6/15/14

Happy Father's Day - A tribute to my dad


It was three weeks ago when I had my last conversation with my dad on the phone. My dad was at the hospital in Tampa because he had not been feeling well and I had discussed with my mom about flying home to help her out in the next week. While living in Jax, I was only 3.5 hours away from my parents and Karel and I would visit often, driving there at least once a month. Although Karel and I moved 10 hours north of my parents just 4 weeks ago, it was part of the big plan that my parents would move as well, so we would all be together. 

Throughout my dad’s heroic 10-month fight with his stage IV cancer, my dad never complained, never had any self-pity and never asked anyone close in his life to stop what they were doing just because my he was ill.  If anything, my dad wanted to live so badly because he wanted to share life with his family. Even with so much going on in my dad’s life over the past 10 months, my dad never stopped being a great dad, no matter how much pain he was in or what he was experiencing. 
(And I must mention that my mom deserves a super-woman award for being the best caregiver for my dad and also taking on many new roles while my dad was ill.)

Karel and I had just finished a tough weekend of training in Greenville on Memorial weekend  and  Karel and I couldn’t wait to tell my dad all about the miles we had covered as well as the scenery we enjoyed while climbing Ceasar’s head on our bikes, swimming in Lake Jocassee with our friends and to talk about Campy (my dad's "furry Grandson"). It was not uncommon for me to call my dad and/or mom every day for I am very close to my parents. Karel was also very close to my dad.

After I got off the phone with my dad on that Sunday evening (25th), something inside me wanted me to call back my dad just an hour after we talked. I never do that but I had this urge to call him again. I called his cell but a nurse answered and he was busy so I just told the nurse that I just wanted to say hi again to my dad but that he didn’t need to call me back and that I would just call him tomorrow.

When I told my dad that I loved him before I hung up the phone that evening, that was the last time that I heard my dad’s voice. I flew home the next morning and for three days while my dad was on life support, I was able to say my good-byes and spend a little father-daughter time with the most important man in my life.

I never imagined having to say good bye to my dad, my best friend, my mentor, my role model and my biggest fan, especially just shy of 32 years of age. 

I was told that when you lose someone who is close to you, the next year is filled with firsts. Three days after my dad passed away, I celebrated my 32nd birthday.

And now it is Father’s day and I cannot search for that perfect funny tool or car-rleated card that I know my dad love and put up proudly in his VA clinic optometry office.

In 7 days from today, Karel and I will head to Europe for my first international Ironman and my 8th Ironman and Karel’s 2nd Ironman in Austria. We will then spend a week with Karel’s family in Czech Republic.

I do not write this to share my grieving with the world but instead, to encourage everyone who is reading this blog right now to never take a day for granted.

For 67 years, my dad lived an amazing life. He worked hard and played hard. Even though my dad’s life was taken way too early, his life was a great one. My dad was always there for me and performed every dad duty just perfectly. If I could, I would give him a zillion gold stars and a dad of the year (multiple years) award.

I will never forget my dad and all that he taught me in my life. He helped me with school, my career, sports, life questions, marriage and money and so much more.

I know that my dad will be missed by so many, not only my mom (his best friend), my brother and our family, but also the many people who got to know him and the many patients at the VA, students and residents who knew  "Dr Rakes". 

Above all, my dad was such a delight to be around and gave so much positive energy wherever he was. My dad loved to smile because he was always happy. My dad didn’t know how to have a bad day. My dad was intelligent, helpful, supportive, caring, funny, nurturing, talented, fit and well, so awesome that I am super lucky that he was my dad.

Because my dad will always be in my heart with whatever I do in life, I want to use today to celebrate some of the great qualities that I loved about my dad.


STRENGTH

The odds were against my dad since his cancer diagnosis in June 2013. However, my dad never ever gave up on life. There were some incredibly hard days, like getting a major spinal surgery and being told that the chance of walking again was minimal. I think my dad heard this as a challenge for if you tell someone who has ran 3 miles a day for the last 23 years, my dad was ready to beat those odds.

Even though I was nearing my taper for Ironman Lake Placid, my training involved being there for my dad. You better believe that my dad had the best diet in the hospital thanks to his RD daughter (and he was proud to tell the doctors and nurses this too J ). My dad was also proud to tell everyone about his Ironman daughter and his “soon to be” Ironman son-in-law. It was a running joke that Karel was "only" a cyclist so Karel was excited to show my dad that he could swim and run as well. Even though this was my first Ironman without my parents on the sidelines cheering me on, Karel and I made my dad proud and we both had great races and I even qualified for Kona for the third time. It wasn't the same experience crossing the finish line without my parents there but nevertheless, my mom and dad were super proud!

