As a journalist I get to meet a lot of interesting people. But over a span of years, the sheer numbers of them make many of their stories blur and fade in my memory. Not Dr. Richard Byrd.
I met Dr. Byrd in 2010, after another source suggested I interview him because he’d just finished his first marathon, right before his 80th birthday. He was a warm and gracious man and I quickly discovered he had so much more to his story. He’d lived a full life filled with adventure, especially after turning 50. (Click here to read that story.)
This morning I was saddened to read that Dr. Byrd died last week while hiking in Cuba. He slipped and fell and never regained consciousness. My heart hurts for his family, especially his wife, Lori.
I only spent an hour or so with Dr. Byrd but have thought of him often over the last two years. In fact, he inspired a character in my current novel-in-progress. Dr. Byrd aged the way I want to – actively. He worked. He traveled. He tried new things. He took risks. He embraced what he could do rather than bemoan what he couldn’t.
When I met Dr. Byrd I was running about 15 miles a week, planning to run a 12K in the spring but nothing more. Here he was, a spry 80 year old man who acted more like a vibrant 50 year old man and who’d run a marathon. I was amazed.
I remember his wife telling me that though he took risks, she didn’t mind. She was glad. Most of her peers were either widows or had husbands who rarely left their recliners. She was grateful that he chose to keep working and traveling and experiencing life with all his senses. And she joined him when she was able.
Dr. Byrd planted a seed in me that day which was watered by several other people over the next four months. Then I registered for my first marathon. Something shifted in me that spring for the better and I know I’ll never be the same. Dr. Byrd was a part of that. I wish I’d called him and told him how our short visit touched and influenced me.
I expect his service will be filled with stories of other people he’s touched, people who loved him and will miss him. If he could make an impact in my life in such a short encounter, imagine the influence he had through his day-to-day relationships.
Have you ever had a brief interaction make a profound impact on your life?