Norm and I met back in 2006 when I joined the neighborhood softball team. It was a tight-knit group of guys that had “founded” the community in 2004.
My family and I moved from California in late 2005, about a year after the first wave of residents. I was 26, just out of the Navy and full of confidence, youth and naivety.
One day we were playing a double-header and I got brought in from the outfield to play first base in the second game. Toward the end of the game I was having a hard time getting to the errant balls being thrown at me with my glove too small to adequately catch first base balls. I told the guys to try and get the balls up so I could possibly make a play. In my head I wasn’t trying to be derogatory or mean, just doing what I was used to doing in competitive sports.
After the game Norm, the captain of the team, got in my face and told me that I shouldn’t tell anyone to throw the ball better, that I should go after them. I was completely flabbergasted. He also brought up about me complaining about being on the bench earlier. I had no idea I had rubbed him the wrong way and it had really upset me.
It was true. I was used to being a valuable resource in sports. In high school I played both ways on the football field. In little league I would score every time I got on base. It pained me to sit on the bench while watching “old guys” drop balls in the outfield. After that game I quit the team and thought that Norm was the biggest jerk in the world.
A few years later we heard news about Witt, Norm’s son, being born with heart problems. My metaphorical heart went out to him. I completely empathized with him because I was a father of two young children too. The petty problems we had one day on the softball field were immediately brushed aside.
There was tons of outpouring of support from the community at the time. So we, as a family, just prayed for them. My heart physically ached because I knew the odds were not in Witt’s favor.
We watched from the distance as they received news of getting a donor, but later found out it was not viable. I could not imagine the pain and torture this poor family was going through. But what I saw was amazing. This man, whom I wrote off as a jerk, was one of the strongest, God-fearing, perserverant individuals I have ever seen. I saw a man of courage and faith and zero negativity when there was plenty to be had.
Weeks later Witt received his miracle heart. I remember clearly the birthday party at the fountain for little Whithers. Birthday parties for heart patients are extra exciting milestones. Our small neighborhood (at the time) gathered together and celebrated life and God’s mercy while also mourning for the family of the donor child.
Time went on and Norm and I were still just acquaintances. He would post things on Facebook about other heart families at Vanderbilt or ups and downs that Witt was having. We helped when we could, but mostly just prayed for God’s mercy. Not all the stories had happy conclusions like Witt’s.
Unnoticed by me, he followed my running and fitness journey which started in 2010. One day he said to me that I inspired him to want to run a half marathon. I had no idea. I wasn’t out to influence anyone and I figured Norm would be one of the last guys to say that to me.
One day in September, 2013, Norm posted on Facebook that he was going to run from the neighborhood to Vanderbilt on Witt’s heart anniversary. So, I asked him what time I should be there in the morning. We met some friends along the way, including a mutual friend, Josh, whose son, Andrew, has had his own heart journey. He currently deals with juvenile diabetes and has a pacemaker.
After the 21 mile run through the dark rolling hills of Williamson and Davidson County we celebrated at the Pancake Pantry. My dad even showed up to tell us how crazy we were. It was a really special event that I was glad to be a part of. I even learned that Snickers was the best energy bar.
On September 22 2014, Norm, trekked out to complete a full marathon on his own. I don’t know why he didn’t tell the 2013 crew. He said he didn’t think we would want to wake up at 12:14am – the exact time that Witt went into the OR for his heart transplant, but I’m sure he needed it. Sometimes you have to do things alone to realize how much easier and fulfilling it is to do things in community.
The next year he learned his lesson. September 22, 2015 Norm, our mutual friend Kristen and I did an Olympic triathlon together before work. Norm had never done one this distance before and I was completely under trained, but we did it anyway. Afterwards I finally got honored with a Witt’s Warriors t-shirt which I don as I write this. It is my favorite T and I wear it proudly, more so than any other race shirt.
In January, 2014 I lost my father in a freak accident. He fell off the roof while taking down Christmas decorations. I got to honor my father at his celebration of life where I mentioned that I could only hope to be half the man my father was. Norm came up to me after the ceremony and told me words that I will never forget, “You are already a greater man than your father and you will only get better.”
I’m still not sure if I believe those words. I guess in some ways yes and other ways I am a work in progress. What I do believe is that both Norm and I have grown up these past 10 years and have both become better men. It is an honor and privilege to call him friend and that he chose me to train and complete the Chattanooga Ironman 70.3 in Witt’s honor.
View Norm’s blog: http://hebrews12one.com