My dad was on a mission to walk before my brother’s wedding in September and with a lot and lot of hard work, he did it! My dad walked down the aisle 3 months after his major spinal surgery! When doctors told my dad that the odds were small, my dad never stopped giving up. 

My dad fought really hard with his cancer and this was a very big lesson for me. Never ever give up. Sometimes life just sucks and seems so unfair but you can never ever give up on life. Always believe that you can come out a winner, even if the odds are against you. 
I apply this a lot in training for triathlons for many times the odds were against me to have a great race due to injuries, school, life, etc. but thanks to my mental coach/best friend Gloria and the mindset of my dad, it's easier to just give up than it is to keep on working hard. And me and my dad love hard work.





And not only did Dad have the best human crew to help him out, therapy dog Campy has loved the past 10-months with my dad. Let's be honest here, Campy loves any good lap to snuggle in but Campy knew my dad needed him. My dad was always excited to share the couch with Campy.
My dad had this super soft purple blanket that he used during his chemo days at home when he rested. Campy was very found of this blanket and many times, Campy would win and my dad would let Campy have this soft blanket and he would get another blanket to keep him warm. Talk about a spoiled dog! Campy has the blanket with us here in Greenville and loves to use it every day to snuggle in.

As many people know, Campy  always stays at "Resort a Grandparents" when Karel and I travel for races and he always tells me that he gets super spoiled by my mom and dad. I am so grateful for my parents for even though I have no human children, I do not know what I would have done for the past 6 years without them taking such good care of Campy when I was away. 



GREAT SENSE OF HUMOR

 My dad was great at so many things but he had a great sense of humor and was an amazing story teller. My dad always knew the right thing to say at the right time in serious situations but he had this great ability to know what to say to turn my frowns upside down. My dad would send me funny texts and pictures (see below) and even through his last 10 months of life, living with an incurable case of cancer,  he still knew how to make a joke, tell a story or make us laugh.

My dad was always active and on the go so as you can imagine, going from super active to being on bed rest was incredibly hard for my dad. But he found every way to stay healthy through exercise and through his diet. In addition to PT, my dad had arm weights to perform in his char while sitting and my dad bought pedals to spin his legs while sitting. He told Karel that all he needed was some aero bars in order to be as fast as Karel – pictured below.

Karel even surprised my dad one day by setting up my old hybrid bike on a very old and not-working trainer. Karel worked his magic to get the trainer to work so dad could sit on the bike and watch TV and pedal for exercise. My dad was so happy about this and he told us that when he moved to Greenville, he couldn’t wait to buy a bike to ride.

My dad also walked on his treadmill after he learned to walk again - albeit less than 1.5 miles per hour most of time, it was still movement and something was better than nothing. 

My dad was just as funny as he was sensitive. My dad never tried to make light of a serious situation but instead, he was all about making people happy and being comforting. From his family to his students to his patients, he really was a special human being for being able to always see the best in every moment. 

Sad bananas

Happy pancakes!

Ready for his aerobars! 

PASSIONATE

If you knew my dad, you would likely know some of his favorite things.

My dad loved his corvette. He even bought a special license plate just to personalize his favorite car. Believe it or not, my dad’s corvette did not get driven a lot. It sat in the garage and went outside once a week around the neighborhood on Sunday. My dad loved sitting in his car in the garage, just listening to music. When my dad was unable to drive, the car sat in the garage and when Karel and I would visit, Karel would "have to" drive it around the neighborhood to keep the car healthy. Karel never had trouble with this chore J

A few other things that my dad was passionate about:

Fazolis – if you ever get a chance to eat at this “fast food” restaurant (which was very popular in Lexington, KY where I spent the first 21 years of my life), you can order the spaghetti and meatballs and dry breadsticks and yum for my dad. That was his favorite dish. When my dad found out that there was a Fazoli’s in South Carolina, my dad told us that once a month he was going to drive the few hours there to eat there for since we moved to Florida, my dad has missed his favorite place to eat!

Astronomy, stamp collecting, electronics – not only did my dad know everything but he was passionate about his hobbies. My dad always told me to get a hobby that was not triathlon/nutrition related and I have really struggled with this. Recently, Karel planted me a garden for my birthday so I would like to continue this as one of my hobbies. When Karel and I were engaged, my dad introduced Karel to fish and gave Karel a 30 gallon fish tank that my dad had laying around the house. My dad always had fish as an adult and he wanted Karel to share this hobby with him. Little did my dad know that Karel would become a fish expert! We went from owning a 30 gallon tank to now having a 90-gallon tank (pic below) and a 55-gallon tank (both fresh water). I know that father always knows best but it was fun to see Karel and my dad talk fish because I think Karel eventually knew more than my dad on that topic and my dad would actually reach out to Karel for fish-related questions. 

