In Memory Andrew Howard; A TNC Member Gone Too Soon (A Giveaway Tribute at End of Post)

If you know me & the team I have created and coach, I am heavily invested in my athletes. I weather their ups and downs right along with them. Sometimes it's hard to carry that weight, but the highs that come along with it are THE BEST. I could coach more at a distance, but having each of my athletes as "family" is well... just too darn fun not to :).

Except... I hadn't prepared myself for this phone call. This "down".

I coached Andrew Howard (link to his TNC athlete page) for almost 2 years, although he has recently been on a break from TNC. His husband messaged me late on a Friday to call him. Odd, I thought. I take calls at all hours, all days of the week - but it's fairly unusual for a Friday night conversation.

"I wanted you to hear from me right away," Andrew's husband began. "Andrew took his own life today."

---

Like I said, I had the privilege to coach Mr. Howard for nearly two years. In 2014, when he started, we smashed 3 of his PRs - even some of those from his collegiate XC running days at Gustavus. In 2015, he decided that wasn't enough and went on to RESET every single one of those, as well as set new PRs at EVERY SINGLE DISTANCE HE RACED. He refused to race the 10k even though his PR now stuck out like a sore thumb. He said that race distance was dumb and hurt in too awkward of a way. Ha! So, he PR'd in every distance, sans 10k.

My last run with Andrew, around Christmas, 2015.

He was SO coachable, and so determined! In 2014 he logged ~2400 miles (might have been a bigger pick-up when he started with TNC!), and 2015 saw 3,055. Wow.

His 2015 miles. Impressive.
 Before one of his recent track workouts, he texted a picture of a TX downpour that said, "Tornado Warning! I might not hit my paces, btw"
Doesn't this scream, "Let's go out for a track workout! Alone!"


 He then proceeded to nail the workout. Post workout text: "2:50, 2:50, 2:51, 2:51, 2:52, 2:52, 2:52. With a near-flood stage creek raging next to me and 15-25 mph winds. That's a win!"

Another fun memory: I wasn't able to get him to give up his mimosas after a long run. He said he could probably find some research that showed that 2-3 of those drinks were the best possible way to refuel. I saved him the trouble of finding research, because he would have!, and gave up on the man's refueling strategies.

--

Even his husband didn't know the extent of Andrew's mental illness battle, so I know I can't blame myself for not seeing anything in him.

The last text conversation we had was about the new indoor marathon world record that had been set. He asked me if my old bones still had a 2:44 in me. [Originally he was going to pace me through 1/2 way, along with Jeff, to the record] I told him I didn't know, and I think he was happy to know he might be off the hook for pacing duties.

The one thing Andrew wanted to accomplish under me was a sub-3:05 marathon finish. His BQ. I wish, more than anything, I could have gifted that to him. It would have meant SO much to this man (PR was 3:11). I tear up as I write this.

He was just a little competitive :)
I think another reason his suicide has affected me so much is that I was in the exact same place a year ago. I was just lucky enough to have people near me the two times I wanted to attempt ending my life. I could have been Andrew. I am so thankful for those family & friends around me that saved me.

I will miss you SO much, Andrew. I will also try harder than ever before to see if I can prevent even one more unnecessary struggle, isolation, or death by DEFEATING THE STIGMA around mental health illness. Andrew didn't talk about any of this - to anyone - because he had so much shame of the disease. It's not shameful at all! It's just what you've been given - you can then try to do the best with it (and everything else you've been given in life) that you can. Medications, therapy, support groups, medical professionals - they are there to help someone manage their disease. It really is no different from cancer or any other disease.

If you are suffering from a mental illness and don't feel like you can talk to anyone - please, please feel like you can reach out to me at anytime. I sincerely mean that. There is no shame.

So - with that peppy post - I ask that anyone close to Andrew: current TNC athletes, former teammates, Rochester family & friends, acquaintances: or anyone that has been close to someone struggling with a mental illness - Come out to the Defeat the Stigma trail 5k or 10k run this weekend with Nathan and me. Show your support for mental health awareness. It's in Farmington, MN, starting at 8am. Plus there are pancakes afterwards!!

