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  • Writer's pictureJina Etienne


Running for Mom

smiling woman wearing a red birthday hat leaning over a birthday cake lit with candles
Lola's birthday

When I launched this blog, I had great plans. I wanted to share a number of stories, I had lists, and I created (what I thought was) a process. Uh…yeah, no. As I type this, I have 15 posts that I started but have yet to finish. Every time I “plan” to finish one, another memory pops up, and I end up writing about something else. That is what happened here.

This post was supposed to be about how things sometimes get harder to do as time passes. About how the stories in my head can undermine, interrupt or completely derail my efforts. As often happens when I write, each post ends up being organic, spontaneous and deeply connected to the emotions swirling inside.  As I was writing this post, the example that popped up was the time I decided to run a 5k.  It quickly became something more. Spoiler alert: the lesson learned is that we (eventually) stop stalling when the right motivation comes along.

The motivation behind my first 5k was the loss of my mom.  This is what poured out of me as I started writing about that experience.

The Race

In January 2012, I signed up for the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure. I thought it’d motivate me to start running. My exercise game was non-existent, so why not give running a try? It was scheduled for Mother’s Day weekend, so I had about 4 months to train. I downloaded the Couch to 5K podcast and hit the streets.  It was harder than I expected, and after the first week, I told myself that I just needed to take it a bit more slowly. I took a day off. Then another day off. Then another.  As time went on, the stories kicked in:

  • I can’t do this! 

  • I’m just not meant to be a runner. 

  • I need to lose weight first.

  • I don’t have time for this.  

They were all just excuses. And they worked. I abandoned the idea.


My mom decided to visit her sister in Albuquerque the previous Thanksgiving and planned to stay with her through Christmas. The week she was scheduled to fly home, she started experiencing back pain, something she’d struggled with for years. As it would turn out, the pain was from a cracked rib which was the result of lung cancer that metastasized to the bone and liver. For reasons unknown to me, she chose not to tell me.  So, I didn’t learn about the diagnosis until the end of January. I signed up for the race just a few weeks before I got the news. I took that as a sign from the universe validating my decision to give up on the race.  Her battle would be long and I needed to give her my full attention. 

I rearranged my work schedule so that I could work remotely. My plan was to go to Albuquerque to get a handle on the diagnosis and help her put together a treatment plan. At her first doctor’s appointment in early February, we learned that the best the treatment could do was slow down the progression. It was stage 4. Without treatment, she had around 4 months to live. With treatment, maybe 18 months.  They laid out her treatment options and walked her through the side effects. When we got to the car, she told me she didn’t want to fight it. That the physical and emotional cost of the treatment would essentially wipe away any quality of life. Without hesitation, I supported her choice and told her that I’d be there for her, take care of her and help her walk through this phase of her life with dignity and grace.

A week later, Gerard and the boys came to visit.  When we flew home, my plan was to pack up everything I’d need for an extended stay, then head back so I could be with her through the end. About 2 or 3 days later, I learned that she’d signed herself up for hospice care.  Wait, WHAT? I rushed back.

Although I’d been gone less than a week, by the time I got back she was no longer conscious. It was as if she was trying to quietly will herself to pass away quickly.

She passed away on March 6th, barely a week later.

I never got to say goodbye. 

Looking back, I suppose I can’t blame her for leaving so quickly. She was in pain. She knew what was coming.  But, at the time, I wasn’t so understanding. For many years, the pain of not getting to say goodbye was relentless. It has faded. Today, it only stings.

Side note: I thought I’d sneak in a quick reminder that this post was originally supposed to talk about how we get serious about doing that thing we keep putting off when the right motivation comes along.

Coming Up For Air

I finally came up for air toward the end of April.  The race was 2 weeks away.  I hadn’t been exercising. I never resumed the podcast training program. But none of that mattered. 

I ran the race.  

I dedicated it to my mother.  When I crossed the finish line, I was bawling. I also felt a sense of gratitude for being able to honor her in some way so soon after she died. Then another feeling washed over me - I was proud of myself.  Turns out I can do this. My weight wasn’t an issue, or should I say, it wasn’t an excuse (I did need to lose some weight, but that’s a story for another day).  When my perspective shifted, and motivation changed, so did those negative stories in my head. Poof! They vanished instantly.  Running felt purposeful. Doable. Meaningful. Not just because of my emotional connection to this race, but because of it it meant for me.  I was stronger than I gave myself credit for. I am a runner. 

And that’s when I got serious.

I went on to finish the Couch to 5k program and run a few races - each one to benefit a cause or charity.  I had to give up running about 7 years later, because of my knees. So, I shifted again and got a Peloton. It was delivered April 16, 2019, and I haven’t missed a week since.

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