Taking pictures – well, now you know where I get it! My dad always loved taking pictures of me and my brother at sporting events (and Karel at cycling races) and he was also there with a camera (or video camera) to record/capture every special moment in our life or traveling. I am so thankful that my dad was so camera happy for I have so many great pictures to remember my childhood. Before my dad passed away, he spent many months, after work each day and weekends, putting every childhood video from a tape on to a DVD for me. I am not ready yet but I know when I am, I will be so happy to watch those childhood movies.

Duct tape – did you know that this fixes everything? Well, according to my dad it does.

Oh – wondering what the license plate reads? 

“I EXAMINE EYES"

My dad let Aaron and me come up with a license plate and I think Aaron and my dad were the most creative. This was just perfect for my dad who was an optometric physician for the VA for almost 40 years!

And speaking of license plates, there was an ongoing trend that my dad's patients would give him license plates when they would see him. He had over 150 license plates from all over and some really cool plates! He hung them in his office above all of his credentials. 


Campy even got to ride in the Corvette!

I XMN II
I EXAMINE EYES






Our 90-gallon tank


BIGGEST FAN

My dad always had time for his family. Between my mom and my dad, they would drive my brother Aaron and me to every practice (swimming for me, gymnastics for my brother) and would be at every one of our meets. If we both had a meet on the same weekend, they would split up.

My dad always believed in us but never pushed us or pressured us to be the best. My brother and I both spent our college years as student athletes and my dad continued to support us however we needed in order for us to stay active as competitive athletes while pursuing a degree.

Little did my dad and mom know that both my brother and I would continue onto graduate school and stay active with racing (I turned to triathlons and my brother has enjoyed training for half marathons). I received a Master of Science in exercise physiology from FAU in 2005 and my brother graduated with a Master of Business from Carnegie Mellon Tepper school of business in 2011. My dad always encouraged us to work hard for what we want in life, whether it is working for a big business (my brother works for Ernst & Young) or owning your own small business (yay Trimarni!). My dad never told us that there was a right way (or only way) to make a career and to support yourself in life but instead, to do something in life that truly makes you happy as you help others.

My dad never tried to impress someone and I think in today's society, I was always impressed how he really didn't try to be popular or look for ways to get attention. Today, experts are all about getting their name out in a big way and being extreme with how they provide info to the public.
My dad was an amazing writer and speaker and teacher. He had a great following and because of my dad's reputation, he was popular in his own bubble. He was an expert at what he did and it showed.

My parents went to my first 5 Ironmans. Never complaining about the long day or how exhausting it was to spectate. My parents loved volunteering at my races, especially Kona and before Karel raced triathlons (in his cycling –only years), my parents loved having Karel around to find the perfect spot to cheer for me on my race courses. 
Some of my best memories with my dad are sharing my love for sports with him. Even if he didn't understand every detail of the sport, he always shared his excitement with me when I talked about triathlons.

One of my most favorite memories was in 2012 when I raced the Iron Girl half marathon. Coincidentally, every year my dad would have a big optometry conference in Clearwater, on the same day as the Iron Girl running race. Whereas the other optometrists would complain about no parking or the traffic, my dad had his camera ready and a good excuse to excuse himself out of an early morning session to watch me finish my race.

I told my dad that I was hoping to finish top 10 so as my dad was waiting for me to run by behind the leaders around 500 yards or so from the finish line, it was a total surprise for my dad to see me as the leader. My dad didn't even expect me so I gave him a big fist pump as I was sprinting to the finish, on my way to winning my first race. My dad was so skilled he was still able to catch a quick pic of me!

My dad was so proud of me and of course, couldn't stop showing his friends at the conference his pictures of me winning the race that the other optometrists were complaining about. Thanks dad for always being there for me!












FITNESS

Health and fitness have always been part of my routine but also part of my upbringing. My parents never made my brother and me be athletes but instead providing us with athletic opportunities. I also played piano all my life until college and my brother took part in dance. We both went to an arts school for middle school. 

Staying active was just part of our life and we never had or desired video games but instead, wanted to play outside or be with our friends at our sport practices. 

My parents made things happen so that we could be active with our sports for I know that that wasn't always easy to pay for both me and my brother and all of our races, travels, etc.
My parents worked really hard to give us a great life but I am so thankful that sports were part of it and it was just about schooling. 
I learned a lot from sports that I now apply to all areas in my life. 

I couldn't be more grateful that my parents gave me so many amazing opportunities as a student athlete all my life and that I still have their support as an adult age group triathlete. I love moving my body and I am so thankful to have a healthy body that lets me enjoy life by swimming, biking and running. 


