Always by Your Side

Elliott’s first race, the Monument Avenue 10K in 2002

Say that again, what happened? I wanted to laugh but my lungs were needed for breathing.

It was one of the early in the training cycle long runs on a hot Saturday morning in Richmond, Virginia in the summer of 2015. There are many summer days in RVA that can be best described as having a hot wet towel over your head while running on a treadmill in the sauna. During this 8, 10, or 12 miler (my memory faded on the distance that day with the steam that was coming off my head) one of my training team coaches I had recently met, Elliott, ran up next to me and had a good story for me to help pass the miles, and keep my mind off the struggle.

He spent months training for a marathon that was taking place in Utah and on the plane ride out there and within 24 hours of the start, a baby in the seat in front of him sneezed in his direction. Dang! You know what happens next, he starts the race the next day and about halfway through is all stuffed up and can’t breathe, it was the only marathon that he could not physically finish. Months of training down the drain, or thrown out with a Kleenex. The headline could read: “A runner’s dream blown away by the sneeze of a baby!” or “Ahhhchooooo! No 26.2 for you.”

Not the only out of the ordinary experience either, while running the Chicago Marathon in 2007, all of a sudden helicopters appeared overhead and authorities were on loudspeakers telling everyone to get off the course, and the marathon is off. Why? It was the hottest October 7th Chicago had ever seen, medical tents along the course were overwhelmed and people were being taken by ambulance due to dehydration. All that training, however grateful he could run another day.

What did he do after those experiences? Just kept going and getting stronger as he always does. And there are more Elliott stories that kept me going just like that.

I met Elliott Rose in the Summer of 2015 when I joined the Sports Backers Marathon Training Team in Richmond, Virginia. I did not know what I was getting into, other than I knew how I wanted it to end. It was something way out of my comfort zone, yet I knew it would be worth it. All 26.2 miles of it. What goes into preparing for a marathon is anywhere from 500-700 miles of training over 20 plus weeks of running. Getting to know Elliott, my other coaches, and my teammates that year is a time I will always treasure, and I learned to enjoy the journey and take a chance, and follow my heart.

Me and Elliott after one of my first long training runs in 2015, before I knew better and should get some lighter clothes

We have kept up with each other over the years and from our conversations over the many miles we have run as one, I knew having a heartfelt conversation with Elliott and hearing his story would provide understanding and perspective that serves to bring us together.

It was on a dirt road in McKenney, Virginia

One main road goes through this town, Route 1, which also served as the racial dividing line.

For Elliott and his siblings, namely Wayne, Roderick, Victor, Ronald, Marcus, Katrina, Alesia, and Jackie, life in rural McKenney transformed during their childhood years and integration. The end of a dirt road through the woods led to the home of their parents, Edward and Sallie Rose, which was originally Elliott’s maternal great grandparents home.

Elliott with all his siblings

Since many of us have trouble keeping track of nine pairs of socks, to help with the math above, there were nine of them, one house, with six boys and three girls. When it came time for Halloween, they went to one house to trick or treat. Guess they were all not up too late with sugar running through their veins! Their wood heated home had electricity however no sockets and no plumbing; they would use the outhouse. However they would bring a bucket inside during the winter to reduce the chilling effect of a winter night’s walk to the outhouse.

Elliott is very close with his siblings and his family also experienced the sorrow of losing his brother Marcus to a bad pneumonia when he was seven months old (Elliott was 12); he does remember his brother well. Elliott also recently lost one of his brothers, Victor, in December 2018, who died suddenly (far left in picture above).

He reflected on his times with Victor, who was a few years younger. Smart guy, he was on the Dean’s List at Virginia State University. His love of cars manifested itself with a career as a mechanic for Goodyear. He and Elliott shared a love of jazz music and would often go to concerts together and spent countless hours spinning vinyl in their little apartment on the northside of Richmond in the early 1980’s, tube socks included. I can see it with my eyes closed. His coworkers spoke sincerely and highly of him at his funeral and reinforced to Elliott that he impacted more lives than his family knew.

Elliott loved all his siblings and admits he wasn’t always the best big brother, he knew he tended to be selfish and a little hot tempered. Over the years, he has realized that having them by his side, he would have it no other way.

Mom and Dad, leading with love and by example

His Mom and Dad worked hard, and taught them there are no substitutes for determination and doing well in school to get a good education. In fact, his Dad invested in a set of Encyclopedias and Elliott read. them. all. I am intimidated just by looking at them in their binders covering the full lengths of several bookshelves, and he opened every one of them and read them cover to cover. He soaked it all in, the knowledge and wisdom from others, that would serve him well in the years ahead.

