Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Chapter 71: My Introduction to Lori McKee (25 Years Together...Our Silver Anniversary)

Too often it's considered one...however, in my opinion it's not showing weakness to admit and openly express your love when you care deeply for someone who gives you so much...We should enjoy every day that we have with the one's we love...In celebration of our 25th wedding anniversary here is chapter #71 (double click on the photos to enlarge)...

Chapter 71:     My Introduction to Lori McKee

Interview after winning the
1983 Atlantic 10 Conference
Cross Country title as a freshman
at WVU.
In the spring of 1985 I was finishing my sophomore year on the WVU track & field team when we traveled to Williamsburg, VA for the Colonial Relays. One of my high school rivals and friend was Joe Wilson. He was attending Virginia Tech, who was also in attendance of the Colonial Relays.  I remember standing along the W&M track talking to Joe and watching an incredibly beautiful girl running the 5,000M in a Virginia Tech uniform.  I asked Joe about her and he told me, "Lori McKee is her name".  After she finished racing he introduced us as she walked by to go warm down.  As she walked away, I looked at Joe and simply said, "WOW"! Little did I know at the time that it would be the first time I met my future wife. 

Working in the timber business
with my family.
As the semester came to a close I decided I would transfer to another school (See chapters 50-55). Joe invited me to visit him in Blacksburg, VA the home of the Virginia tech Hokies.  Since school was out for me at WVU, I was already working for my dad alongside my brothers and cousins in his timber business. I decided to make the trip south and visit Joe.  I got off work Friday afternoon, crammed in a run with my brothers and a few friends, jumped into the shower and then headed my little gray, $1200 Ford Fiesta south.  

As I drove I had to keep my feet planted firmly on the floorboard due to a rusted hole below the clutch pedal. If I didn't keep my feet on the floor the air from under the car would push the floor mat upward causing dirt and dust to fly up into your eyes.  It didn't matter to me, that little grey car ran well, got great gas mileage and got me where I needed to go.  However, I always kept a pair of running shoes in the back...Just in case. 

The New River near
Pearisburg, VA
I met Joe in Princeton, WV and then drove the 45 miles across RT 460 to "the 'Burg".  Rt 460 parallels the New River for much of the drive and I was drawn to the mountains and the New River as we drove.  The mountains were big and I certainly fell in love with them on the spot. As we drove I was reminded of the Wyoming Mountains and rivers my brothers and I hiked each summer. 

Later that evening, after arriving in the 'burg, Joe and I went to a team party where NCAA All-American 10K runner Mark Stickley and several of the other graduating VT seniors were the honorees.  The party concluded around 3:30AM and not to sound judgmental, but I was not impressed to see so many on the team up so late.  

As we left the party, everyone started shouting to each other, "B-Y-O-N at 6:00AM".  As we walked away, I asked Joe what "B-Y-O-N" was and he answered; "it stands for Bring Your Own Number".  He explained, "it's tradition here that on the morning of graduation the team does a run called B-Y-ON where you Bring Your Own Number."  I thought to myself that on 2.5 hours sleep there would be about 3 people show up for this team run and Joe and I would make up 2/3's of the group.  As morning arrived to my surprise nearly 40 men and women from the track & cross country teams met in the Derring Hall parking lot at 6:00AM sharp ready to run a ~10 mile route called "Mansion".

I was excited to begin.  These men and women were obviously serious about their running.  They stayed up late on graduation night but everyone was there with their favorite race number pinned to their shirt ready to run.  This was a group that I could really see myself being part of.  This was a team!  This was exactly what I was looking for in my college experience: serious, dedicated men and women. 

Then, just like on one of those 1980's movie's I looked around I saw Lori McKee walking across the parking lot with her roommate Janice Oswald. For me, as she walked, everything went into slow motion. Lori's hair was blowing in the slight wind and she had a cup of coffee in her hand and a smile on her face.  Again, I thought, "WOW"!

As we began to run I couldn't believe how much talking there was among team members.  I hung towards the back still feeling a bit of an outsider.  The run was about 10 miles in length and I spent at least the first half running with 800m runner, Joe Wilson...strategically placed behind Lori as she ran.  Oh yea, you know what I'm talking about!

By the 5 mile point the pace quickened and I was antsy to move to the front pack.  Joe said to go and I did. I ran with the front 5-6 men and finished the run with a smile on my face.  This was a team...This is what I wanted in my college experience...A serious group of runners!  This was a place I could really call home.  I went home later that evening and began to talk to my family about my visit, the mountains and the team. That fall I transferred to Virginia Tech.  

