By Celine Klosterman
Matt McCue was a university senior when he heard that Bob Brown, his cross-country coach at Regina High School in Iowa City, had been diagnosed with stage 3 inoperable pancreatic cancer. “It was more or less a death sentence,” McCue, 26, said.
Worried, he called Brown and asked how the coach could deal with such a fate. “In a gentle, calm voice, he said, ‘Matt, I’m going to do the best I can, and the rest is up to him’ — meaning God.”
McCue thinks Brown’s show of faith is one of the most touching points in his new memoir that’s largely about the longtime coach, who died in November 2007, about two years after his diagnosis.
“An Honorable Run” chronicles McCue’s time as a runner at Regina and at the University of Colorado, and reflects on lessons he learned from Brown and Colorado coach Mark Wetmore.
Some of those lessons echoed faith-based teachings, McCue said. Brown would remind Regina athletes to “do the right thing when no one’s looking” — such as training on Saturdays, when Brown couldn’t check up on them.
“At the time, I saw that (advice) only in the context of running,” McCue said. “Now, I think it’s good for life, too… you can probably wrap all Ten Commandments into that quote.”
McCue has taken other lessons from his years of competitive running. At first, when he suffered injuries or had a bad running season, he’d almost feel angry at God. But as he grew, he started to trust the Lord more during struggles. “I’d be able to say, ‘That’s OK; everything happens for a reason.’”
That same view helped Brown deal with cancer, keep his faith and take things in stride.
“He helped my perspective mature a little bit,” McCue said.
“He never lost faith,” said Darlene Brown, Bob’s widow. “It’d be human nature to ask why, but Bob never asked, why me?”
She said talks with Father Rudolph Juarez, pastor of St. Patrick Parish in Iowa City, gave her and Bob the spiritual help they needed.
The opportunity to share Coach Brown’s inspiration with others moved McCue to write about him. With a degree in English, he started working on the book not long after Brown was diagnosed and McCue had graduated from college in spring 2005. Writing each morning and evening — when off work from his job in New York for Vanity Fair magazine — he hoped to finish and publish the memoir in a couple months. “But it took four years,” he said.
Still, in the end he had what he thought was an “exciting” story. Family members helped edit and market the self-published book, which over the past several weeks has been featured in local and national publications including Sports Illustrated and Runner’s World.
Though McCue still runs daily and plans to compete in his first marathon this fall in New York, he said he’s channeled much of his competitive energy into writing. He’s now penning freelance articles and envisions authoring a second book, possibly about New York.
In the literary arena, his ultimate goal is to tell stories that leave an impact.
“An Honorable Run” is “a good story that hopefully someone will read and say, ‘This is a good guy whose life I want to emulate,’” McCue said. “And if they do that, they’ll end up doing some good Christian actions.”
The Regina graduate hopes his book also will make a difference for people battling pancreatic cancer. Part of the proceeds will go toward the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, which aims to advance research and support patients.
Darlene Brown said that gesture made her family very happy. And she said her late husband would’ve been pleased, too.
“I know Bob would be very proud of Matt,” she said. “He turned into a great young man.”
To read book excerpts or purchase the memoir, visit www.anhonorablerun.com.