"Hang in there Beck, you were made for this.” It was like he could sense when the pain was rushing in and I wanted to back off. My family has always been very supportive of my running goals. In middle school my grandparents drove me all over in their RV to participate in track meets, and my mom, well I don’t think she ever missed any of my races. But my Poppa’s voice was so pertinent, always shouting what I needed to hear just when I needed it.
As I grew in the sport his voice became ingrained, always over my left shoulder as if whispering the wily words of wisdom into my ear. I could feel him near, and when I would finish he was the first person I would call to let him know how the race went.
During my first marathon in 2008 at mile 11 “Today is your day, GO BECK!”, 18 “You’re in 3rd, but you can get second”, and 22 “Almost there, you’re going to do it Beck!”, I heard him and smiled as I passed through the miles, his voice so distinct. I will never forget hearing those words so clearly. As in this race I’ve heard his voice in many of my races, and training runs always just over my left shoulder. Poppa wasn’t in Austin with me that day, he was home in Ohio, but I knew he was with me. He always is.
So when my Grandpa had heart surgery in 2011, I was by his side every second I could be. I cheered for him in my prayers during the 8 hours of surgery, and I made him laugh all too soon in the ICU as soon as he was recovering. That night I had just laid down when my mom came in and told me Poppa’s heart had stopped. They were able to revive him, but we had lost him for nearly 7 minutes. Weeks later he was recovering in a nursing home when we brought him to Mom's house to spend time with the family and he told us his story.
He arrived in a place that he can’t recall the name of, he says it’s what people talk about when they talk about purgatory but it was amazing. He said it was beautiful, the colors were so vibrant that you could feel them not just see them. He said “they told me to step into the river and I would, I would see everything I had ever done in my entire life like a movie, but it all happened in a second. Everything good, and everything terrible. Then they told me to step out.” I asked who told him to do this. He responded, “my guardian angel, we all have one, they are a voice just over your left shoulder, you can’t see them, but they are always there.” Whoom, a wave of emotion knocked the wind out of me. I was gasping and beginning to sob while asking him to stop his story. I had never told anyone I heard his voice. I had never shared this because I thought it was just something I did in my head. I asked him to repeat himself so he did. Through sobs I explained that I have always heard Poppa’s voice over my left shoulder. Of course no one would find this as profound as I did, but it really struck me.
So I wanted a wing on my left shoulder, one to remember that the voice I hear is there for a reason, to listen a little more closely, and to breathe it in when I hear it. I relish in the moments it still surprises me. My tattoo is not for my grandpa as he hates tattoos, but for me. My tattoo makes a lovely tie between my running and being supported by my fellow birds, knowing you all are breathing life into my every step.