It was the VT Preseason XC Camp in early September of 1985 next time I saw Lori.  She arrived midweek at Camp Powhatan, a Boy Scout Camp in Hiwassee, VA we used for preseason, to say hello to former teammates. I recall everyone talking with her as she sat in the camp dining hall.  Although I was looking her direction often we never spoke to each other.  

Our next meeting was in late September. Lori was doing her student-teaching that trimester and therefore was not on campus. Our VT Coach, Todd Scully had several of us redshirting.  I was required by the NCAA to sit a year due to my transfer status, so coach had a group of us entered into the Virginia 10 Miler in Lynchburg, VA under his Jock Shop Racing Team. At the time it was one of the most prominent road races in the U.S. with many of the big names in attendance. We arrived late that night after Friday classes and most people wanted to simply go to bed.  Personally, I wanted to see the entire 10 Mile race course.  My high school coach (Jerry Rae) always stressed how important it was to know the entire course.  After all he said, "how can you race it if you don't know where you are going or what's around the next turn".  Words I lived by throughout my racing career and continue with athletes I coach even today.

Back in the day...
As we arrived at the hotel, there were only 3 people who wanted to actually preview the course by car that night: me, another teammate and Lori McKee.  She drove to the race by herself and said she certainly wanted to see the course, so off we drove in her car (A small light blue Ford Escort that had a bad habit of shutting down abruptly at stop lights).  As we followed the race course there were a couple places that we got turned around (off course) and before we knew it we had been searching to complete the course for nearly 60 minutes and still unsuccessful.  At the time there was a point about midway through the race course that included a one-way street that you could not drive down.  I was adamant that we see the entire course and at this point the strange girl driving the little light blue Ford Escort car wanted to cut the course preview and head back to rest at the hotel.  I looked at Lori with the look of, "who the heck are you"?  Let's just say I was less than happy and Lori was less than happy by the end of the course tour. I remember thinking, “Seriously, who’s ever heard of cutting the course preview short?”

The next day the race went great, even though I did not get to see the entire race course as Coach Rae taught us.  I broke 48:30 on the really hilly 10 Mile race course and finished in the top 7 with the race winner none other the Australian World Marathon Champion, Rob DeCastello. It was a great race with the entire VT crew all running really well.  Lori also ran well that day finishing in the top 15 women.

West Virginia's
Grandview State Park
on the New River.
From here our little love story has a break.  I completed the semester and never saw Lori again throughout the fall...She graduated after the fall trimester and moved home to northern VA where she was working for an engineering firm doing some CAD system work for them.  I was still in my year of residency as a transfer student, so Coach Scully was trying to provide racing opportunities through road races.  My times were dropping like a stone including a sub 23:10 effort for a certified 5 mile race sponsored by Fink’s Jewelers in Greensboro, NC in November where I won a Rolex watch valued at $2,500.  I recall looking at the watch and claiming it didn’t even have a stop watch function (Eventually it was of use to me. I sold the watch roughly a year and a half later to my sponsor and Adidas rep, Rusty Buchanan for $500 to purchase an engagement ring for Lori.). Life was good and I was really enjoying my time with my new teammates and running fast.  My day was structured as follows: up at 6:00AM to run, followed by breakfast, classes, an hour of aerobics, afternoon practice, dinner, followed by studying, off to sleep by 10:00PM...Run, Eat, Classes, Run, Eat, Study, Sleep… after day after day after day.  I had no steady girlfriend which equaled no distractions...period.  My life was complete and totally focused on one thing and one thing only: running FAST and living the dream!!

As the fall moved to winter and winter moved to spring it was time for our annual team trip to Florida for spring break. It was Friday, March 7, 1986 when our team started loading the vans to drive to Florida.  I'd been on enough trips to know that you needed to be early to claim the best seat for a trip of that length.  I arrived and climbed into the back seat of one of the van's... propped my feet up and covered my head as if I was sleeping.  This is usually enough to keep most people from jumping in the seat with you.  My goal was to have the entire backseat to myself so I could sleep my way to Florida.  I was pretty excited because team members told me we were staying on the beach in Jacksonville, FL. No one knew it, but I had never been to the beach before...Literally I had never walked on a sandy beach in bare feet or seen the sun rise over the ocean.

Everyone was loaded when Coach Scully started the van.  I thought, "Yes, I made it and have this seat to myself".  As Todd started to pull away I heard people in the van yelling to him that someone was coming across the parking lot.  The doors to our van opened and in climbed none other than...Lori McKee.  She had no place to sit except the back seat next to me.

