Spradlin: When a friend commits suicide

Matt Elgin, with feet off the ground

Matt, with feet off the ground

Wow.

I just can’t wrap my mind around this.

I’m in disbelief.

Those are posts on social media by friends, acquaintances and strangers  — at least to me — since Saturday’s startling news. I’m in agreement with all of the above, and then some.

In my neck of the woods up north, a fellow runner and friend took his life only a few days after being diagnosed with an adrenal gland tumor (and only a couple days after turning 43).

Cancer. I don’t know the prognosis. From Matt’s Facebook post on Aug. 5, he indicated surgery in Hershey, Pa., was needed — and that he was a “lucky winner” of the cancer lottery because only 1 in 100,000 get this type of tumor.

Matt said doctors believed the tumor to be benign, but were going to conduct further testing to be sure.

As I recall, Matt and I met on lazy spring afternoon four or five years ago in Washington County, Md. I was on site working on designing and measuring a new cross country course that was to be used as a charity fundraiser.

The course got two thumbs up from Matt, and the charity race netted more than $30,000 — the largest single fundraiser in my low-key running club’s modest six-year history.

Matt’s story into running, what I know of it, at least, is not quite unique anymore but no less inspiring. A standout runner at Pennsylvania high school, Matt left the sport and indulged in unhealthy habits over the next decade or two. I believe it was in his late 30s he decided to pick up running again. In the beginning, nearly every photo of him running showed him wearing a shirt in honor and memory of his mother.

I’m not sure if it was the loss of his mother that spurred him to make the most of life, but anything Matt did, he did with gusto. Over a short period of time, he shed the extra, and unnecessary, pounds and became a fleeter, faster version of his post-high school self.

And he became really fast. As he hit 40, he hit times that even some regionally elite athletes could only dream about. Matt’s personality, though, made his success all the more heartwarming. He was competitive on a race course — the only time I didn’t see him smile was as he grimaced and grunted towards a finish line — but your friend before, during and after.

Matt became an inspiration in the Chambersburg-Hagerstown running community. As he nursed an injury that prevented him from running, Matt reached out to help others achieve their best.

Matt was one to always see the big picture, even if his place was in the back.

But there’s the aftermath of Matt’s death. There are so many unanswered questions. I’m far enough removed from his inner circle of friends that I wonder even if I should feel guilty about having the questions, as perhaps I’m not deserving of the answers. I don’t even know if anyone has them.

I was at the finish line of a race in Frostburg, Md., on Sunday morning when I learned what had happened. A runner who often cites a lack of sleep as a major factor when choosing a race crossed the line and said he’d had only one hour of sleep. I smiled. Typical him. Then he mentioned a friend had committed suicide. Then he mentioned Matt’s name … I had to ask him to repeat it; no, it couldn’t be that Matt.

The runner said Matt had ridden his bike around during a race on Saturday morning, cheering on friends one last time. He took his life shortly after that race. I really don’t know what others saw in my reaction. I don’t remember myself. I remember thinking, “why is this runner telling me this here and now?” As my emotions calmed, however, I realized it was his first chance to tell me — and I was grateful to know, even if it was horrible news. Besides, is there any good way to deliver or receive this type of news?  Probably not.

There is a memorial service for Matt near his home this Saturday. I won’t be able to be there, but my thoughts won’t be anywhere else. As I run on Saturday, my miles will be dedicated to him, but I won’t slack off any. Those miles also will be intended to make me a better runner. After all, that’s exactly what Matt would expect.

Kevin Spradlin lives and trains on the country roads in and around Richmond County. Feel free to wave as he and fellow Mangum Track Club members pass through your neighborhood.

 

 

Filed in: Latest Headlines, Opinion

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  • Sheila Dunn Trotter

    So sorry for your loss. Your words are a nice tribute to his life.

  • Mark Long

    Kevin,
    Indeed a good read and yes, your words are a very nice tribute to your friend. It is often difficult to understand any suicide but even more so for me when it’s a runner. Even at my lowest points running always made things better. However, we don’t know the full story.
    Thank you for sharing.
    Mark

  • Crystal

    Very nice words about Matt. He will be missed by all…He was an inspiration to many…FYI… The picture you posted is Matt and his daughter Sera not his wife Angela
    Rest in Peace Matt… U will not be forgotten… Prayers to Angela and family

  • John N

    Kevin, Thank you for this article. I saw Matt after the race this past Saturday riding his bike like you said. He was going to pace me on that race before he found out about his tumor. Nonetheless he was there to shake my hand and tell me and the otherswhat a good race it was. You’re right. Always full of encouragement for others. I knew him back in the days of his not so good habits. Who I shared a few back then with him. Earlier today a close friend of mine and I talked today about this and he said Matt always said it didn’t matter about your past, it’s who you are now that matters. He always looked ahead and tried so hard. He has always been a great guy, an inspiration to nearly all that met him and truly knew him, and will be dearly missed.

  • Conni M

    Thank you for this lovely writeup. He was an incredible person that we all will feel a hole for a long time. His service was beautiful especially with everyone in their running gear. (I didn’t get that memo.) The best message to take home from this is we should all be more like Matt. Selfless in giving yourself to others. Celebrating a slow runner’s PR as genuinely as your 2nd place win. Supporting each other instead of bringing others down. Most important is always look each other in the eye when you say HI. My last sight of him was Saturday morning. He was shaking his head because I told him I just got off work to run the race. Then him cheering me on riding his bike during the last mile when I was getting tired. His usual thumbs up yelling, “Great job, Conni!” That is how I will always remember my friend.

  • Angela Walker Elgin

    For whatever reason, grief, disconnect etc. I am just now seeing this. Thank you for your thoughts and words about Matt. I would just like to say that to the best of my knowledge there was never an official diagnosis. We were still waiting for the results. Regardless of the reason why things like this happen and our natural curiosity to ask why it is so much more important to remember the impact the survivors from this tragedy face. Such as every time my children Google their father’s name this is what they will see. Or that my daughter’s face is now out there for everyone to see unbeknownst to me her mother. Or everytime my son introduces himself he gets the “oh you’re Matt Elgin? I’m so sorry.” As he has the same name. Not to mention the impact on Matt’s siblings and friends whether close or far removed. Matt should be remembered by all of us as the most kind, generous loving man that he was, not the event that destroyed not only his life but mine on that horrible day. Matt and I spent 23 years together, he was everything to me. And I refuse to let this one event destroy or taint his memory. Some things are best not understood. Every breath I took for 23 years was for him. And not a second had gone by since that horrific Sat afternoon that I haven’t wanted one more chance to see him smile.

    Just where I am at these days.
    Sincerely,

    Angela Elgin (his wife)

    • peedeepost

      A whole lot of people lost a good man that day – husband, father, friend. The photo in question has been removed.

    • Kevin Spradlin

      A whole lot of people lost a good man that day – husband, father, friend. The photo in question has been removed.

      • Angela Walker Elgin

        Thank you for removing the photo. My daughter and I appreciate it.

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