A boy and his dog (Tiny)  1965

A boy and his dog (Tiny) 1965

This is a very personal post. It only has to do with running in an indirect way. If you aren’t into my musings about life and such, well maybe just read the first bit here and move on if you prefer. I will understand. Still, I need to write this for me, for my family and as you will soon understand, my ‘little brother’. My ‘little’ brother (by the way, he actually hated that term when we were much younger) died early Monday morning and very, very suddenly. And, for my own reasons I need to celebrate his life and share some of his/our story. It actually isn’t sad, but it does carry a lesson for all of us.

"Uncle Bill"

“Uncle Bill”

I suppose it is best to get the facts out of they way first. The preferred term is ‘younger’, not ‘little’, but today and just for a little while it helps me to think of him this way. His name: William Edward Cumming. He was supposed to have the name Edward, but then if he didn’t up and get born on our Uncle Bill’s birthday! Edward was another Uncle actually, but poor old Uncle Ted got shunted one name back and there he was, in April of 1949, William Edward Cumming. Interestingly, Uncle Bill was one of Vancouver’s premier soccer players in his day, and not surprisingly, taught both of us a whole lot of what we knew about the game, including skills and strategy.

Of course, around our house he was “Billy“. And, please don’t tell anyone, but at that time I was called “Danny“. I think we each made short work of that diminutive naming when we got to Secondary School. I became Dan and him, Bill.

For those trying to do the math and not having enough fingers and toes for the purpose, Bill was 66. Four years my junior.

There is a lot to say about somebody who lived for 66 years, but I will try to keep to some key things and get to where I am going as quickly as I can. As with all of us, Bill had those things he loved, top among those were his wife Hope and boys Ken and Chris. I am going to just leave that as a given.

He had the music in him!

He had the music in him!

He dabbled at various things, including music, when he was a teen. He had several guitars, including two solid body electric guitars made by our Dad (the guy in the background of the first photo at the top of this post). He has also had a more or less life-long love of fishing for the wily trout. However,  sport was his passion. I’m not sure he ever met a sport he didn’t like, nor one he couldn’t play better than average. We both did track in our teens and both dropped it after we left school. Pick the distance: he was faster than me when comparing age for age. Thankfully, he did not get into distance running later in life, so at least I had that all to myself. His energies went to baseball and soccer.

Baseball Beginnings

He had professional opportunities in both back in the days when he was at his peak, being drafted by a major league baseball team (to one of their minor ‘farm’ teams – think Bull Durham) and was invited to join the original Vancouver White Caps along with several players he came up with in Vancouver minor soccer. They all played for Grandview Legion and took the Provincial Age Group Championship at least a couple of times. Among them were Buzz Parsons and Sam (Silvano) Lenarduzzi, Bob’s older brother. In those days though, you had to be the top of the top to make any real money and he had just moved to Prince George where he had a real job that paid well. Even the best athletes usually had to have a ‘day job’ to make ends meet. That was pretty much it for a professional soccer career, but he played at high local levels for years.

Bill in his prime! 1979 Prince George, BC

Bill in his prime! 1979 Prince George, BC

While in Prince George, he learned the joys of lacrosse. So, that became the trio. Baseball, which he played early on and later coached, lacrosse, which he played until only a few years ago and Soccer. He played and coached and played again. Soccer was his game. He was fast and tricky and could shoot a ball so hard you’d swear it would take your head off. I recall one time we were ‘just kicking the ball around’ and taking turns being in goal and out shooting. Now, I played my share of soccer too, including a year with UBC, but I was nowhere near as good as Bill. So there I am tending to my goal and he yells something like “Hard One”. I swear that while I’ve heard smaller balls do it, that soccer ball made a whistling/hissing sound as it went by my ear. Oh Lord, could that guy shoot a soccer ball. Oh, and he did apologize for forgetting we were ‘just kicking the ball around’.

Well, flash forward to recent times with me running all over the place. Slower and slower to be sure, but still doing it and loving it. Bill was having his fun with lacrosse and soccer until a couple of years ago. Seems like we Cumming boys have some issues with our backs and it was getting harder and harder for him to play either of those sports due to a back problem. Long story, short, he too had an operation, about 18 months ago (mine was 26 years ago) and after suitable rehab and such, had just signed up to play soccer again. I haven’t seem him as happy in a very long time. I was thrilled because I knew how important it was to him. He had a couple of teams that wanted him and he picked one. I am almost certain that the game Sunday was only the second of the season, or maybe his second game.

So, as any of us might do heading off to work or a race, he headed out to his soccer game. I didn’t even know this specifically. I was sitting at this computer, having watched the elite women and men run the New York City Marathon, and now tracking several friends who were just the weensiest bit behind the elites. One of them, Deb Thomas (a friend from Reggae Marathon) was almost finished. The phone rang. It was my sister-in-law, very upset and with the news that Bill had collapsed at soccer and was being taken (in very bad condition) to a local hospital. We gathered ourselves up, swung by and picked her up as we headed to the hospital to meet their younger son, Chris. The older son lives/works in Edmonton and came in later on the earliest flight he could get.

Chris, Hope, Ken, Bill -2003 (It's so hard to get everybody in one place when the little ones grow up!)

Chris, Hope, Ken, Bill -2003 (It’s so hard to get everybody in one place when the little ones grow up!)