Kona undies run

FAMILY

I don't think I can say it enough but I have a great family. We are super close and we all get along. Even though my dad is no longer with us, my dad is now part of a bigger family for both Aaron and me married our best friends. My dad will live on in so many of us!
Karel's family lives in Czech and as you can imagine, it was very hard for Karel to be alone for the first 6 years of living in America with no family. Karel and I met in 2006 and instantly, Karel and my dad got along. Karel is very much like my dad in so many ways and I think that's why I feel incredibly lucky to have married Karel.
I am lucky that I have a dad in Czech and I know Karel's family in Czech was always thankful for my parents, for they welcomed Karel into their lives and home and gave their son love and support, as if he was their own son.
My dad was able to walk down the aisle in my wedding to Karel in 2008 and Aaron's wedding to Dana in 2013. We will never forget those special days which united our family.  








GREAT MARRIAGE

My parents had 36 wonderful years of marriage. I look up to my parents.
My mom and dad were best friends.
My dad and mom complimented each other and loved sharing life together.
They raised two great kids through their hard work and devotion to being great parents and made sure to make time for themselves, taking the occasional trip alone to make more memories as husband and wife, not just as parents.

My dad and mom knew how to communicate. They shared everything together and showed each other a lot of love.

They were a great team and I hope that Karel and I can continue to have the marriage that my parents had - they were married for more years than I have been alive!

I know it's hard in life to just take risks and make things happen but life is short. My parents had a lot of dreams of trips to take after my dad retired and those trips will never happen. I am not saying that you have to sacrifice things in life to travel or to do something that you have always wanted to do but ask yourself if there will ever be the right time to do something? What are you waiting for? 
There's nothing better than experiencing life, especially if you are willing to work hard in life to make memories. 
Don't just work hard without the play time that you deserve.  

And when you are ready to take your trip or to do something for the first time, don't forget your camera to capture those special moments!



LOVER OF LIFE

My dad was patient. He never rushed life. My dad didn't mind traffic for it was a great time to listen to the AM radio.
My dad never wasted a minute. He was engaged in everything that he did, from yardwork, to watching old movies, to listening to the oldies on his radio, to projects around the house, to work ....with everything he was focused and passionate.

My dad really loved life and that was the ongoing motto that kept my dad going during his 10-month fight with cancer. He constantly told doctors that he wanted to live. 

My biggest sadness with my dad being gone is now, not being able to share life with him. I have the same passion for life as my dad and I do not plan on slowing down (not until my body makes me). 

Make sure you are making every day count so you don't look back one day and tell yourself that you wasted so many days, weeks or years. Wake up excited for the day and go to bed excited for tomorrow. It's a simple way to live in such a complicated world. 


MENTOR, TEACHER AND FRIEND

When I was working on my dad's obituary, I came across something so special on the internet:

Who was your favorite instructor during your time at IUSO? Why?
“I would have to say Jim Rakes.  He taught ocular pharmacology at a time when Optometry in Indiana was moving more and more to pharm treatment. He was young, knowledgeable and encouraged the third-year students to pursue treatment.” - Dr. Morrow
When I reached out to Dr. Morrow (thank goodness for the internet and Google), he responded back when I told him of my dad's passing, 
"I had a great respect for Dr Rakes.  He was a skilled clinician and a very good teacher in the classroom.  He was not much older than me and I think that was one thing that really impressed me that he was that good and knowledgeable at such a young age.  He was truly an inspiring professor for me and I believe my classmates.  IU was lucky to have had him teach at the school."
My mom and I received a lot of wonderful cards, emails and messages from people who knew my dad and I just love reading how my dad made an impact in the lives of others. He loved helping others through his knowledge and he was liked by everyone. 


Here is one more special email that I received from a female doctor that worked with my dad for 2 years at the VA in New Port Richey, FL. 


"I am very saddened by this news, I am certain you don't need me to tell you this, but he was a wonderful human being. I will immensely miss him.  I have very fond memories of him; he was one of the smartest optometrists I knew, compassionate, and with a great sense of humor.  I have sent him several emails in the past few months wishing him a speedy recovery, sometimes even sending him a few funny articles about women vs. men (something he and I always joked about), parenting, and lighthearted politics (if there is such a thing) in hopes to brighten up his day.  At work he was my father figure, someone I always looked up to, seeking advice from not just about optometry but also about kids, knowing that he and his wife raised two wonderful children he was always speaking so proudly of.   He was a remarkable person. "


I could go on and on... my dad was amazing in so many ways. He was a special person in this world and he will be missed by so many.  
Thank you for reading.  

For me, Father's day was every day now I will always have a special spot in my heart for my dad.
  
Cheers to life...make it a great one!