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How running helped a man mourn the loss of his one-year-old son



I didn't know how much I wanted to have a third child until my wife Shauna told me she was pregnant. When Duncan was born in September 2016, our other children James (8) and Lia (5) immediately adored him and life felt magical.

But when Duncan was only three months old, he got a slight fever and then a stain on his leg. He was hospitalized within 24 hours and diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. We were scared but hopeful. After two rounds of chemotherapy, Duncan went home full of smile and strength, but fell back five weeks later. He died on October 16, at the age of only 13 months.

The first month without Duncan is still a blur. The pain of losing your child is all you think multiplied by a million. Shauna and I were completely destroyed. We were lucky to be surrounded by friends and family who brought us food and helped with the children, but the grief was unshakable.

  Man takes selfie in front of the landscape

Courtesy of SEAN O’MALLEY

Then two of my best friends texted me to invite me for a hike. I wasn't a hiker and I don't know what made me do it, but I agreed to one condition: make it difficult and get me to the highest point you can. I wanted it to hurt and it did, but it was the first time I noticed that I felt better about being outside.

The invitation to the half marathon

I fought for several weeks, especially when the world seemed to move everyone else except us. Then another buddy wrote that he would sign up for a half marathon. Would I join him? I hadn't run in years, but found a training plan in a log and stayed with it.

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Everything from trips to the grocery store to watching TV felt so pointless, but when I started running I somehow found a lot of sense in it. Especially when I started pushing myself past where I felt comfortable. Sometimes I was so overwhelmed with the thoughts of Duncan that I had to let myself fall apart, but most of the time my runs made me feel harder, freer, and more open to the goodness of the world. I would come home exhausted but inspired by the training as if I had meditated and was now full of new ideas and even hope. But like a drug, that feeling would subside and make me start again the next day.

It's something to just keep going.

Running became an obsession. My method of dealing with an endless heartache. I have started taking part in full marathons and will never forget my fight for the last big hill in a race in San Francisco. My legs hurt so bad I couldn't go on, but I pushed myself through the pain. It is these moments that teach me the most. As much as I don't feel able, I can see my body shift into a new gear and then another when I keep putting my foot in front of the others, even if I want to pass out. I can mourn Duncan and be perfectly balanced, but if I keep moving I can survive.

  Sean with his young son Duncan in the hospital

In his 13-month life my son Duncan endured many challenges.

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The Setback

On the way I suffered several injuries, including a stress fracture in my foot, which forced me to stop walking for five weeks. I drowned in that familiar depression and counted the days until I could be out again.

As soon as I was healed, I started my longest run so far. I started at the Los Angles Children's Hospital, where Duncan had spent so many months of his short life, running 40 miles of inclines and valleys to a park near our house where a special bench was dedicated to him. With a brother-in-law on a bicycle in front of me and another behind me, I traveled five miles each to certain places where my wife, children, siblings and friends were stationed with water and snacks. Your support and Duncan's memory led me on this eight-hour journey.

  o & # 39; malley and his family on the trail with a Team Duncan banner.

When COVID-19 canceled our 5km fundraiser, my family and I were walking five miles on behalf of Team Duncan local trail.

I always find new challenges, with my latest passion being trail running. I would never claim to be a great runner. I'm just a guy who runs for clarity, some peace and for the moment that comes in every good run when I feel like I can go on forever. I dream of participating in ultramarathons.

It will always be dark to lose Duncan, but I am grateful to my wife – who is pregnant again -, my children and my running for letting the light in.


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