I don’t want to go on at length about all the details, because in the end they weren’t the most important parts. I will say he got the very best care, starting with players who ‘fell’ upon him immediately, doing CPR, followed by first responders/paramedics and then the Critical Care Cardiac Unit, at what I have since learned was not the nearest but rather the best hospital for his condition. More than the immense technical expertise and skill I saw, I want to talk about the ‘care’ that both Bill, as the patient, and the rest of us as his worried family, got from the health-care team. It started with the paramedic we first met in the hospital and continued through various specialized doctors, the trauma nurses and the other hospital staff that looked to our needs. After initial treatment, he was transferred to the ICU and our interaction began with one of the most amazing physicians I have met. As things went from bad to worse, he not only looked after my one and only little brother, he communicated, comforted and most importantly, INFORMED us, the family. He showed such immense respect for our right to know what was happening and yet compassion for our feelings. I don’t know how we could have been more informed than we were and although there were times when we were all excluded from ‘the room’, we were given as much access as possible. As things became more critical and certain as to where it was all headed, it was this man who helped us to understand. Never did he try to tell us what we SHOULD do, but rather supported our process.

I don’t care who you are, or how dire the situation, it is never easy or simple to make the all important decision about a loved one and then actually say: Stop. Just stop. At about 3:00am Monday morning that was the point we had reached. It was decided that all the many, and there were SO many, extraordinary measures should cease. As soon as the mechanical stuff was taken care of, removing lines and leads and turning off monitors, all five of us were allowed at his bedside where we could be with our husband, father, brother and brother-in-law. It would be very wrong to say more here about that very private time and situation. What I can say is that it was about 30 minutes until he left us. It was very peaceful and I was so terribly grateful that I was able to be there.

I felt it sort of necessary to share this bit of what went on over a pretty intense 16-18 hours, so I could get to the other more positive things to come.

Although it came later, we have learned from someone who was there at the time, Bill was ‘in full flight’ when it happened, tearing down the field to an open spot (and very likely pointing to just where he wanted the ball). It is my opinion, and I am going to believe it because I want to – I don’t think he even knew what hit him.

Another thing I plan to believe is based on what the first trauma nurse said the very first time I got to be with him in the ICU. She was explaining what had happened to this point in time. She began: “Your brother died on the soccer field, others began CPR………………………”  I don’t know if that was a slip of the tongue or a considered comment based on her trauma training, but I prefer to think that it was that neat and clean (for him). All the resuscitations (at least 8) and interventions were about keeping his body working until it was clear there was no point.

The DAY before and I do mean THE DAY BEFORE, I was talking to a running friend, older than me (better, too) about death. We both apparently feel quite the same on the matter. He had said, “I don’t fear death. What does worry me is dying.”  We agreed totally. So, my response was: “Well, I want to go of a massive heart attack as I finish a race somewhere!”

As you can surely understand then, while I am shocked and saddened at the sudden death of my only brother, there is no possible way I can be sad about how he died. I am sure he would see it the same way. As we all should, he made his wishes clear about what should or should not be done should the situation arise. Whether we liked it or not, it was apparently his time. We all felt it was too soon, but that is something else.

You may now forgive me if I continue to say things (as I think I have in the past) along the lines of doing something before it is too late, or while I can. I think whether you are young or old or somewhere between, it is always wise to do what you can, when you can. More than once when I have expressed such a thought I’ve had others pooh-pooh it as being foolish or alarmist or dramatic. You know: “You aren’t THAT old!” or “You aren’t going to die tomorrow!” (I guess my brother gives a new perspective on that.)  And, you know that it doesn’t need to be as dramatic as dropping over, all you need is a serious injury or major health problem and some things are off the table.

I don’t mean to be dramatic. I’m not looking for a reaction. I am just stating something I’ve believed for a long time. I’ve lived it for a long time, too. Not going to make a huge long list, but I have started cutting out things I don’t need to do and don’t find any pleasure in doing. We’ve done special and specific travel that might have seemed a bit expensive but it was something we wanted to and could do. I’ve run a 50K, not because anybody HAS to run a 50K, but because I wanted to do so. I joined Marathon Maniacs and took a year of running to ‘level up’. Same with Half Fanatics except that this Spring I pushed up four levels. I’m done with both of those things now in terms of pushing for even higher levels, but I’m glad I did them. I just ran two races I had never done, The Granville Island Turkey Trot and the James Cunningham Seawall Race. I have also taken a decision, that at least for this one year I will step down from the stage at the First Half Half Marathon and actually RUN the thing. I am very excited! I could leave it until the next year, but should I? Not a chance.

At Loon Lake, BC - his favourite place to be!

At Loon Lake, BC – his favourite place to be!

Oh, and one other thing I decided not to put off? Opening that bottle of Cardhu Single Malt Scotch that was given to me on my 70th Birthday. I have a wee dram at my right hand as I write. Cardhu is by “The Cummings of Cardhu- Distillers of Distinction – 1824” The Clan beverage, so to speak. This seems as worthy an occasion as any!

Play on my brother. Play on!


  1. thatrunninguy
    11.04.2015 - 2:45am

    Dan, thank you for sharing that. I can only imagine how you are feeling. Your last line did me in though: “Play on my brother…play on!