“Every father should remember that one day his son will follow his example, not his advice.” – Charles Kettering

During his childhood, his Dad built their house in McKenney on his own from reused materials from an Army barracks (Camp Pickett) and they moved to that home when he was eleven. With one bathroom now, I asked him if his parents used a signup sheet outside the door for all to use. His Mom is still living there, with treasured memories of them all together. Sadly, his Dad, Edward Rose passed away in October 2018.

His parents, Sallie and Edward Rose in front of the house his Dad built

Sallie Rose, Elliott’s mom not only gave birth to nine children, she is always there for each and every one of them. A great cook (Elliott has told me that part of the reason he runs so much is so he can enjoy his Mom’s cooking), very outgoing, loves people, and a strong woman of faith who loves God. When Elliott there has been a crisis in his life, his Mom is there, not necessarily with the solution rather reassurance that ‘it’s gonna be alright’ that eased the pain. When her husband died, she lost the love of her life however she loves her children so much, and with that and her faith in God, she keeps her going.

Elliott had a great father, and when I asked about him I could tell how much it meant to him to be blessed with the parents from which he entered the world. He was a self made man, and built that home from scratch with repurposed materials from an Army barracks; he mixed concrete to make the sidewalks, hung drywall, did plumbing and made cabinets. Never deterred from rolling up his sleeves, he also worked on cars and was the town barber. To make sure his family was kept warm in the winter months, he would cut trees so for the wood to heat the house. To be the example, he would have all of his sons with him to help and they would haul the wood back to the car or truck to bring it home. He was a no nonsense disciplinarian but it was always done from the standpoint of love to give his children boundaries. Not much of a talker, action does the talking, and he taught Elliott what having a solid work ethic looks like and was the ultimate role model. Elliott loves how he treated his mother with respect, knowing his Mom is emotional and would sometimes get upset with him however he never recalled his Dad raising his voice to her. His Dad was always well groomed and Elliott knows that rubbed off on him; he also developed his deep love of sports from his Dad. One of his earliest memories was him buying a baseball glove and ball and them playing catch, he loved baseball.

I like to say we all have fathers, and then we have a Dad. You certainly had a great Dad, Elliott.

School Segregation to Integration, First Job, Most Impactful Moment, Being a Dad, and Heartbreak

Their school was integrated when Elliott was in the 7th grade, before that life in McKenney was separated as that dividing line down Route 1 going through the middle of town. When we talked about his first experience with white people, it was working in the tobacco fields when he was eight years old. They would work from 7am – 7pm and would be fed lunch. The family that owned the farm had grandkids and they said to them they were not to play with the black kids working on the farm.

As a kid I grew up in a multiethnic country in Asia, I don’t get this. During the age of innocence, why can’t we just let kids be themselves? Usually when we do adults learn something and it brings us together.

Meanwhile at school, there was tension during that first year of integration and then it eased with each passing year. Elliott’s love for sports led him to basketball (his first love) as he was into that (and girls) as a high school student. His Dad did not encourage relationships with white people, and was taught not to trust white people. That said, his Dad did experience true racism himself growing up, though he softened over the years. His Mom and grandmother were softer about him being around whites during his childhood.

Elliott was becoming of age to learn by experience, and his first job was at K-Mart. Somehow I can see him running down the aisles then getting on the bullhorn to announce the next blue light special, now we call them flash sales. What a trendsetter, K-Mart. His boss who was white became his best friend and they kept in touch long after the blue lights had been turned off. So, his wall of mistrust in regards to white people was being torn down.

After obtaining an Associates Degree, Elliott spent twenty nine years in public service with the City of Richmond, and presently works for the Commonwealth of Virginia part-time.

His most impactful moment was when he became a Christian when he was 34. He dove right in and lives out his faith each and every day.

I love sharing and learning with other Dads, and Elliott is a father to a son and daughter. Though he and their mother were engaged, things did not work out and they parted a year after his birth; they also experienced a miscarriage a year before his son was born. His son, Brian, and him have evolved from father/son to father/son/friend as adults. Through all the tumultuous years of litigation, he and Brian were always close and decided to live with Elliott full time when he was 15. He loves him with all his heart and is very proud of the man he has become.

With his son, Brian

Elliott also experienced pain and anguish of parenthood, as he also had a daughter that passed when she was 4 months from SIDS. He fondly remembers her and Kaylynn would have been 27 this year (pictured below).

What would MLK think?

As we shared about our faith, we talked about how skin color is just that, skin deep and cosmetic. It pains us both to talk about all the pain, hurt, and anguish that have come to mankind over something so genetically unimportant and contradictory to the lesson of loving our neighbors; and that we all are worthy regardless of skin color.

