This story ran in the Daily Gleaner in October.
John Maher was 44, solidly entrenched in his career in Fredericton and raising two active sons with his wife Linda.
It was the spring of 2013.
Within a short-time period, he got two phone calls, the kind you dread, the kind that change things forever.
“In the span of six weeks, I lost my sister in-law (Susan) at age 52 and my father (Francis) at age 74, both from cardiac events,” John explains. “It was a thunderclap for me. It was a tough time.”
Through the whirlwind of emotions and mourning, John eventually made a pact with himself and commitment to his family – that he was to get into better shape and maintain it.
It was a new perspective, one he continues to embrace as a runner today.
“In the wake of those events, I thought about my family and I knew I needed to do a better job of taking care of myself,” John said. “With that in mind, I started walking around my neighbourhood each evening. I progressed to running short distances and eventually running all the way around a roughly two-kilometre loop.”
The process translated into one-part therapy, another part fitness. Running short distances was difficult early on but over time, his endurance improved and it was not long before he tackled his first 5 km race in September, 2014 to test his progress and fuel a competitive spark he was itching to scratch.
“I had hoped to do well but really, I just wanted to finish,” he said.
Then came a 10-kilometre training program and once he conquered that, he made plans to take on a half marathon. To make it all work, he runs a regular route in and around his Fredericton home but if schedules dictate he needs to adjust, he’ll run while his kids are at soccer or hockey, dash out of work at lunch or find time when the family is vacationing or enjoying a sports tournament.
The routine, now four years in development, led to a busy September, which included the Terry Fox Run and the Fredericton Breathing Space Yoga Fall Classic, where he posted a personal best 1:37.15 clocking, an impressive time in just his second 21.1 km race.
“When I started running, my aim was to live healthier and my focus was on physical health,” he said. “What I discovered was you have a lot of time to yourself out there on the road or trail and a lot of time to think. I absolutely enjoy the physical challenge of running, with the unexpected benefit of great headspace. It’s cliché, but true.”
John grew up on the Miramichi, in Newcastle, and played a variety of sports with his friends – an assortment of hockey, baseball and swimming dominated his agenda but he tried most everything.
He moved to Fredericton in 1987 and now is the director of economics and negotiations for the New Brunswick Medical Society.
John and Linda have been married for 20 years and the couple has two sons – Daniel 19 and Josh 14.
Now 48, he’s thankful for taking to the streets during those difficult personal times.
He recalls back in 2015, when he went back home to the Miramichi Rock N Run, a 10-km distance that prompted many thoughts of his late father and sister-in-law in training and on race day.
Finishing strong in that race provided memories he’ll never forgot.
“I was running a 10k in my home town with my sister in-law and father on my mind,” he explains in sharp detail. “I felt a little extra wind at my back that day. I now run that event every year and it is always a special run.”
During vacations or work excursions, he’s also enjoyed scenic jaunts like the sea wall around Stanley Park in Vancouver, the Rideau Canal in Ottawa and most recently a few runs in and around Quebec City.
It fits his running preferences of getting out where and when he can.
“I run and train alone. I am always trying to fit a run into my schedule and it’s tough to run with someone or a group with an uncertain schedule,” he said. “I have a great 10k loop around my neighbourhood with nice changes in elevation and really enjoy running the trail system in Fredericton, I regularly run the bridges around the city.”
In addition to the benefits physically and the mental cleansing he enjoys from a good workout, John is amazed at the atmosphere near a finish line of an event, such as that which occurred during last weekend’s run.
“Runners are an amazingly supportive group,” he said. “I see it on the streets and trails and at race events. Cheering each other on and celebrating the accomplishments and milestones of those crossing the line.
“There are so many stories at the finish line. It is a great part of being there.”
Kevin Barrett’s column appears every other Saturday. If you have a suggestion for a feature story, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit barrettkevin.wordpress.com.