Heck, I hope one of us takes a big digger in honor of Andrew to really make him proud (ahem, Nathan, can you take the fall? I don't want to get hurt :)) . For those of you that knew Andrew, he was an extremely generous donor to the biff pot. That man knew how to FALL :)

To help you to be able to get to the race, I have TWO FREE ENTRIES to give away to the race in honor of Andrew! Please comment below for an entry: share a story you have about a struggle or success you've had, or you've witnessed, dealing with mental health.

Let's beat this! Defeat the Stigma!

#RIPAndrew


Nichole Porath

Nichole is a blogger, elite level runner, and coach. She ran professionally for Brooks for two years after qualifying for the 2012 US Olympic Marathon Trials. During that time she founded TNC endurance, where she coaches and motivationally speaks to organizations large and small. This blog details her rise to national-level racing, and continues to follow her as she gets back into racing after starting a family. Read on, friends!

9 comments:

  1. I am so sorry to hear this, that is super sad. I'm here watching Sierra do ballet n have a tear in my eye and I didn't know him. It's crazy how much one person's life can effect sooo many.

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  2. I will be proud to run this weekend to "Defeat The Stigma" of mental illness. I will be there in honor of Andrew, but also in honor of you Nichole, who is fighting to bring mental illness out of the shadows and encourage people who need it to seek treatment.

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  3. I have shared w Nichole stories of anxiety and depression in our own family but right now I am recalling a recent conversation with a skier friend. His son had made attempts at suicide many years ago and they went through therapy with him to help him through those tough, dark adolescent moments of junior high school. He told me that through the experience he learned to be a better father, that he learned to show more love to his children, to not stress the small stuff. Not a week goes by now that I don't recall that conversation as I navigate my world and my day to day life with three children. Through his sharing of this story, I strive to show more love to my own family that has its ups and downs with depression and anxiety, and to each and every person that I meet...for I have no idea what they have been through or are going through. Show more love...simple but so needed! Thanks for sharing your story, Andrew's story and encouraging others to share their stories so that they are no longer alone in their struggle! --Heather Norton-Bower

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  4. What terribly sad news.

    I had the pleasure of cheering Andrew on, then feasting with him and some other TNCers after Zoom Ya Ya last year. I was amazed by his determination during that race. You wrote a post highlighting some of his goals and accomplishments last year and I felt a kinship with him, knowing that he was out to crush all of his PRs. There were a couple of tidbits in that same post that showed what a hilarious, quirky sense of humor he had--made me with that I could train with him. In my opinion, levity is the best way to temper the pain of grueling intervals. I think he might have agreed.

    I'm thinking of and grieving with his husband, his family, his friends. Nichole, my heart is broken for you, too, knowing how personal this must be. I am so sorry. If I wasn't already running another race, I would join you for the run on Saturday. I will be there in spirit. Amy O

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  5. I missed a bit of key info at the end of your post regarding the date of the Defeat the Stigma race (it's sometimes hard to read through tears.) I CAN and WILL join you at the race on Sunday morning. I can't think of a better way to honor Andrew.

    I have a niece who won't be graduating with her high school class because of crippling depression and anxiety. And my husband's cousin took her life last year for the same reason. It took two weeks for her family to admit it was suicide because no one wanted to upset the elders. Let's Defeat the Stigma. See you Sunday. Amy O

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  6. I've also seen Andrew run the indoor marathon at Olaf and had so much fun cheering him on and asking Nichole about his nutrition plan as he was flying by each lap. I would be more than honored to run on Sunday in honor of Andrew. Always a huge smile on his face and so kind that words cannot describe.

    aND I had no idea that Andrew fell more than me .... How is this possible. I Better donate to the biff it pot at least quarterly.

    See you all Sunday!

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  7. Mi hermano va a salir este sábado y no sé si va a regresar. Otra vez me cedo triste y voy a sentir lejos de mi familia. Me ayuda mucho correr para sentirme bien. -Marcos

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  8. And the winners are: Nate and Marcos! Congrats!

    Hope to see everyone out there on the trail on Sunday. If you haven't already registered, NicholeRunningReaders will save you $5 on your entry.

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  9. I didn't know Andrew in person, but he was a wonderful contributor to the advancedrunning subreddit. I was just sharing his Big Cottonwood Marathon race report with someone and was reminded of how much I missed his presence on advancedrunning, so I googled him to see where he was, and was shocked to find this post more than a year after it was written. This is a fitting tribute to Andrew the runner and Andrew the person.

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