issues have been nothing compared to the emotional struggles I've been processing through.
It's been a hard year of grieving for my family. Saying goodbye to Riley on that summer day in July when I left to return to California will always be the hardest moment of my life. I knew deep down that that would be the last time I ever saw her, and it was. Time stopped for me on that day, but unfortunately the world kept going.
I feel like I'm starting to catch up, but those moments of grief do hit like a wave, and will keep on crashing in forever more. It's just a matter now of learning to ride it out and continuing to swim through it now. (At least I'm getting good practice at that while prepping for the 1.25 mile swim leg.)
I'm grateful for the time I had with her. It was a tragically short time, with me moving 3 months before the start of the pandemic, just as she was reaching the age where her personality was really starting to emerge. But it was an inspiring time. I could tell she had a spark for life that I was blessed to enjoy in that last month I visited as the pandemic came to a brief reprieve.
Those last moments with her gave me a reminder to me to learn to love life, a hard lesson still long being learned, but one that will stay with me forever.
I've kept the eulogy I read for her below as a reminder for myself of what she meant to me, a reminder of the beauty of life. It's still a hard piece to read through, but it does give me solace to remember “how lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard”.
As always, live every day as if it were your last, be kind to yourself and to others, and let those that you love, know that you do.
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"When Riley was born, it was the greatest thing that had happened to our family. Finally, our family’s first grandchild to love, care for, and watch grow. I was so excited to be her uncle and her godfather and felt so privileged to be able to guide her in her life journey. I vowed I’d go to the ends of the world to do anything for her.
Deciding to move to California in late 2019 was not the ends of the world I quite imagined, but I thought it would be cool to at least be that uncle who brings stuff to his nieces every so often from whatever random place he happened to go.
Learning that we as a family would be facing our greatest challenge just as I was moving, though, made it the hardest choice I’ve ever made in my life. I figured I wouldn’t be able to be there for them as much as I would like, but at least I’d be able to come back every few months or so to help wherever I could. I needn’t say more, but as some of you may recall (and more likely are hoping to forget), 2020 had wildly different plans in mind for all of us.
Now, I don’t regret pursuing a life for myself out west these past few months (as, thankfully, my sister constantly reminds me to keep reminding myself of), I just wish I had more time to spend with Riley. But the time I did spend with her was precious and I will cherish those moments forever.
From the very beginning, Riley brought so much joy to our lives every day. I still remember cheering her on during her tummy times as she began to learn to crawl and hearing her joyful fits of laughter every time I’d throw her up in the air while we played. She was an immensely lively child, always singing, dancing, drawing, coloring, counting, learning, laughing, and loving. Always living her life to the best and fullest as she possibly could.
For those who know me well, memento mori is all I’d probably need to say in this situation to share what I’m thinking and feeling (and also for them to roll their eyes while knowingly nodding their heads). For those who don’t know me as well, let’s just say…don’t ask.
Roughly and loosely translated, memento mori means “remember one day you must die”. We as humans will all one day pass; however, with that in mind, we must strive to make every moment of our lives worth living. Marcus Aurelius summed up it well, “Do every act of your life as if it were the last act of your life”. (Think “carpe diem” for a happier, more positive take).
Near the end of her time here with us, Riley especially embodied that spirit. She lived for every extra day to play with her Play-Doh, watch her shows, and enjoy her time with her friends and family. She would always fight so hard going to sleep every night because she always wanted to do more. You could see how hard she pushed to make it to her 4th birthday just so we could all enjoy it with her one last time while she was with us.
So I want you to take Riley’s example to heart. Riley fought for each of her days and, I wholeheartedly believe, did everything she wanted to do in the time she had. We will best honor her memory by making sure we live our lives the way she lived hers.
Go see the world, learn anything and everything, make new friends, catch up with old ones, sit in a park by a stream and take in the sun and the breeze, or just simply hug a loved one. Riley won’t be able to do these things in this world any longer, but we still have that chance. All the things you haven’t done, all the things you haven’t said. Why haven’t you? Life is too preciously short.
But don’t get me wrong, whether you believe in Heaven, an afterlife, a place we return to amongst stars, regardless you must believe—you must know—Riley has moved on to a better place, a place where she is finally free from her pain and fears. She is at the most peace she can ever be and we should be so so so incredibly happy for her. She fought so hard and deserves her rest so much.
Before I left for California, I bought a picture with a Winnie the Pooh quote to put next to my door to remind myself whenever I’d leave home that day (not that I had left the house much during the last year and a half). It reads, “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard”.
This is hard. This is so incredibly hard. This is most likely the hardest goodbye many of us will ever have to say in our lives.
But how lucky—how incredibly blessed and lucky—we are to have known her to make saying goodbye so hard.
Rest In Peace, Rileybop. Godfather loves you forever and ever and looks forward to the day we play again soon."
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