Some stories have to tell themselves.
I’ve watched that play out over the past week as I’ve listened to Dan Brendtro and Peter Vitiello explain how they met and what that means to media outlets throughout Sioux Falls. They tell their story better than I ever could, with more detail and meaning, with remembered dialogue and a set of events that had to happen in the exact order they did.
Dan’s trying to find a cure for his daughter’s rare and fatal disease. Peter’s trying to help him.
They’re doing it all in Sioux Falls.
I first heard about Dan when a friend told me about him for this blog – he was trying to raise thousands of dollars and was running the Twin Cities Marathon to do it. He raised the money, ran the race and spent his time on the course wondering if what he was doing was the best way to help his 16-year-old daughter, who has Friedreich’s Ataxia.
He decided he could do more, and through a series of chance encounters, he connected with Pete, and now Dan’s raising money to fund a year of research to see if any progress can be made to cure FA.
It’s not a sure thing. Nothing is. No promises have been made, but to figure out if something works, you have to figure out if something doesn’t first. It’s that simple, when it comes to what Dan and Peter are doing.
They’ve explained it all here:
It’s a story worth telling, and they tell it well.
For us runners, it’s a reminder of who is out there with us on the course. When reporters have asked Dan what it’s like, he repeats the story of the day they found out. It was an hourslong doctor’s appointment, followed by standing outside the office waiting for the valet to bring their car around. Raenas mom asked her daughter if she wanted to sit down and wait, and she said, no. She would stand, while she still could.
Every time I hear him tell that, I think about him and his family, all of them, standing while they still can. Taking every step they can, while they can take them. I don’t know what that looks like at home for them, but out here in the world it looks like trying to catapult research and awareness and this belief that each answer is worth pursuing.
‘No’ is still an answer. It changes what the next question is, and, eventually, the next answer.
We’ve all run races with charity runners – from big groups like Team in Training to breast cancer races to something as small as a runner with a family member’s name and a message of hope scrawled across their shirt on the course.
I don’t know their back stories. I don’t know if it’s something a friend asked them to do, dedicating every mile to a memory of someone or a hope in their future or a search for a cure. I know not everyone is running like Dan did, with the weight of his daughter heavy in his heart, with this lightness he has that is hard for me to describe lifting him up, step by step.
I used to think that people who stood at the starting line untrained in the name of charity were foolish and didn’t respect the distance. It’s a stupid thing to even write, and I stand here before you, aware of what you must think of me.
That race wasn’t the hardest thing they ever did, no matter how hard it was. The hardest thing is waking up every day and fighting against the rising tide of time marching and hearts breaking and memories gathering for what is closer and closer to someone’s last day. It’s doing what Dan’s daughter said, and standing while you still can, whatever that means for you.
It’s hope, the thing with feathers, the thing we all have to search for sometimes.
I don’t know where Dan finds it, where Peter finds it, where any of us do.
Running is a small world. We see each other over and over, variations on a theme in races across the country. The next time you’re in a race and find yourself next to someone with a message on their shirt, maybe it’s worth it to run alongside for a while, ask the question: Tell me about your daughter. Tell me about your cause. Tell me why you’re out here.
Let’s bear witness to each other’s stories.
If you’d like to learn more about Dan’s daughter and FA, and how to help, click here.
Jacqueline Palfy is a longtime runner, reader and writer, marathoner, mom and board member of the nonprofit Sioux Falls Area Running Club. Her contributions to the 605 Running Co. blog will appear each Tuesday. You can follow her on Twitter @runnerJPK or reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Story ideas are encouraged