This article was originally published on Kate Buskirk's website: See Kate Run.
Four years ago the running community suffered a devastating loss; my Duke teammates and I were on our way to the NCAA Indoor Championships when we learned that Sally Meyerhoff had been killed on a training ride in her home state of Arizona.
Sally served as my role model during our one year together on the Duke team (she, a 5th year senior; me, a freshman) and she continued to inspire me in the years that followed. Sally was formidable, and everyone who met her knew that they were in the presence of greatness. The way I remember her, the only time she wasn't laughing was when she had her game face on. She was a fierce competitor, never satisfied unless she knew in her heart that she had given her all. A few days before the 2007 NCAA Indoor Championships, Sally contracted a stomach virus that was so bad she was admitted to the Duke hospital. The rest of our team flew to Arkansas to prepare for our races, feeling sad that Sally wasn't joining us.
That year was my first NCAA track championship experience and I was the lead leg and sole freshman on our team's distance medley relay. Needless to say, I was overwhelmed with nerves. We headed over to the track a couple of hours before our DMR to cheer on our Duke teammates, and suddenly I saw a familiar runner striding down the track; Sally, who had been on IV fluids less than 24hrs before, was toeing the start line of the NCAA 5000m. She raced valiantly, and although her finish time reflected her illness, you would never know from looking at her face or body language that she was off. Her usual look of steely determination was intensified, and she threw herself entirely into that race, ever-proud to be a Blue Devil, ever-proud to be a runner, ever-proud to be a fighter. Watching Sally pull herself together for her team and for the love of her sport calmed me instantly. Our DMR didn't perform as well as we wanted that day, but I know that I raced as strongly and as smartly as I could, fuelled by the intense power of what Sally had demonstrated. On that day she embodied one of her philosophies in running and in life: Be Relentlessly Positive!
Almost exactly 4 years after she fought her way from a hospital bed to an NCAA finish line, Sally was struck by a car while on a training ride in AZ. The life of this beautiful, fierce, relentlessly positive woman was cut short; but not her enduring legacy. My teammates and I raced in her honour that weekend, and by channeling my inner Sally, I earned my first All-American title by placing second in the Mile in a new Duke school record. Sally was with me every step of that race, and hasn't left my side since.
very year at this time, I think about, talk about, and write about Sally: about her wicked laugh, her insane dancing, her incredible fashion sense, her unwavering loyalty, her inspiring sense of self, her passionate drive, her beautiful spirit and her immortal words. Be relentlessly positive. Every year those of us who loved and remember her dress head-to-toe in pink and animal print, go for a run, and reflect on that tremendous red-head who gave us so much. This year, I had the fortune of being in her beloved home state for this anniversary, and between the sun and the cacti I felt her smile.
I think its a beautiful coincidence that International Women's Day falls on the anniversary of her death. Sally is one of many who make me so proud to be a woman; a runner girl; a relentlessly positive athlete. In my darkest moments, I think about all of the strong women in my life and how their struggles have helped to shape them into the beautifully complex creatures I admire so deeply. Through the darkness and the light, I have tried to remain relentlessly positive--but because its hard sometimes, today I had her words inked on my skin so that all I have to do is look next to my heart, and I'll be reminded of the task at hand. Be relentlessly positive.