by Bob Godman
Amanda Near, my granddaughter, is a real angel to me. She meant a lot to me and others. She was a generous person as a child. She gave money to street people when we took her to Chicago museums. She sponsored a fundraiser for the local dog pound. She was a cheerleader captain and an honor roll student; but, as a senior, dropped out of school. The reason was unknown to me. But, she kept up her studies and continued exceeding expectations. After completing her GED, she enrolled in Sauk Valley College. And, working for Cellular One in Dixon, Amanda was the leading sales person.
On December 21, 2006, Amanda was running late for work. In a hurry, she jumped into her car neglecting to clean her windshield completely. My granddaughter hit a trailer parked on a side street in Dixon to devastating consequences. As a petite person, the air bag ruptured her spleen and she bled to death before help could arrive.
Our lives changed the day we lost Amanda.
Being such a thoughtful and giving person in life, Amanda’s younger brother and sister knew she would want to give all she could in death. And so, their mother agreed with them on what to do with her organs. It was decided that Amanda’s lungs, kidneys, eyes and liver were donated so that others could better enjoy their lives.
Five years earlier, in 2001, I’d been diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. My doctor told me there was no cure, but eating healthy and exercising would help me live longer. So, I started running regularly, and ran the Chicago Marathon at age 61.
I’d been a runner when Amanda’s mother was in high school track to keep her enthusiasm up. And, here I was decades later, running off and on with Amanda when she was on the high school track team! We raced together occasionally, too. For example, I wanted her to run a 5k at the prison so she could see what life was like for the inmates. She had the prisoners in stitches with her double jointed stretches!
The year after we lost her, I decided to run the 2007 Red Shoe Run in memory of Amanda. My wife, Carol, also decided to join me and did the 1-mile walk in her honor.
It was cloudy and in the low 40’s at the start of the race at 8 a.m. when I stood in the rear of the pack. Completing the first mile at a 9:23 pace, I felt strong. As that was a good time for me, it lifted my spirits. I thought to myself, “Maybe, just maybe I can win a medal for Amanda!” I reached the second mile at 18:09, and prayed to Amanda to give me strength to hold my pace. I knew that last year’s third place winner finished in 30:19, so I really felt I had a fighting chance. At the two and a half mile mark, I started to run out of gas. I passed a lady struggling and told her, “Hang in there! We only have a short distance left!” She saw my sign and yelled after me, “Go for it!”
That’s when I started tearing up.
But I felt Amanda’s spirit among us, and my energy returned. I kicked it up another notch. Then her first 5k, a race around Dixon Prison, flashed into my mind as I hit my closing stride. We ran together that day, and I remembered how much she impressed the prisoners with her pre-race stretches. I floated the last half mile on this memory.
As I passed the finish line, the clock read 28:09! I did it!
I began wondering, “Could I really have been blessed with a third-place age group finish for Amanda?” That really would be such a remarkable gift!
As I cooled down, Carol and I waited for the awards ceremony. As we stood there, a man with www.giftof hope.org came up to us and asked if he could take a photo of my sign. “Sure,” I said, happy to be asked.
Then a funny thing happened. I went over to speak with a nice lady from donor services about possibly putting Amanda’s photo on their “Tree of Life.” As I did this, my wife spoke with a nurse, who happened to read my sign for Amanda. “I babysat Amanda’s corneas over the holidays,” she said. What an amazing coincidence to run into her here, on this day. The day I ran for Amanda. “The corneas were given to people after the holidays,” the nurse continued. “They were beautiful.”
But, the miracles that day continued.
As the race officials began announcing the standings, even my wildest dreams for the day would have fallen short. It turns out I did place in my age group that day. In fact, I won first place in the 65 to 69 age group that race. I don’t take any credit for that one, though. My legs may have been the ones that were doing the moving, but it was Amanda that carried me that day. That was Amanda’s win all the way.
While I often come in second or third, I’ve yet to achieve a first place age group win as I did that first special race. But I run the Red Shoe race every year, talking with Amanda as “we” run. She never leaves my side.