There is nothing more satisfying than spending time around your kitchen table with old friends. On a bright, Saturday morning, Jimmy and I welcomed two of our most cherished friends to the house: Richard and Diane Nares. Richard had just completed a 1,700 mile run.
Yes! 1,700 miles! One marathon a day – two and half months of running! – from Seattle to San Diego.
Richard was motivated to pursue the run having lost his six-year-old son, Emilio, from leukemia. He runs to honor Emilio’s legacy – his body “a machine.” He runs to support the ENF Foundation, a non-profit organization the Nares’ founded to raise funds for low-income families whose children are battling cancer.
He runs as a devotion. According to his run’s documentarian, Sholom Ellenberg, he’s “telling his father-son story. After 1,700 miles, he could have kept running. He could run all the way to South America.”
That morning, Jimmy and I were eager to learn more of Richard and Diane’s motivations. We invited our friend, CC Perry, to sit in on the conversation — training for a half-marathon herself, she was brimming with questions!
I could not have anticipated that our laughter and tears would spill into stories of romance and passion.
Romance: Richard and Diane meeting in their forties, Emilio’s miraculous birth, and even the first date Jimmy and I shared!
And passion: to determine how you can find a resilient path to survival after suffering devastating loss.
Diane and Richard are role models for Jimmy and I and their story reminded me of the importance of purpose. Of course, we also hashed out the importance of a balanced breakfast.
You can never have too many strawberries.
“You have to keep your mind in a cell.”
A Conversation with Richard & Diane Nares
Ingrid: Richard, you recently completed a 1,700 mile run from Seattle to San Diego to raise awareness for childhood cancer. It was such a thrill to run the last mile with you on your victory lap! What were you feeling when you crossed the finish line?
Richard: It was such a building moment. The closer I got to San Diego, it started coming to life. But in that moment, I was just so grateful to be home! And safe!
Ingrid: And safe! Yes.
Richard: Safety was always on my mind with the danger of being on the road. Being on the road every day, six hours a day, cars going 65 miles an hour that are no more than 2 feet away from you…
Ingrid: Oh my gosh!
Richard: You’re running on shoulders. You’re running on highways. You’re going through Oregon and Washington – curvy mountain roads where there’s only a guardrail and cars coming at you. The hardest part, physically, was the first 2 weeks. I trained for 7 months, ran 30 miles a day, but it doesn’t prepare you for the actual course. We have Laurel Street hill right here in Mission Hills.
Ingrid laughs (this is a notoriously steep San Diego hill, but still, a hill in San Diego).
Richard: It’s not like Oregon. Oregon is all switchbacks, and then downhill for a mile. Your body has to get acclimated. It took me 2, 3 weeks – I was really hurting. The soreness? I was doing everything I could to keep the muscles pliable. The stick, the roller, stretching. But after that! It was fine.
Jimmy: Did you have any depression along the route or even after you finished?
Richard: No…and surprisingly not. It was almost like a pilgrimage. It was a real blessing to be out there. Doing something positive for children like raising funds. That kept me strong. I wouldn’t let depression in. I told Diane, “You have to keep your mind in a cell. Like in solitary confinement. You can only let in the things that you need to have done.”
Richard: Even when Diane came to meet me on the route and I was so happy to see her! She knew I still couldn’t talk much. I really could not, because your energy – you’re facing the next day. You still have another 1,200 miles. You can’t wear out. You really have to be focused.
CC: How were you pacing yourself on the trip? I’m trying to get a sense for what each day looked like for you.
Richard: Knowing I had to go day after day…I really had to make it comfortable. Even when I felt good during the runs, I wouldn’t go any faster than my pace. Because I’d never know! Let’s say that, Mile 13 in San Francisco, you suddenly have to go almost 2 miles uphill.
I had to make sure I had enough energy. I worked with Steve [Lathrop] to map the route – and we actually drove from Seattle to San Francisco, just to check out the safety. There were some roads that were just too dangerous. So we had to go back and redesign. But! Steve works for the military, in logistics and mapping.
Richard: He’s an expert! He can do anything on his phone.
Ingrid: What was the longest run you’d completed prior to this 1,700 mile run?
Richard: It would be the one in 2013, from San Francisco to San Diego, about 700 miles. I had already run from Los Angeles to San Diego in 2011. I’ve always run from one children’s hospital to another, to raise funds. I ran from LA Children’s Hospital to Rady’s in San Diego in 2011. It raised $30,000. I thought: if I can go further, I can raise even more. So in 2013, I ran 700 miles from San Francisco to San Diego. That raised $75,000. And now with this run, I stopped at 9 children’s hospitals and raised $200,000.
The need is the same everywhere – to raise awareness for the ENF Foundation, which we named after our son, Emilio.
Diane (jumping in): Emilio was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia when he was 3 years old. He was our only child. Ingrid and Jimmy – you knew him well.
