One of the best things about London — and what I often miss now that I’m not in town every day — is how progressive a place it is. Almost everywhere you turn, the cream has risen to the top, and there are smart, good people doing smart, good work. The latest evidence of this is the Tourist Commission’s decision to have Rodney Hendrickson help promote London as an amazing place to visit.
I met Rodney several years ago, along with his wife Alice, at the first Redbud Ride. It was about 8 in the morning on a Saturday and the energy emanating from the riders — though there were just about 30 of them — was palpable. The Hendricksons were handing out T-shirts and were an intrinsic part of what was making the morning so inspiring — it was Rodney’s 50th birthday and he and Alice were cheerful, helpful and ready for a long ride in the country.
Two years later, Rodney was named chair of the Redbud by London Downtown and it immediately became clear he planned to revolutionize the ride — which he humbly did one rider at a time. The first year he was in charge, there were 310 riders. The year after that, there were 669 from 22 states, plus Canada and D.C.
Now, getting that many roadies from all over the country to Laurel County is a pretty big feat. Pulling it off without a hitch is even more impressive.
But the full extent of his influence didn’t become clear to me until he was diagnosed with cancer in September. Like many of us, I found out about the diagnosis when he bluntly posted it as a Facebook status update: “Diffuse large cell B non-Hodgkin lymphoma,” he told us. “This is one of the more aggressive lymphomas but is also treatable and curable.”
I felt a sharp twist in my gut as I read it, feeling swift sympathy and the punch of injustice. If anyone deserves to have perfect health, it’s this guy who runs 40 miles a week, lives, loves and prays well, works hard and follows the rules.
But as the days wore on, Rodney was clearly not interested in sympathy. Instead, as Sentinel writer Magen McCrarey pointed out in a recent article, he viewed his chemo treatment as a theoretical marathon, with the distance covered broken down in exact parcels each day until he finally got to 26.2 miles on the day of his last treatment. With quick wit and no-frills honesty, he kept us informed about what was going on with him through Facebook, whether the mornings were inspiring “out in the predawn air” or “the pits.” At the end of each update, he’d let us know how far he’d gotten in his “run.”
Here’s an example of a classic Rodney post after he got a chemotherapy port surgically installed in his chest: “Last night, the discomfort from yesterday’s little outpatient surgery combined with the cold I have picked up made me feel a little like a sick person. I’m glad that feeling has passed. 4.2 down, 22 miles to go.”
While he talked about his illness, he also talked about life in the most genial way. At mile 23, he divulged: “Alice thinks it’s real funny to bring me a steaming mug of hot chocolate with a little mini-marshmallow stuck to the bottom of the mug. She knows the marshmallow will melt from the heat of the mug. She also knows that I rest the mug on my chest while watching a movie or reading. Twice I have had to get up and change shirts.”
At 21.2 miles, he talked about how he was reading the stories of the Bible in chronological order. “Yesterday, I was reading about Noah’s son Ham walking into Noah’s tent and seeing Noah passed out naked and dog drunk on his tent floor. Now, if I had been cooped up on that ark with all those animals as long as Noah, I might be tempted to get a little tipsy too.”
Rodney also wrote often of Alice, “the nurse I’ve been in bed with for 30 years.” On one occasion, he disclosed how Alice can get protective of him:” “Yesterday morning, she called the oncologist’s office to tell them about the chest and head cold. The oncologist’s nurse phoned Alice back and said, ‘Dr. Ari told me to tell you, in the nicest way possible, to relax.’”
As I read the posts, I felt myself getting increasingly invested in Rodney’s “run.” I wasn’t the only one. In fact, in the same way he brought people together with the Redbud, he brought people together with his marathon, with up to 100 friends often responding to his status updates at a time.
Over time, he managed to demystify cancer, talking, yes, about its painful treatment but also showing us that life goes on. All the while, he asked us to think of others battling health issues and told us to be careful on icy roads, who he wasn’t going to vote for and how it should be a misdemeanor to put up Christmas lights before Thanksgiving. With a tone so thoughtful, so affable, so positive, it put me in a better mood each and every day. He did that for a lot of us.
So, with all this said, I want to say thank you. I have spent a total of about 45 minutes in the presence of Rodney Hendrickson. I can say, without a doubt, he’s one of the people I most admire.