Tim Bergsten created this Ning Network.

I think that it’s a little unfortunate that blogging has basically been replaced with Instagram. With our seemingly ever-decreasing attention spans as humans, I do enjoy a quick and clever quip beneath a fun but often filtered photo as much as the next person, but I’ll always like getting a more full-picture of someone’s goings-on, and peoples’ inner thoughts put into words are fascinating to me. I always used to read peoples’ blogs, and part of why I’m resurrecting this one is because John always read my blog. For that, he gets his very own post.

“Hi Shannon, I thought you might want to hear a Colorado voice that’s not just your parents.” Nearly three years ago, my phone rang right as I crossed the Nevada/California border. It was John O’Neil on the other end, my old boss and acquaintance or–dare I say–friend, of over 15 years.

“I was just thinking about you out there on the West Coast, I thought you might like to link up with some people and running groups out there that I know of.”

I was surprised at the time and not at all expecting his call. After all, I hadn’t seen or talked to John in a few months, I didn’t have any idea that he knew that I had left Colorado for a job in California the day before. At the time, you better believe that I wanted to hear a familiar voice. I knew no one and no place where I was headed, and while I was excited I also felt quite isolated, and so I was also a little melancholy. Turns out dramatic change is difficult.

But in hindsight, I shouldn’t have been all that surprised by his call. That was John. The Grinch With a Heart of Gold who always seemed to know how your life and your running were going, sometimes with more insight into those things than even you had. He was a funny guy, maybe a little hard to read at times, seemingly always shuffling around his running store wearing socks with Birkenstocks, telling an inappropriate story or doling out running or shoe advice or encouragement disguised as sarcasm.

What I was surprised by was his abrupt passing just a few weeks ago. I think we all were, such a pillar was he among the running community in Colorado Springs and in the running industry in general. I had known him since my freshman year at UCCS when I went to work (briefly) at his store. I got fired that first time around, but then again I was a real pain in the ass employee and totally oblivious to that fact so hey, I probably deserved it.

I really did not realize until recently just how many times John was just kind of there throughout my time in college and well beyond as Colorado Springs became my home over 12-plus years. He was there as my first employer. He was there at nearly every race I ran in Springs unattached between track and cross country seasons at UCCS. He was there on many a morning run on the Santa Fe Trail or Garden of the Gods. He was there with a quick pat on the back and a smile following my first and best Pikes Peak Ascent. He was there when I moved to Dallas for a rep job. He was there at my first Running Event in Austin as the only familiar face in a room of corporate big-wigs speaking their corporate lingo. He was there the first day I moved back from Texas and went for a run in Garden of the Gods on the first morning back home. He was a constant encouragement during my time as a rep in Colorado where CRC was one of my favorite accounts and he always wanted to have the best and most creative events (Vertical Treadmill Challenge anybody?). He was there with an offer letter for his store when I experienced my first layoff from that rep job a short time later. He was there to invent the Mad Pooper Scavenger Hunt run that almost landed him in a little bit of hot water. He was there to talk bikes when I was injured for so long. He was there to offer advice when I got my first running store manager job. He was there on the other end of the line to talk options when I was laid off a second time after moving to California. And of course, he was there when I first set foot in California.

He too had lived in Northern California earlier in his life, then later Dallas. We both loved running, and we both loved the running industry and had a fascination with running stores, running footwear, and biomechanics. I suppose in many ways we were similar, and in many ways we annoyed the crap out of each other from time to time. But in hindsight, he sure had my back.

I think I’ve at least scratched the surface of who he was to myself and to many others, but the point is that I should not have been surprised that he was there when he was.

We didn’t always see eye to eye, and in retrospect I took quite a lot of favors that he did for me over the years very for granted without really realizing it. I hope he knows that I was thankful for him.

His grouchy old man façade was a role I have a feeling he enjoyed playing, but he was anything but. What would truly make him grouchy though would be to know how much we really will mourn his loss for a long time to come. We all try to put a comical spin on it, remarking on how he will come back to haunt us if we don’t lighten up, but we all really will miss him and there will always be a void wherever he was. There was, after all, only one John. I am realizing now how comforting in a way that it was to know that there was always someone there who actually kept tabs and cared about what was going on with you.

I knew I should have stopped by CRC last time I was home.

Anyway, I hope he’s logging miles in a better place with all of his past dogs and drinking pitchers of margaritas without getting hungover. See ya around, John O. Thanks for being there.

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