As we talked about race and how it has impacted him in America, he conveyed that if he had been a victim or racism, it was not overt and he does not know it. There was a time where he was noticeably the only black person at a running get together with other friends, he noticed it however as time has gone on he does not think about it. Though he has dated interracially and has been on the receiving end of some stares, Elliott shared he has felt more racism from black people towards him. From his first boss at K-Mart to the people who got him into running, he has had great experiences with people of all backgrounds being by his side and helping him.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. – Martin Luther King

From the ability of the two of us to have a heart driven and honest conversation borne from respect and love for each other as human beings, he feels that America is not the racist nation that many people make it out to be. It seems that those that do, are the loudest and are perpetually driven by anger and outrage. We have both experienced that this condition is not healthy for anyone, and if anyone reading this needs a prompt on why, read these insights on how addiction to outrage can ruin your life.

As we talked about what Martin Luther King stood for, transported to today, where he wanted to see a nation where people were not judged by the color of their skin, rather by the content of their character, Elliott conveyed that he likely would not recognize the message he got across and that resonated with our country. He also has a grandparent who he is inclined to believe was white, his paternal grandfather, who is a part of who he is and thus it pains him to see how politicians and many in the media like to keep things divisive and stirred up when they could be focused on what brings us together. However, he shared if that became the case, and people had each other’s backs and ran by their side no matter what, many of them would not have a cause and therefore don’t want a solution.

“It doesn’t matter how smart you are unless you stop and think.” – Thomas Sowell

The evidence for Elliott was right before him, and his family modeled to him the importance of hard work, determination, and education and what it takes to make an impact in your life. Two of his sisters are now with the CIA, a brother is a police officer, and another brother a graphic designer. He knows there is much right about America, and acknowledges there is work to do as well, as there always will be.

From running in City Basketball Leagues to Running the City

It starts with all of us, someone asks. Being a varsity basketball player in high school, Elliott kept that going and played in the city leagues around Richmond. A friend of his who worked with him at the City of Richmond (we still think of you as the unofficial mayor, Elliott) asked him to run the Monument Avenue 10K one year, to that point he would just run on the treadmill to keep in shape for basketball. He agreed a year later and started training by seeing if he could run for 30 minutes.

I know he could dribble the ball the entire 26.2 miles!

After that first race, he fell in love with running. He then transitioned to marathons because his good friend, Mark Buckland, asked him. Twenty years later, he is still going strong and encouraging others by being a coach with Sports Backers Marathon Training Team. I know first hand I would not have dreamed I could run 26.2 miles had I not had Elliott, my other coaches, my #wolfpack, and teammates running by my side. We had each others’ backs during training and through the finish line.

Looking Inward and Actions Outward

“I will permit no man to narrow and degrade my soul by making me hate him.” – Booker T. Washington

Since we all bleed as one, I asked Elliott what he would encourage us all to do to bring us together, and it comes down to looking at our own hearts, taking stock with humble reflection, and acting outwards. He is tired of everything having a racial connotation to it, when there should not be one, we are all people.

He feels that black people need to stop blaming racism, using it as a crutch, and address your family issues by being there. For whites, to stop pacifying and having guilt. Day to day we do this, and it is apparent in his relations with people from all walks of life. However social media and the news is where the divisiveness is evident. For example, where else can a story such as Oprah Winfrey or LeBron James happen other than America? We need to look at things deeper than the color of our skin, and not be preoccupied with everything being about race.

For all of us, can you think of a time or two when we went outside for a solution when you should have gone inward? Your circumstances may be challenging to say the least, however it became apparent through our conversation that blaming them is not the solution. Nor is neglecting them.

Real change is an inside job, and the heart of the matter is, and always will be, the matter of the heart.

“Create in me a new heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10).

Let’s Run by Each Other’s Side

Imagine a world where we all had each others’ backs, no matter what. Disagreements are fine and respected, with the realization that it does not take anything away from the value you are as a person. Where who we voted for would not divide families and friends, but rather be an example of our love for freedom to do so. Where we learn from each other through authentic conversations where we listen and see through each other’s eyes. That the streets we run, gather, or live, don’t have any meaning other than we are neighbors. A world where we know that skin color is only skin deep and we do bleed as one.

Running long distances with Elliott and others has taught me something I have shared previously, namely:

What I have learned as I have run longer and longer distances transcends running. There is the importance of encouragement and having others around you; lightening the load and letting go, throwing off what is holding you down; perseverance as a good mind and heart are a formidable combination; keeping your eyes on what’s ahead of you, just as important as finishing the run in my mind; faith of how amazing it can be when we step into the unknown, with full confidence that God will not let you go; and trusting others who have gone before you in more difficult circumstances that inspire you to keep going and not lose heart.

As a Marathon Training Team coach, Elliott runs several times a week with others and during long training runs would speed up or slow down to run by all our team members’ sides.

This is where to find him most mornings, and he loves it

This exemplifies him perfectly, and I am grateful for friends like him, who will always run by your side no matter your pace or place in life.

How about we all do that for each other, and for ourselves.

Thanks for being by my side buddy, let’s keep doing it!

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