Steve & Carolyn Mather were two of the most delightful people that I would see on the race circuit each and every year. Steve and I would always catch up at Boston and New York. I will not see my friend at the major races anymore, as he died recently, after a tough battle with cancer.
This piece was published originally in Running Journal (http://running.net/read_new/
Thanks to Carolyn for her tribute to her husband, Steve Mather.
A Man For All Seasons – My Steve
By Carolyn Mather RN PhD
I am utilizing my column this month to honor my dearly departed Steve. Steve was a giant of a man and, as over the years I have told many, a teddy bear or a grizzly bear. I have seen both bears but obviously the teddy bear was all mine. When I first met Steve he smoked three packs of cigarettes a day and weighed about 235 pounds. But it was love at first sight. We spent the first several hours after we met being soul mates but it took us a year to get down to being best friends and eventually husband and wife. was indeed a man for all seasons-an, engineer, a manager of GE plants, a runner, a Texas Hold Em wizard, a video game addict, a volunteer, a friend to all sorts of runners, an avid college football and basketball fan, a guy very much like my beloved Daddy and the absolute love of my life. When we first met we had both previously been married to another for 17 years. We agreed that marriage was a license to abuse, but within six months we were wed — as nervous as teenagers sweaty hands and all! And he managed to be the seventh brother in my ex-husbands family of six boys.
General Electric took us out of the south to the frigid northeast, but we only remained for a few years before Steve retired after 25 years with GE, and we sailed out of Boston harbor on our 42 foot Tayana on his 47th birthday. We were blessed to spend the next 25 years committed to running and traveling all over the world. We even lived on our boat for five years.
Steve started riding a bicycle to keep up with me, and I fondly remember the day when he had to walk his bike up a hill while runners streamed by him. It was only a few months later that he quit smoking. Living with him the next month was torture for everyone, but he never went back. That was the kind of guy my husband was. When he made a commitment he kept it no matter what.
While we lived in Boston before sailing away, he became fascinated with runners and we volunteered with John Hancock for a number of years making friends with runners from all over the globe. He was intrigued with their hard work ethic but their gentleness even in competing for large amounts of prize money. He became friends with so many runners, and at age 50 I caught him sneak running from our boat docked in Florida. He had decided to get in shape for skiing and in less than a week had injured himself. He respected my success in running and decided I could help him.
His first 5K was several months later at the Atlanta International 5K put on by Phidippides and won by Donna Combs (Garcia) and Arega Abraha. His goal was to not walk, not be last, and finish under 30 minutes. Mission was accomplished and he won a case of motor oil! At Peachtree that summer he had not even crossed the start line when our dear friend Uta Pippig won the race. Six months later he decided to become a marathon runner. I laughed and told him that he really did not have the body for it or the background. He then told me what every woman wants to hear. He would do whatever I asked the next six months if I would agree to coach him to run a marathon. Of course he made it much harder when he decided he wanted to break four hours. Despite hot and humid conditions he completed Grandmas Marathon in 3:57!!
Despite his late start, he ran a 21 minute 5K, a 42 minute 10K, a 1:44 half and seven marathons under four hours with his fastest being run in Venice, Italy in 3:37. When my Steve committed himself to a goal, it got done.
But the legacy he left this world was his love and devotion to me. Many of you can recall him on a bicycle at my side in many races. His racing career was less than 10 years as he developed arthritis in his lower back, but he continued to support me with his entire heart and soul. Often this past summer, I would hear him telling the nurses or doctors what a phenomenal runner his wife was, and how much devotion she had to coaching and sharing her knowledge and giving back to the sport. You would have thought I was an Olympian the way he talked about me.
Yet I am a rookie compared to my gentle bearded hippie guy who developed the aid station protocol for not only the 1996 marathon trials, but for the Olympic marathons in Atlanta and we continued to do this for several Olympic cycles at the trials. His engineering degrees aided him in developing a flawless system which is utilized to this day. He was truly loved by so many runners. His “adopted” daughter is the four time Olympian Colleen DeReuck. When she had trouble with the South African federation, he was at her side getting the job done so she could compete. His joy at her win at the 2004 trials as an American was a sight to behold! And he was right there for me when my Ryan Shay died at the 2008 Olympic Trials. He applauded the special friendship that Ryan and I had for way too short a time.
