It is with great sadness that I must share the news that my good friend Greg Junell has died. He lost his battle with Lymphoma on Saturday morning, about 2 months after a "bone marrow transplant" of stem cells from donated umbilical cord blood. This is the person I mentioned when I spoke about being inspired to Join Team in Training, so his death hits very close to home for me. Saturday was very difficult for us, spending the entire day glued to facebook, watching everyone's updates as the news spread and people poured their hearts out. The sadness of the day was tempered by lunch with friends, a toddler's birthday party, and dinner with other friends. The same facebook updates that made us so sad also lifted us up as we saw how Greg had touched so many people over his lifetime. The outpouring of memories was truly spectacular. When I die I know only a small fraction of that number of people will notice that I am gone.
The last time we saw Greg was on July 1st while passing through L.A. on the way to San Diego. We happened to catch Greg at a good time, when he was awake and pretty lucid. We were running a little behind schedule and the little one was getting hungry but it was so hard to bring our visit to an end, given how infrequently we get to see him. He made me a heart of pipe cleaners and gave Erin a home-made calling card that he was giving out to other patients on the floor advertizing his room as the place for fun, games, poker, and chatting.
At the time he was still having pretty bad diarrhea and his graft-vs-host disease was bothering him but his spirits were high. He told me they were aiming to check him out of the hospital in 30 days or so, and that he would be returning directly to SLO instead of to an off-campus recovery facility. This was incredibly good news!
I wish like hell I'd recorded our talk, but I can remember a couple important things. We talked about his condition, the hospital, the drugs he was on, his exercise routines, etc. But the biggest thing we talked about were his goals. I asked him what he planned to do when he got out and although I don't recall his exact words, it boiled down to how he thought of himself as a Bhudda. I didn't understand what he meant so I asked for clarification and he explained that he sees him self in the role of someone who tidies things up.
His view is that he came to this earth and noticed some things that could use a little tidying up and he's doing his part to make things a little better. He told me that there was still work to do and he looked forward to continuing that work after he got home. He showed me his different notebooks where he took notes about everything from friends, doctors, projects for later, etc.
As everyone who knew him is pointing out, he was driven to selflessly make the world a better place. It is no coincidence that he was a high school teacher. So many people now think to themselves "What would Greg do?" and for good reason.
We left Duarte that night and headed down to San Diego for a great vacation with friends and family. Since I moved away from SLO I've always spent more time thinking about him than actually getting to hang out with him, and we did a lot of thinking about him over the rest of that vacation. That's when the idea of doing Team in Training really made sense to me. I think it was then that I knew I was going to do that for him.
Being far away for the last 9 years means I couldn't be there for him the way other people were over the course of his three battles with cancer. Raising money to cure cancer is the thing that I can do for him. His death means that the money I raise will not benefit him directly but will go on to help others like him. There are other Greg Junells in the world - people loved by families, people who do good in the world, good people whose lives will be interrupted by cancer. The money I raise will hopefully make their go of it easier and I'm sure that he would be pleased with that.
My vision was that Greg would recover from this round of lymphoma and go on to lead the kind of active, healthy life that he had always lived. It was my dream that he would be able to join me in Tahoe in September of next year and have a good ol' time on race weekend with me.
My original plan was to compete in honor of Greg but now I must compete in memory of him.
You can read what people have to say about him here: http://www.memoriesofgreg.com/
You can read his blog from the last few years here: http://www.greghowareyou.com/
You can read more about my fundraising effort here: http://pages.teamintraining.org/sj/irnmnltt13/bjohnsuovy