Some one I knew and respected and admired died on Saturday -- Roger Camire, a man you may recall me mentioning from time to time in passing. He was a runner and owned a running store in town (Camire's Running Soles) and sponsored races and local events. He enjoyed receiving postcards from customers who traveled about -- I would try to make a point of sending picture postcards from my travels -- and when in his store, if the door to the stockroom was left open, I could see a postcard covered wall and spot one I'd sent from Honolulu or Vienna or Oslo...
Roger had a rough life but he was one of the happiest and most content people I've known. He'd grown up in New Bedford, a hard-scrabble blue-collar city in Massachusetts. Not the kind of place the Kennedys hang out. I can understand his childhood -- I was just a year older than him and I had grown up in a blue-collar neighborhood in Kingston, NY, a fading city on the Hudson River, both of us growing up in places that the post-war boom seemed to have bypassed.
Roger first entered a road race in 1980. I ran my first road race in 1982. Roger became addicted to the sport. I enjoy running -- no, sometimes I down right love running -- but I was never as serious a runner as he was. Roger also had to overcome more physical problems than I ever did. I've been lucky enough to have had good health -- despite the recent problems with bunions and fractured heels that I've complained about here, I've never faced and overcome the kinds of problems Roger faced and overcame.
Running, he would say, was a metaphor for life.
He had problems with anemia and scoliosis and celiac disease (an immuonological reaction to gluten that can damage the body's ability to absort nutrients, a potentially live-threatening affliction). Throughout this he ran road race after road race, not just 5ks and 10ks -- Roger also ran marathons, including the Boston Marathon and Rhode Island's Ocean State Marathon. He had to cut back on racing when he had to have an artificial heart valve -- not cut back on running, just on hard racing; he continued to run, just not as quickly as before, running just for the sheer joy of running, even taking up ultra-distance running. (I may have mentioned the time, maybe three or four years ago, when a group of us were talking about running at a family fun run night at URI -- which Roger helped to sponsor -- when he casually mentioned that he'd run to work earlier that week. Those of us who knew where he lived and where his store was located just shrugged, that was barely three miles. No -- he grinned at us -- he meant the other store -- a running store in Mystic, CT -- I'd guess pretty close to thirty-five miles from his home.)
He loved running -- sponsored a four mile race every year around the 4th of July -- Camire's Fire Cracker Four. There were very few races run in the South County area that did not have a Camire's ad on their race t-shirts. He gave discounts to kids who ran track or cross-country. If a local race were held early enough on a Saturday morning for him to be able to open his store on time, you were likely to find him working as a volunteer. He'd always call out encouragement (of course, if I were running with my daughter, he'd be telling her she could easily pick up her pace and leave me behind *grin*) For quite a while he wrote a column about running for a local weekly newspaper. Running was a family affair. Roger's wife, Mary, is one of the better women master (over 40) runners in New England, certainly one of the very best women master runners in the state, an avid runner who turns in truly inspiring performances. They ran their store together, usually with the company of one or more of their dalmations (who could also be seen going for a daily run with one or the other).
He once wrote "No matter how well you plan ahead, you must be able to deal with variables that will affect you mentally and physically. You only get out of it what you put into it. You must be prepared to deal with adversity as you encounter it."
This winter he was diagnosed with cancer -- Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma -- and he wasn't at the March Hare Hop (which he sponsored and promoted) because he'd had an extremely serious adverse reaction to chemo-therapy. He'd pulled through that. In the spring I was delighted to see him out running. Roger was always a very lean guy, the archetype of the fat-free runner physique, but now he was absolutely gaunt, but he was running in the spring sunshine. Later, with the typical Roger Camire sense of humor, he would claim that he had been stopped by the police -- he'd wait a beat for somebody to ask "Why?" -- and he'd reply "For impersonating a runner."
He hadn't been in the store lately -- if you asked about him the answer was "He's holding his own" -- not an optimistic outlook. A week or so ago I crossed paths with Mary on a neighborhood run and we chatted for a few minutes about the dalmations with her -- but I was afraid to ask how Roger was doing -- and I had been thinking about him on Saturday, worried that he wasn't going to make it.
He passed away at home on Saturday morning..
I stopped at the funeral parlor around six o'clock today. There was a large photo montage showing him at various races, wedding pictures, family pictures, a picture of the day he and Mary first opened their store -- and one of his proudest moments, when he was an offical tourch-bearer for the Olympic torch as it passed through Rhode Island.
Mary said to me "Just remember him when you run." And when I came home I changed from my suit into running clothes and went out for a three and a half mile run and thought about him and his spirit and courage and the joy he found in running.