A couple of weeks ago I got to witness some true guts and determination when I was watching the Men’s and Women’s Olympic Marathon Trials in Los Angeles.  My rooting interest was tied with the Popejoy family as we watched Mike Popejoy battle the competitors, the heat, and an insane amount of turns on the course. 

I’ve been a close friend with Ken Popejoy, Mike’s dad, for over 20 years.  Ken has been a coach, mentor, and a father figure to me.  Our friendship runs deep; there may be 20 plus years difference in age, but you wouldn’t know it. 

In the years we have been friends many events and memories have been created: there have been races, he became a judge, hall of fames, a wedding, my kids being born, his kids’ accomplishments, the passing of my sister, he and Nate {my college buddy} discovering Hermosa Beach.  My all time favorite memory though was the Christmas of 2012 when I came in the house from work and he was sitting on the couch reading The Night Before Christmas to my girls. There’s a lot of history between us.  So there was no way I was about to miss Mike’s debut in the Olympic Trials.

Race Day

The weather forecast leading into the race was not optimal, 82 and sunny.  Mike’s training was solid except for one of his feet was giving him issues, that’s pretty good considering the amount of his weekly mileage. 

Family Ties

Like any major event you prepare for, you do not get there alone.  I got to see one of the driving forces behind Mike’s success: his family. 

Mike’s 2 brothers and 2 sisters traveled from 4 different states to see the race.  They came not out of obligation, but because they would not have it any other way.  His family stood on Figueroa and cheered, yelled, and held up a sign that said, “Pope is Dope!” But the moment that got me was when Mike was in the last half mile of the race and Ken ran onto the course and yelled at the top of his lungs “Son, I’m so proud of you!”  

This race for Mike went beyond the actual physical and mental components of competition and running a marathon. His parents, siblings, and extended family came to support him in his already brilliant running and academic career.  It was about family and their love for Mike. 

I’ve seen thousands of races, I’ve been a part of National Championship teams and I’ve had my own success as a runner.  But that Saturday in early February will be one of the most memorable, exciting, and amazing days that I’ve been a part of.  And not because I saw America’s elite marathon runners, but solely because I got to be part of a huge moment in the Popejoy’s lives.  Ken, Kelly, Mike, Jon, Nick, and Katie thank you for letting me be a part of it.  Congrats Popejoys!

Image Credit: Erik Taylor

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