The Columbia Classic was a 15 kilometer race which follows the historic Columbia River
Highway from the Women’s Forum viewpoint to the foot of Oregon’s famous Multnomah
Falls. I ran the race with my son, David, just a year ago. Although the Columbia Classic is no
more, memories of that race linger with me. It was an experience that marked my life . . . and
the life of my son.

David has been a runner since finished his first Portland Marathon “Kids Fun Run” at age
two.  His first trip across the finish line was in a stroller while his mom jogged along behind
several of his older siblings.  During his grade school years, David was fortunate enough to
have a PE teacher (a Golden Shoe Award recipient) who took running seriously and
organized running programs for his students. Before he had graduated from grade school,
David was running cross country and track. He took fourth place in his age division in his first
Portland Marathon Five-Miler at age 12.

When David was young, I would take him on short runs, gradually increasing the distance to
two miles. As he grew older, we increased the distance and before long we were doing five
and six mile training runs together.  One of the greatest races of my life was Oregon’s Hood
To Coast Relay which I ran with David and his older brother John in August 2001. I
overheard an adult runner comment, “I don’t want to run a leg with that little kid–he’s fast!”     

David kept wanting to increase his mileage, but as a 13 year-old, I insisted that he limit his
distance while his bones and body were growing.  But the 2003 Columbia Classic caught his
attention and pretty soon he was showing me the running brochures and suggesting that we
run it together. Well, I knew it would be a challenging course for him. He had never run a 9
mile race and I wasn’t sure how it would affect him.  But after his relentless urging, I signed
the entry forms and sent in the check.

Race day finally came. We parked at a mall and were transported to the starting line by
buses. It was a beautiful evening with a lovely view of the Columbia River and Crown Point
from the Women’s Forum viewpoint.  David was excited about racing. I was happy to be with
my son and to share a sport that we both love. This was going to be fun!

The race started late, but the horn finally sounded and we were off running. I took off fast as
I usually do, only to realize after a minute or two that my pace was too fast for a nine-miler. I
told David that we needed to slow down.  That was hard for him, but he cooperated and we
slowed to about a 6:30 pace.  But I could see that David was itching to take off. Other
runners were slipping past us. I knew that David wanted to run with the leaders, not just
cruse along with the mid-pack runners.

We had planned this race and trained for it together.  But I knew as we reached the first mile
marker that I needed to set my son free.  He needed to run his own race and I needed to run
mine.  Taking a deep breath between strides I said, “David, take off, son, and I’ll see you at
the finish line.”

I saw him glance at me to catch the look in my eyes. “Are you sure, Dad?” he asked?  

“Yes, David, I am sure,” I replied.

We ran on together for a few more yards.

“Are we still having fun, Dad?” he asked, wondering if I really meant what I had suggested.

I reassured him with my words, “Yes, David, we are still having fun.”       

I gave him a sweaty grin and off he went.

There are moments in life which I will always remember. This was one of those moments. I
wasn’t sure whether I was sad, proud or both as I watched my son wind through the crowd of
runners to catch up with the lead runners.  Before long, he had disappeared into the crowd.

I am a pretty social runner during most of my workouts and races.  I like to greet other
runners and encourage them along the course.  But on this night I kept to my self and ran
with my memories.

I remembered one of David’s first “fun runs.” He had been so excited about the event that he
had put on his tee-shirt and had forgotten to put on his running shorts.  The oversized tee-
shirt covered him well until his mother tried to tuck it in for the race.  Little David was horrified
to discover that he was short-less!  After a few tears, he realized that nobody would know
and he ran the race with just his shirt and shoes!  

I remembered the fun we had one morning when we ran a six mile section of the Oregon
Coast together–just David and I, the sand, and sea gulls. What a special time we had
together!  I remembered his ribbons, his awards, his joy at finishing well, his tears at an
unexpected stumble and defeat.

Now he was growing up and was running a 15 kilometer race on his own. I was teary as I
though about our running together because I knew that this race was a defining moment in
his running career and in our relationship as father and son. We had passed a milestone in
life.  I was sure that our running would never be quite the same after this event. Yet at the
same time, I was happy that David had the confidence, desire, determination to take off and
run his own race.

David finished the Columbia Classic in 59:18, the fourteenth runner across the finish line.  
When I came in 16 minutes later he was waiting for me at the finish line with an ice cream bar
in each hand.  He handed me one an ice cream and put his arm around me!         

“How did you do, I asked?”

He told me the story of his race as the ice cream cooled our dry mouths and satisfied our
post race hunger. The night was pleasant and the food tasted great.  We gorged ourselves
with goodies before climbing aboard a waiting bus to return to the mall parking lot.

A couple of days later I met David at the back door as we were both starting out for our
morning run.  

“Want me to run with you,” I asked.  

He hesitated and then replied, “Thanks, Dad, I think I’ll run this one by myself today.”  
“Great,” I replied. “I’ll see you at breakfast.”

As a parent of four, I have always said that the two best things you can give your children
are “roots and wings.”  "Roots" refers to the confidence and assurance that you will always
there for them to help and encourage in times of needs.  By "wings" I mean the freedom to
develop as an individual, with personal goals and commitments.  During the Columbia
Classic on July 18, 2002, David had spouted his wings. I knew we would still run races
together, but now he would be on his own, setting his own goals, and running his own race.  

And yes, David, we are still having fun.  We will always have fun running, racing, and
dreaming of finishing strong and well.  

I’ll see you at the finish line.


Postscript       
     
David ran cross-country and track during his high school years at Central Catholic High
School. He had a great spring track season as a senior in 2007. He won the Aloha Invitation
early in the season and finished spring track taking 5th in Oregon's State Track at Hayward
Field. David graduated from CCHS and  is now enrolled in Southern Oregon University and
runs for the SOU Raiders Cross Country and Track team. And yes, David, we are having
great fun!
Running With David

J. Carl Laney
David Laney leading in the 3000 at the
Oregon State High School Meet at Hayward
Field (2007). This is one of my favorite
pictures of David. He has such a determined
look in his eyes!
David's team, the Southern Oregon Raiders, won
the NAIA National Cross Country Championship in
2010. David took 4th out of about 300 runners,
the first American runner across the finish line!
The Southern Oregon Raiders X-C team was
honored at the Oregon Sports Awards event.
David is holding the team trophy.