As she climbed into the back seat we exchanged somewhat pleasant greetings with each other, but as I did I couldn't help but think about the previous September, 6 months earlier, when because of her I did not get to see the entire Lynchburg 10 Mile course.  Oh boy, yes she was good looking but this was going to be a long, long ride to Florida.

We each retreated to our corner of the backseat and tried to sleep.  By the time we got an hour down the road to the NC state line she had worn out her side of the backseat trying to get comfortable.  As she tried to get comfortable I asked her if she would like to lie down.  I moved to the extreme right of the seat and she put her pillow next to me laying her head down.  As I looked at her we began to talk.  At first we talked about where we were each from.  She seemed to be genuinely interested in my West Virginia roots and before I knew it we were in South Carolina and then Georgia...Neither of us stopped talking...Neither of us slept...I couldn't believe how much we had in common and our common interests.  We spent nearly 10 hours of simply talking to each other.  I never knew talking to a female could be so easy...and I'd never met anyone who would simply listen with interest.  It was obvious she was special...It was obvious she was amazing...In that one van ride with her to Florida, everything...everything began to become obvious.

As spring break continued, Lori celebrated her birthday.  She invited me to meet her on the beach that March morning in 1986 at 5:45AM to watch the sunrise over the ocean.  Something I had told her on the van ride I had never seen.  I set my alarm and woke up before it even went off....When I walked down to the Lobby of the hotel there she stood holding a cup of coffee and a smile on her face as she asked me, "are you ready to see the sunrise".  Right then and there I concluded you know if a woman is beautiful if at 5:45AM she looks amazing.  And let me tell you as I looked at Lori standing in the lobby with her 1980's runners shorts and that red sweatshirt she was wearing I was trying to play it "cool" but I was thinking about just how attractive she really was.

We sat on the beach, watched the sunrise and continued to tell stories.  We laughed and then laughed some more.  Then, as if on cue, we looked at each other and realized it was time to go run.  As we began to date very few people even knew.  We hardly ever talked to each other at practice because we both had complete focus on our workouts and our purpose.  Every day I would try to run fast enough to impress her. I remember doing a workout on this same trip with Steve Pinard.  Steve was another Adidas sponsored athlete who I lived with and a sub 13:45 runner in the 5,000M. The workout was 16x400M with 1 minute recovery. Steve and I ran the workout together and averaged under 59 seconds for all of them...I had never ran a workout that fast and it was simply because Lori was on the track at the same time and I wanted to impress her.  Heck, she was likely not even aware of what I was running at the time.  However, no exaggeration on the times of that workout, we rolled it.

Over the following months Lori and I grew closer and closer...finally admitting to each other that we indeed loved each other.  We decided we would go to the Montana and Wyoming Mountains that summer to spend a couple weeks backpacking while chasing native cutthroat trout with a fly rod throughout the snowcapped peaks outside of Red Lodge, MT. As we packed our backpacks and the car we both threw in a pair of racing flats.  As we laughed I said, "You just never know when you'll need these" as I referred to the racing flats. 

My look in 1987 while
backpacking in Wyoming
We hit the road and drove west spending 10 days in the mountains living on not much more than wild trout and oatmeal.  Trust me, if you want to know someone, especially a female, take them backpacking for 10 days without a warm shower and only camp food made over an open fire or a Whisperlite Stove.  Also, if you want to know if a female is truly beautiful, take her backpacking for 10 days without a warm shower and no mirror. This trip confirmed for me that Lori was beautiful in every way...every day.  I said to myself, "WOW". It was obvious she was special...It was obvious she was amazing...Everything...everything was obvious.

Lori in 1988
As we headed home from Montana, driving south through Wyoming, we decided to stop in Boulder, CO to visit with some running friends.  At the time, Boulder, CO was the place to be if you were a distance runner.  We stayed in our first hotel in over 10 days in a small town called Steamboat Springs, CO.  The next morning we got up to see a donut store down the street from our hotel.  It was 7:30AM when we walked through the doors wearing our typical running clothes.  Lori ordered coffee and I ordered us a dozen of their finest.  As I paid for the coffee and donuts and began to take a big bite out of a jelly filled the owner looked at us and said, "You in town for the race?"  I pulled the donut back from my mouth as Lori and I looked at each other and looked back at him and in unison said, "Race, what race?"  He pointed out his window and said, "There's a 5K race this morning at 9AM, right down that street."  Lori and I both got a grin on our faces as I said the owner, "We are now" as we closed the donut box.   

circa 1986
We dropped the donuts in Lori's brand new white Toyota Corolla and proceeded to register for the race.  As we did, they asked if we wanted to enter the couple's race category.  "Why yes, yes we do", we said.  When they saw where we were from they began to tell us about the local couple who had NEVER been beaten in the couple's race.  Both Lori and I stiffened our spines at this news and never said another word to each other.  She went and did her thing and I went and did my thing as we locked into race mode.  It was funny how quickly we both switched gears and became focused on racing.  As we put on our racing flats she looked at me and said, "You're right, you never know when you need a good pair of these".