In fact the last person he talked with on the phone before slipping into unconsciousness was three time Boston winner and Olympian Uta Pippig. She called and chatted with him for quite a bit. He was thrilled. He had once beaten her in a 100-meter challenge in Berlin. He had calculated how long it would take her to catch him and then he set the distance.
Steve talked finances with many professional runners encouraging them to invest while the going was good. He would sit and discuss most any subject with anyone. He was not one to dispense advice but would gladly provide his insights and help when asked. Many people have remembered Steve for his intelligence and his willingness to share. Steve could be the life of the party but he was always observing and watching. He had very correct insights into most people and could read people and their motivations well. He volunteered all over the country and became close friends with all types of runners.
Steve and I shared everything in our 30 years together. I sometimes think we knew each other better than we knew ourselves. The last six months of his life were truly hell on earth. Yet he never gave up and planned all of our trips that we usually take each fall. One of his final acts was extracting a promise from me to go to all those events and enjoy our running friends. He never asked why me despite all the mistakes the medical community made. He worried more about me more than himself. I believe the pain we shared these last six months just made our love stronger.
I found a booklet from the Baltimore Running Festival a few weeks before Steve died. In it, starting the first day of this year he told me how much he loved me and then detailed all of our finances and other stuff. He spent several months putting that together for me just in case. I never saw him doing it, but he wanted me to go on and be happy and know he had provided for me. The last full year of his life he followed me around the country as I did a marathon a month to celebrate turning 65. We had such fun on the adventures and put many miles on our Prius going from race to race. He never complained about my obsession and was totally with me on every run every day. His grizzly bear side emerged if anyone ever crossed me. I used to tell him I should warn folks that I had a grizzly in my backyard.. I always knew he would be at the finish line waiting for me even when I started getting older and slower.
One of my very favorite Steve stories occurred shortly after we met. He went to a race with me and I lost the overall female title by a few seconds. He had never been to a 10K before and was a bit confused as to why people went out and did this to themselves. I was hot and sweaty and crying because I had lost. He looked at me and asked from his scanty running knowledge base why I was crying. I told him I lost and he quite matter of factly asked if this was the last 10K ever to be run. I looked at him and said “no stupid they have 10K races every weekend.” He sweetly then said “so why are you crying if there is one every week?” I learned a great deal about perspective that day and I stopped crying and won a race the following weekend. He loved all my plaques and trophies and placed each with reverence about our house. He even used my plaques to insulate his wine cellar. Our “cabin” looks like a trophy shop.
Steve lost his Dad at an early age due to a third heart attack and always thought he would be dead by age 46. I remember getting mad at him as he married me at age 44. He just laughed and said I would be a rich widow. He celebrated each birthday after that with a sense of wonder that he was still here. I always teased him that I was either his greatest blessing or worst curse as he managed to live 25 more years. I suppose it is so Steve that he died on the morning of his 72nd birthday. He insisted on no memorial but just to put his ashes in the Bahamas where we sailed for over six months. And he insisted when he passed that he leave our home in his favorite black Baltimore Running Festival tee shirt. He died in my arms in his bed and his pain is over. Mine will continue but I will fulfill his wishes and continue being with our running family. I know he will be watching over all of us. He was my best and favorite fan and I will so miss his sparkling blue eyes as he cheered me on always. Rest well my sweet angel and keep an eye on all of us as we run down the roads. And as he said to me every night before we went to sleep’ Sleep well my love!!”
Carolyn Mather, R.N. PhD. lives and runs in north Georgia and is a member of the Atlanta Track Club Elite. She can be reached at email@example.com. Carolyn writes a monthly column for Running Journal and this article appears in the November issue.
Top photo: Steve gives Carolyn a good luck kiss before the Tallahassee Marathon.
Bottom photo: Steve celebrating his 71st birthday at the couples home in Morganton, GA.