For 40 years, Susan Love has run almost every day. In that time, running has evolved from a hobby to a career—and then to a way of channeling unfathomable grief.
“When I started running, it was considered a crazy thing for women to do,” says Susan, age 62, the program administrator for Just Run, a youth fitness program created by the organizers of the Big Sur Marathon in Susan’s hometown of Carmel, Calif. “But nothing has helped me more significantly—mentally, emotionally and physically.”
In 2005, Susan’s son Brian, then a 22-year-old senior at the University of Virginia, died in a snowboarding accident. At the time, both mother and son had been training for marathons, though Brian had hoped to surprise his mom with his plans. Despite her grief, Susan decided that finishing the marathon might be therapeutic, especially when triathlete daughter Amy offered to run part of it, too.
“We crossed the finish line holding hands,” Susan says.
Brian’s classmates chose a similar outlet for their grief, hosting a 5K (3.1-mile) race they dubbed “Run in the Name of Love.” For the next four years, Susan traveled to Charlottesville, Va., to participate in the annual event with his friends, with whom she remains close.
In the meantime, she left her job at an elementary school to join Just Run full-time. The web-based program aims to supplement shrinking physical education programs and get schoolchildren interested in running. Last year, its 6,000-plus participants logged more than 200,000 miles.
“We have to plant the seed,” she says. “The goal is to let the kids have fun and give them a little incentive. When they get their tokens, you’d think they’d won the Olympics!”
Just Run, which also organizes a biannual 3K, has kept Susan plenty busy, but recently her thoughts turned to her son’s race. Once most of Brian’s classmates graduated, no one had picked up the reins.
“His race was falling by the wayside,” she says. She recalled that the City of Carmel used to hold an annual 5K, and by chance one night ran into the social center director, who encouraged her to bring Run in the Name of Love to Brian’s hometown. The race will make its California debut on Father’s Day, June 19. Participants are encouraged to run in honor of a loved one, and a tribute book will collect names and memorials.
In the meantime, Susan keeps lacing up her shoes almost every day, sometimes heading to Brian’s favorite beach to think about him, and other days just trying to stay in motion.
“Running has been a great gift,” she says, “and it’s a gift that’s been given to all of us.”