On Friday – the 20th Anniversary of the day I officially started running – I posted a picture on FaceBook of the wall in my home office where all my running medals, plaques and memorabilia hang. One of my friends challenged me to take a picture of my favorite medal and share why. This is it and the “why” is the story below, which I wrote and published on FaceBook in 2013
Work, Running, and the Trip Home
When I was in my late twenties I was already married, had a high paying sales job and had really no long term plan or goals for my future. Always an athlete through school, I was still in search of my “adult sport.” I exercised sporadically. If I was being honest with myself, I admitted I hated my job. The only area not in need of improvement was “family.” I felt I was dealt a pretty good hand.
In 1965, just days after my birth in Ireland, I was given up for adoption. In New Jersey a couple longed for a child. Neighbors had adopted a little girl from Ireland and they told them that they would like to as well. The neighbor put them in touch with Sister John Scully at the Convent of Mercy in Ballinasloe, County Galway, who quickly wrote back explaining, “have I got the baby for you.” I was four months old.
After paperwork, a home study, a visa application and a lot of waiting, I made the journey with Sister John aboard an Aer Lingus 707 to New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport and met my parents. I had just turned 2.
As the story was told to me hundreds of times…when we got into the terminal and I met my parents for the first time, my dad instinctively picked me up. Everyone held their breath wondering what my reaction would be to this new man in my life. I put my head on his shoulder and fell asleep. I knew I was in good hands.
So I had a wonderful life with Maureen and Patrick Sheehy growing up in affluent Northern New Jersey. I went to private schools, Broadway shows, the ballet, the Metropolitan Opera. I cruised aboard the QE2. I travel throughout the Caribbean and parts of Europe. I took tennis and horseback riding lessons. I spent summers in Montauk, the Hamptons and Shelter Island. I was an only child. They somehow managed to keep me humble. Without really knowing where I came from, I sensed that I was getting a pretty good deal. I knew deep down that I would need to repay this gift someday.
When people would hear I was adopted, they would often want to know if I knew my biological parents (or as they would erroneously say, “real” parents). I thought, “let sleeping dogs lie.” I was given up for a reason; had wonderful parents and so many opportunities. What more could I expect to get in life? I never searched.
I began to create a family of my own when I met my husband. I was 27. We got married a year later. We moved into a nice apartment and I got that higher paying job. I knew I hated it after about three months. The big boss had come in while I was taking up a collection for a co-worker who had been diagnosed with cancer. He told me to “stop wasting company time sending gifts to sick co-workers.” I knew I had to find something more meaningful to do with my life.
I stuck it out because working in New York City allowed me to take some classes at NYU. I also liked my coworkers and convinced them to join a Chemical Bank Corporate Challenge team that I organized. It was a 3.5 mile road race around Central Park. I didn’t think it could be that hard; after all, as I said, I exercised…sporadically. I was so disappointed in my performance that as soon as the snow melted the following winter, I actually started running. At the same time my husband and I began thinking about a big vacation. Maybe to Europe and although I’m an American citizen, I also thought it would be fun to have my Irish passport renewed.
In order to process the renewal application, I needed a copy of my original birth certificate which I never had. I had to send away for it and when it arrived, it contained all of my birth-mother’s information. My husband was the one that was really curious. One call to international directory assistance and one call to the number we were given and we had found her.
I turned 30; I received a certificate in event marketing from NYU; and I ran.
After corresponding with my birth-mother for about a year – and finding out I had 12 half siblings! – my husband and I went to Ireland to visit. We didn’t stay as long as we planned. I went there thinking it was no big deal and it really was huge deal! I found it very emotionally draining. I met 5 of my sisters and a bunch of my nieces and nephews. Three weeks after returning from the trip, I was laid off from my sales job. I got a new job with a local United Way in New Jersey as Special Events Director.
And through it all I ran. I began to love running and found it to be a great stress reliever. It made me feel good. It gave me discipline and focus. I began to set goals for running and life. My birth mother came to visit. My husband took her to the American Museum of Natural History while I waited on line in Central Park for my application to the New York City Marathon.
I completed the 1997 New York City Marathon and raised money for United Way. My parents, my husband, coworkers and friends were there…in the pouring rain. I got promoted to Vice President.
I kept in touch with my birth-mother through letters and traded Christmas cards with my sisters in the years that followed. And I ran. I trained for two more Marathons, several Half Marathons and countless other races. Life was busy. We bought a house; had a baby. I left United Way and became the CEO of a small non-profit cancer organization. I turned 40.
My family in Ireland seemed so far away. Life got busier. My dad died. My mom got sick. I became the head of fundraising and communications for a very large child welfare agency commuting everyday again into New York City. It was 2009 and in order to manage agency communications I had to join Facebook. I didn’t want to, but found friends from old places and connected with people in my running club too. Then I found many of my siblings and nieces and nephews; some I had never met. I had a chance to really communicate with them on a regular basis.
Finally last year I decided my daughter should meet her cousins and aunts and uncles. So we went over during her Easter break, celebrated her 12th birthday and stayed for almost a week with one sister whose daughters were 16 and 11. We had a family reunion on Easter where I got to meet almost everyone else. Besides the 12 siblings I have 26 nieces and nephews and at last count, I think 37 great-nieces and nephews. We talked about running. My sisters told me they wanted to run a Marathon with me. There was a picture taken of all the “grandchildren” and there was my daughter’s little face surrounded by all these other little faces that looked remarkably like her.
Exactly three weeks after returning from that trip, I lost my job. Then my mom died. Then a chain of events occurred that led me to the position of Chief Development Officer at (New York City Adoption Agency); an organization whose mission it is to find homes for the most vulnerable children.
I started in my new position on April 15 (the day of the Boston Marathon bombing). I asked if I could take a vacation I had planned months earlier. Of course I could go home to see my family in Ireland. That’s what (New York City Adoption Agency) was all about. So we are headed “home” on August 2 to stay for almost two weeks this time. While I’m there I will be running the Dublin Half Marathon with four of my sisters. Even with my parents gone, I have more family than I could have ever imagined. And when I return, it will be to the most meaningful job I’ve ever had.
Of course I hoped the rest of the story would read, “and she lived happily ever after.” But this is life, not a fairy tale. So there is more, which I will share at another time. My Life: Part 2…
With one of my brothers and four of my sisters before the start of the Inaugural Rock ‘n’ Roll Dublin Half Marathon, August 2013.