The Longest Day

Yesterday was the longest day of my life. Get ready for one hell of a story.

This story starts a few days ago. A group of us left Virton Sunday morning and headed to Brasschaat for our final track race of the year. It was a beautiful setting. Trees surrounded the entire track and the track itself was old and fast. I had told myself, unless I run 1:49.29 or faster (a standard Athletics Canada recognizes as “Development”) this was going to be my last race of the season. At about 4.15pm, on Sunday afternoon, I went for my warm up with Geoff Harris. I finished my strides and got on the line, ready for my 4th 800 in 9 days. I looked up into the heavens and said, “Run with me Nonno Vince (Grandpa)”. I actually don’t remember anything about the race. I remember the gun going off and I just sat in the back of the pack most of the race and eventually came across the line half a second faster than I ever had before in 1:49.28 (a new Personal Best and a new dilemma). I had to decide, should I stay and keep racing in Europe or go party and celebrate the season.

After the race a group of Canadians and Americans went to Gent for the largest street festival in Europe to pull an all-nighter. I was really excited to go but something was pulling me in another direction. I didn’t end up going to Gent and I didn’t end up celebrating. I know it sounds mystical but somebody was telling me that I had to get home and be with my family. Earlier that week I had booked a flight to Milan for Tuesday because my original plan was to go visit the motherland and then hit up Switzerland for a few days.

The next morning the voice in my head grew and grew; without talking to any of my family I knew my grandfather had only hours to live. A sense of urgency ran through my blood. I packed everything and at 1pm I was out the door for the last time and on my way to Amsterdam to try and get on a flight back to Toronto. It was a 3 h train ride. I ran around the airport looking for something… no luck. I had to decide whether to stay in Amsterdam or go back in Turnhout. I ended up going back to Turnhout. I got in at about 11:15pm. I opened up my email to see if my travel agent sent me any flights and there was this email from my brother:

Mikey...Nonno just passed away five minutes ago.  I m so sorry . Dad is in rough shape, pray for him.
I m going to the hospital now.  He passed while everyone was around him.
Call my cell phone if you need help and I can wire money.
But tell them there is a death in your family and you need to go home now.  My phone is on...

I gasped. All I wanted to do was be home with the family and I couldn’t. My new friends, and the closest thing to a family,  Leanna, Celia, Alicia, Geoff and Adam were there and were awesome. I called my dad from Turnhout and cried with him over the phone; death is such a painful process. I told him, “Dad, I’m so sorry I’m not there for you… I promise I’ll be back tomorrow night!” I got off the phone and looked at flights all over Europe to Toronto. I eventually found something leaving from Frankfurt (where my return flight was from) at 3:15pm. I knew that was the one. It was booked but my plan was to get to the airport, plea my case and fly standby.

I didn’t sleep much that night. My train was leaving at 6:04am and by this time it was about midnight and I had been traveling all day. I went into the chapel and just prayed. Probably a lot of the people reading this think prayer and God is a waste of time. All I’ll say, for now, is that prayer disturbs something about me. It feels uncomfortably easy. It makes me, a finite creature, feel in relation with something infinite. I slept for a little more than an hour and by 5:30am I was out the door, for the second, last time.

I got to the train station and booked my ticket from Turnhout to Frankfurt: 80 Euro for a 4 h trip. I ended up being put on the wrong train and went in the wrong direction. The panic started. I knew I had to get to the airport early in order to be the first one to fly standby. Long story short, the trip that was suppose to cost 80 Euro and take 4h ended up costing 140 Euro and took 7 h. I eventually got to the airport and ran as fast I could to Terminal 2-E: Air Transat. I was panicking but had faith and sometimes people deserve to have their faith rewarded!

I got to the front desk at 1:15pm and told them my situation. She took my name down and said I was going to have to wait till 2:15, when they close check-in, to see if there is anything available; I just kept saying, “I have to get on this flight. I’ll pay whatever I have to but I promised my dad I would be home tonight!” I ended up just pacing around for 1h. I sent a few emails to my family, letting them know the situation. I did 5 races in Europe and I was never nearly as nervous for those races as I was for this.

In Terminal 2-E I continued my praying. It was 2:15pm. I went back to the desk to find out my status. There was some commotion about someone’s luggage and the place was in an uproar. 2:30…still nothing. 2:45, problem resolved. Now, for me, Mr. Del Monte. She said, “it’s not looking good”. I asked her to call the people at the boarding gate and she did. I heard her say something over the phone in German but I recognized the word “Jump Seat”. I yelled, “I’ll sit anywhere… please… just let me get on this flight”. She said, “O.K. let’s get you on this.” We booked a new ticket and I had 20 min to get through security and get on the plan. I ran a new personal best from the check in to the gate – 800 m in 1:46.20.

I was the last one to make it to the gate and the young looking fellow taking the tickets looked at me and said, “Mr. Del Monte, ah yes, we’ve been expecting you, please enjoy your trip. Today you’ll be flying with us in Business Class.” I hadn’t smiled for the last 36 hours but I had cried a lot… so… I cried again. Joy can do that to you sometimes.

I was so thankful…

It was an excellent flight. I hadn’t eaten anything all day. I ate lots of food and drank lots of wine and did a few shots with John, the man sitting beside me, in memory of my grandfather. I didn’t sleep at all on the plane. I was the last one on the plane and the first one off. I ran to customs and sailed through. Went to get my bag and it was the 4th one there. I ran outside and my mom was there. I had emailed them in Frankfurt and told them about the flight and my flying standby and they just assumed I got it.

I eventually got to Guelph. 19h and 35m later.

The next 3 days are going to be rough but there is nothing more important than being with your family when the Road of Life becomes rough.

Thank you all for your thoughts and prayers. Here’s to Nonno Vince!

Categories: Running, story

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2 Comments on “The Longest Day”

  1. Vince
    July 29, 2009 at 3:30 pm #

    Welcome home champ! I’m glad Nonno got to run that PB with you and I’m sure he was laughing at you the entire time you were panicking knowing you would be rewarded with a first class trip home.

    cya tonight
    vince

  2. August 4, 2009 at 5:43 pm #

    Michael,

    Your dad has become a good long-distance friend and shared about the death of your grandfather. Thanks also for sharing your soul with us in this blog post.

    Glenn

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