Culture

How One Runner’s Late-Father Is Still Her Biggest Fan

She started running with her father and continues to run now—with every step dedicated to the lessons he taught her along the way.

The author (middle) with her father and his granddaughters.
The author (middle) with her father and his granddaughters.

My biggest fan is my amazing and humble dad, Fred Bishop. From his inspiration, encouragement and example, I celebrated my fortieth year of running while turning sixty this year.

My father found fitness at age fifty when he saw a photo of himself. He described seeing a “middle-aging, thick around the middle, double-chinned” man/husband/father who was overeating. With conviction to change, he found a 6 a.m. jogging program at the Vanderbilt YMCA in New York City. He learned warm ups, cool downs, stretching and nutrition; things we take for granted today—like good running gear—were non-existent for joggers. Running shoes were ordered from Germany! He dropped from 175 to 150 pounds in 18 months.

Now imagine being me, a young slender teen, with a father running around the streets of Rowayton, CT in short shorts, a well worn t-shirt and a baseball cap. Mortified! I once denied it was him! There was a plus: When I drove him to the train at 4:55 a.m., I got the car.

By age 20, after a break up, I had gained 30 pounds. That is a lot of weight for 5’1”. My dad had the courage to have a “tough love” conversation with me, the same one he had had with himself and the dozens of people he was now teaching at the Y. It goes like this: “You are carrying more weight than your frame is built to carry. If it doesn’t change, health issues will result. Reduce calories and increase fitness.”

My first run was with him on those same streets. A slow mile that was difficult physically and emotionally. He believed in me. I didn’t yet believe in myself. Too often I ran for him.

By 1979, I was living in California and ran a 5K. Finishing triggered a belief in myself. By age 30 now 30 pounds lighter, I married a jogger, ran through three pregnancies, a full-time career, and earning multiple degrees at night. Then divorced, single parenting—also known as life. The strength to do it all comes from running.

On January 19, 2008, my father and I lived a mile apart in Chicagoland. He was 91. That day was deceiving with its brilliantly blue sky lit up with sunshine while a sub-zero wind chill factor kept most people indoors. By 6 a.m. I was dressed for my morning run, but didn’t take it. He was not doing well as a result of recently diagnosed bone cancer. I was in and out of his room, pacing the condo. Hospice came and left, and so did a dear friend who, at 3:45 p.m. ordered me to go run. I did. When I came back at 4:20 p.m., he had passed. Of course he waited until I did the very thing he knew would get me through. I ran.

Today I run-walk every day with gratitude and a smile. I’m planning for another 20-30 years, maybe more. Here’s to Fred, my biggest fan.