Niantic's McCoy has found a way to #runlikekeith
East Lyme — For the endeavor of running, Becky McCoy invented an “anti-bucket list.”
“I was pretty outspoken. 'I really know running is not for me,' ” McCoy said. “I was far past disinterested. The mile run in high school was the worst day of the year for me.”
Except now McCoy is training for a half-marathon.
Having already lost her dad, Mike Giannattasio, 52, to cancer in 2012, McCoy's 32-year-old husband Keith McCoy died on Jan. 5 after being struck by cancer for the second time.
Becky McCoy was left with two young children, 2-year-old Caleb Michael, born the day before Mike died, and 6-month-old Libby — Elizabeth Grace McCoy — who was born approximately a month after the death of Keith. McCoy was left with her family, her friends and an allegiant faith.
That's when she started running.
McCoy, 29, a 2004 East Lyme High School graduate, recently transplanted her family back to Niantic after living in Waldorf, Md. She will run the Navy-Air Force Half-Marathon on Sept. 20 in Washington, D.C., in memory of Keith.
Keith, who graduated in 2000 from Fitch High School, was a family practice doctor at Joint Base Andrews Naval Air Facility, formerly Andrews Air Force Base, near Washington. A member of Fitch's cross country team that won the New England championship in 1998 and also a prominent member of the Falcons' indoor and outdoor track teams, Keith was an avid runner.
“A friend of mine called one day and said that one of her goals before we turned 30 was to run a half-marathon (13.1 miles). She said the Navy-Air Force half was in the fall,” McCoy said recently from the kitchen of her new home near Attawan Beach, the sounds of construction ongoing, Libby being propped up by her mom on the kitchen table.
“I said, 'Absolutely not, but I'll be there to cheer you on,'” McCoy said, recalling the conversation with her friend, Morgan Scott. “Then I thought, 'I should think about it and not just react out of fear.' … It's become a way I work through my grief, process things in the way that (Keith) liked to process things. I thought, 'Maybe I'm just crazy enough to do this.'”
McCoy, who often runs with her two children in a double-stroller, compounding the task, is being coached in preparation for the half-marathon by a family friend and by Caleb, who has learned to say, “You can do it, Mama! Keep running!”
She has gone as far as eight miles so far, at times slowing to a walk, sometimes stopping to cry. Her caravan has grown; more than a dozen runners will join her in Washington. She has learned to look forward to her runs, even feeling a sense of disappointment upon being forced inside on a recent rainy day.
McCoy has adopted the mantra #runlikekeith, something she explains has nothing to do with how fast one can go.
In her blog, “our life in four bags (a life full of unexpected adventures),” McCoy quotes the Bible, 2 Timothy 4: 7-8, by way of explanation: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day.”
“In the Bible, there are a lot of allusions to living life like a race,” McCoy said. “Keep plugging along, finish well. Keith lived well and he died well. … I'll never be as fast as him; I'm not built to ever be fast. But I can run with joy.”
Born Gregory Keith McCoy on Jan. 11, 1982, Keith was the youngest of Bob and Joanne McCoy's three children, following siblings Todd and Gwynne.
Keith attended Wheaton (Ill.) College and the University of New England College of Osteopathic Medicine in Biddeford, Maine. His favorite place to run was Bluff Point. He loved snow.
Becky described him as “funny in his own way, very intelligent and very hardworking.”
Perhaps Keith's signature, however, was his kindness.
Upon his death, Becky received scores of notes from people with stories to share. All of them talked about her late husband's considerate nature.
“Keith was not a social person, but he was very kind,” Bob McCoy said this week. “He cared for people who couldn't give anything back. He didn't worry about that.
“… People don't forget Keith. He wasn't showy, but he was kind. He couldn't be the politician, but he kept up a network of friends. Once you were his friend, you had to work hard not to be.”
Longtime Fitch coach Rich Kosta, who had Keith as a member of the indoor track team and also was his event coach during outdoor track, said Keith was a reluctant competitor despite his successes as a runner.
“Once of the nicest kids I've ever coached,” Kosta said. “He didn't like competing against other people; he didn't want to beat them. He raced for his team, for himself, against the clock. He wasn't one of those guys that went out and wanted to slam the other person.”
Keith first met Becky through their church, Groton Bible Chapel, where Bob McCoy is the senior pastor. It also is where Mike and Patty Giannattasio and their daughters, Becky and Molly, practiced their faith.
On their first date, the couple wound up at the Niantic Bay Boardwalk, where Keith requested a dance lesson from Becky, somewhat of a specialist in the matter (she went on to teach dance, as well as physics). They ended up in a waltz.
By 2008, they were married.
Keith, who was diagnosed with lymphoma while he was in medical school, was in remission at the time of the wedding. He passed the significant milestone of being five years cancer-free in 2013.
“We got married and started our crazy adventures, doing crazy things. … We thought we were out of the woods,” Becky said. “Then he got night sweats (in late 2014). We thought, 'Here we go again.' There's nothing I know of besides cancer that includes night sweats. Not like that. It was like he got out of a pool.”
Becky McCoy will run next month to honor Keith's memory. She will help raise money for a doctor friend of Keith's who is serving as a missionary in Bolivia that he might build a sound-proof room in which to conduct hearing tests.
She will run to tell her story, Keith's story, so that her children might know it someday, too.
“They'll have a different understanding of their dad, their own kind of memories,” McCoy said. “When he was feeling poorly, he would reach out and hold my belly (when she was pregnant with Libby). That's a special thing for her to know.”
McCoy is a graduate of Wagner College and Teachers College at Columbia University. She is a daughter, sister, mom, friend.
She also is a runner.
“The first time I hit one mile, I thought, 'I never thought I'd make it this far and not hate it,'” McCoy said. “I never thought, never, I'd enjoy it. I never thought I wouldn't hate it. Oh, yeah. I'm still surprised.
“It's so different this time. I'm not going in with the intention of losing weight. It's not an athletic thing where I fear failing. I've started to look forward to it. I've learned to be gracious to myself.”
And of her friend, whose notion it was to #runlikekeith in the first place?
“Just yesterday she was complaining,” McCoy said with a broad smile. “She said, 'Whose idea was this?'”
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