After registration, the race had about 400 people total and the couple we were to lock into battle with certainly were well known based on how they were greeted by everyone as they pranced around before the race. I was sizing the guy up and I’m sure Lori was doing the same for her side of the competition. The couple's race category winners would be determined by adding the male and female times together.  The couple with the combined lowest total time would win, so we both knew every second would count. As we went to the line neither Lori nor I said another word after putting on our racing flats.  We didn’t need to, we both knew what what had to be done.

Winning my 3rd
Charleston 15 Miler...
this one under 1:15:00
The race was an out-and-back 5K at nearly 6,700' elevation.  When the gun sounded I took off hard and it was clear early on the male portion of the famous couple was a dud.  I never saw him.  As I made the turn around I saw Lori was in a battle but by the end she had pulled away to win the women's race by nearly 20 seconds and I had won the men's race by nearly 90 seconds defeating the male portion of the duo by nearly 2 1/2 minutes.  As we waited for the awards ceremony they had a special door prize drawing for a running suit made out of a fairly new product to the running industry called Gore-Tex.  This new product was waterproof, very expensive (especially for two college kids) and the talk of the running world.  As the crowd talked up the Gore-Tex running suit, the announcer said, “We have a winner”…as they drew race number #347. “Lori McKee, Blacksburg, Virginia”, the announcer called.  “We have a winner?”…Yes, we do have a winner I thought.

As they proceeded with the awards ceremony we both won the overall race titles, along with the couple's category and the grand door prize drawing. It was a simple small town race but as we walked away with trophies, gift certificates, free shoes and the Gore-Tex rain gear in hand I remember thinking I knew no one else who would spend 10 days in the high country at 10,000 feet living on wild trout to come down on the fly to run their guts out in a fairly low key race so we could win a couples race.  It might have been low key to some people but for both of us, once we started our race warm-up, it might as well been the Olympic Trials because our intensity was the same and our intent was simple: WIN.  I thought to myself, "WOW, she really likes to win", which I heavily prefer over the alternative. I don’t care what anyone says, winning is always, always better than losing and there is nothing either of us detests more than losing.  Again, it was obvious she was special...It was obvious she was amazing... Everything... everything was obvious.

As we entered the fall, Lori accepted a teaching position in Chesapeake, VA while I began my VT career in uniform following the year of NCAA residency following my transfer.  Running was amazing that year capped off with a 3rd place finish in the NCAA DI Championships 10K in Louisiana (LSU) and my 5K and 10K track marks dropped under 13:50 and 28:50 respectively.  However, Lori was 5 1/2 hours away in Chesapeake, VA and it was miserable for us both. That's when we knew for sure that our futures were meant to be united and our life's circle would begin.  A year after our Montana/Wyoming trip on July 25, 1987 we married in her church in Annandale, VA prior to my redshirt senior year at VT.  On that 102 degree July day my beautiful bride walked down the aisle with her dad and I stood there thinking how amazing she was. As I stood at the alter I turned to my teammate and Best Man, Tom Harding as she walked towards me and simply said, “Wow”.

As we turned to leave the alter and exit the church, we stopped at the front row of pews where we each placed a pair of white Adidas running shoes. We paused and changed from our formal dress shoes into the new running shoes, provided by our then sponsor.  No one knew what we were doing until we tied my right and Lori's left shoe together in multiple knots and then started running with three legs out of the church. Those Adidas shoes are still tied in a knot and sitting in our living room and will never be untied.  We are still laughing and that marked the start of our journey... 
We tied our Adidas running shoes together in multiple
knots on July 25, 1987 and ran laughing
with 3 legs out of  the church.
Hard to do in a dress and tuxedo.
Those Adidas shoes are still tied in a knot
and still sitting in our living room.

Lori, Luke and me.
That was 25 years ago today and I find her even more amazing now. It truly seems like yesterday with so many memories vividly etched into my mind.  The countless races and travel around the world, the teams and athletes we've coached and the laugh's we've had and continue to have are all ours.  Those are memories we've made...memories that we've made together.  

1 comment:

  1. Great story! I really enjoyed the read, especially the part about the couples race. Congrats to y'all on 25 years! Oh, and sub-48:30 on the VA Ten Miler course is rollin'!