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He calls precisely once each year. I always look forward to it and make sure I’m staying at a trailhead that has cell service.
“Happy f—ing Easter,” is his greeting.
“Happy f—king Easter, asshole,” is mine.
It’s an inside joke, one that began when I was a senior in high school.
Officially, he was my cross-country coach. Some might call him a mentor, a father figure or even—as the person who first introduced me to running—the most influential person in my life. I’ve always just called him by his last name, which is Nestor.
Nestor cares. Nearly 15 years since graduation, and the man can recite my race times better than I can. He knows my gun time versus my chip time, committing two numbers to his memory every time I raced. In any rare meeting, he will cite the gun time because he knows I won’t be able to resist correcting him to the faster time.
“I’d like you to meet my former athlete, Jenn Shelton, our first Ocean Lakes graduate to qualify for the Olympic Trials,” he said a few years ago to the parent of a high-school runner he was coaching. “She just won the Pear Blossom in 60 minutes and two seconds!”
“Nice to meet you,” I said, shaking hands. Well-versed in politeness, I remembered to make eye contact. I remembered to ask the parent how her daughter was enjoying the team, and to say what a great coach Nestor is. But before going through those motions, I couldn’t stop myself from saying, “It was actually 59 minutes and 50 seconds.”
Nestor never calls the night before a big race to wish me luck. He doesn’t call with congratulations after a good performance, or—since he’s not an imbecile—condolences after a bad one. Instead, he calls once a year.
A man of ritual, he always calls the same day, same time. On Easter Sunday, immediately following his Sunday long run, on his drive back from the trailhead to brunch.
I don’t have to ask how far he ran that morning or with whom. I know he ran the same loop in Seashore State Park, Virginia Beach, with the same group of men he’s run with every Sunday for the last 20 years. I know they spent the run talking trash and making ridiculous claims. I know that at brunch Nestor will have ordered cheese grits and Mountain Dew.
There’s something extremely comforting in this knowledge. I think it is a form of what most people seek—stability. Constancy. A sense of home. Too much of this in my life would make me extremely uneasy, but this small foothold, this steady heartbeat of Nestor’s existence, seems to be the perfect dosage.
I seem to thrive on uncertainty, of watching life miraculously fall into place at the last moment. I may not know where I’m parking my van and sleeping each night, but I do know this: Sunday will come, and Nestor will run with the crew. He will then head directly to brunch and test the outer limits of his blood pressure and tooth enamel. This weekly unfolding of events gives life a certain order.
One Easter Sunday when I was in high school, I was in my kitchen grabbing breakfast when I dropped a spoonful of Peter Pan peanut butter onto the linoleum floor. I had one minute to eat. At exactly 7:25 I would hear a honk, and Nestor would arrive to take me to the trailhead for our Sunday long run and post-long-run brunch.
“F—in’ A,” I said just as my mom walked into the kitchen. She was about to yell to watch my language when Nestor’s horn cut her short. I knew that my mom loved Nestor, grateful that her youngest had found an outlet that tired her out and kept her out of trouble. But she was grumpy. I had chosen the Sunday long run over Easter mass, the post-run brunch over family brunch.
“Did Nestor teach you to talk like that?” she said.
“Yes,” I lied, being a smart-aleck teenager.
Without a goodbye, I ran outside, jumped in Nestor’s car, and said, settling in, “I just told my mom you taught me how to curse.”
“Well then, happy f—king Easter,” was his greeting.
“Happy f—king Easter, asshole,” was mine.
Jenn Shelton lives in the general f—king vicinity of Durango, Colorado.