Through his journey we witnessed so many other families that were disadvantaged. To not have the support systems we had at the time – with a large family, and people in the community, and people like Jim and Ingrid helping. Emilio passed away in 2000, just before his 6th birthday, so his journey was 3 years.
Richard absentmindedly takes a sip of CC’s tea – then catches himself.
Richard: I’m so sorry!
CC: I’m happy to share!
Everyone begins laughing.
Jimmy: It’s delicious though, wasn’t it?
Ingrid: Richard, why did running feel like the space to honor your son?
Richard: It was from the promise I’d made to Emilio in Boston.
When we were in Boston for the Phase II study for his bone marrow transplant, we were all sitting in his room. I looked out the window. I could see all these people running in shorts….all of this activity. So I asked his nurse, “What’s going on?” She said, “Oh, they’re training for the Boston Marathon.” So I thought: we love Boston, I’ll come back, I’ll run Boston Marathon.
I told Diane! I said, “I’ll run the Boston Marathon!”
Diane: But you weren’t a runner!
Richard: After Emilio passed away, I realized that you had to qualify for Boston. I couldn’t qualify for Boston.
Ingrid: And you were not a runner!
Richard: I was not a runner. So, it took me 10 years to qualify.
Richard: So 2010 was my first Boston Marathon. Really, the act of running itself is more a meditation, more prayer. It just puts you in another zone that to me is like a bliss.
Jimmy: A true runner’s high.
“When I’m running, it doesn’t hurt. I don’t feel tired. It’s all about Emilio and the good that we’re trying to achieve. Together.”
Richard: It becomes automatic. Like when you sit quietly to meditate. That’s what running is. You really detach yourself from your body. Your body will think: oh, I’m tired, it hurts, it’s too hot. But you learn to run without the body. You learn to separate yourself from that discomfort – just that normal stuff. You go to a whole different place.
Jimmy: Was that a growing space for you? Were you inclined to be a meditative type before you got into running?
Richard: Yes, but I never had the opportunity to do it for 2 ½ months. This was like being in a monastery. Because the people around me just let me be.
Jimmy: No conjugal visits?
Everybody laughs. Richard blushes.
Diane: Here and there.
Richard: I was trying to be in a space of attune-ment. Lynn, Diane’s cousin who was a part of our team, was great at getting everybody to leave me alone. And not in a mean way. Not being selfish or anything. You just have to go deep because it is a long time.
Jimmy: You were meditative. So, it’s running that’s brought you into a prayerful, mindful existence.
Richard: The whole act of running – just going out there. Knowing I can leave my house and leave everything behind. We get caught in our daily lives. This time, I was left alone. To do what I really wanted to do.
Diane: That doesn’t get to happen very often.
Richard: It was very interesting because sometimes I didn’t want to talk. It was hot. Miserable. And once you stop running, you feel the whole world come back. It really comes rushing back on you.
It really comes down to this.
You do your meditation. You put the goal in your head. You think: this is why I’m here. This is what I’m going to do. You don’t allow anything to say, “I can’t.” For me, when I’m going after something, those words don’t exist – “I can’t.” You don’t have the luxury of saying, “It’s going to be a lot of work.” You just do it.
Ingrid: Did you have to miss a day at all?
Richard: The preparation for each day and the nighttime preparation was all I had to do. And that’s exactly what I did. Eating, sleeping, resting. I had a very strict way of doing things. Making sure the breakfast places had breakfast.
There were some places in the middle of Oregon or Washington that said they had eggs – and I’d show up, and there was maybe a little pastry. That wouldn’t work! I had ham, I had eggs, I had potatoes, I had pancakes. And I don’t eat like that at home. In the first two weeks, as your body’s getting acclimated, you burn those calories and you have to put them back. Because you’re not used to eating that much. It’s almost gross, but it’s like stuffing a goose or a pig. You’re putting all this stuff in your mouth and you’re thinking: oh, I can’t eat this. You have to. If you lose weight, or you don’t have enough nutrition, your run will be a disaster.
I’d run 15 miles in the morning – from 8-11 – and then do my afternoon 15, from 1 or 2 o’clock until 3:30-4:00. Morning breakfast really anchored the whole thing. And if I had a light breakfast…the 2 days I had that? Really hard. Because of the lack of food.
Your body becomes like a machine. So you know exactly how much gas to put in your car, to get to where you’re going.
Ingrid: You put Emilio’s shoes in your suitcase and you carried them on your run. Did they provide comfort or familiarity to you?
Richard: To have his shoes…that to me still represents that he’s here, you know? To me, he’s always here in this spiritual sense. When I see his little running shoes…it’s reminder that I still need to do more for him. I needed to take him with me.
Ingrid: Your motivation. Yes. When AJ was a little boy, I was still smoking. And he came to me one day and begged me to quit – since he only had one parent. I did quit! And I decided to run the Stockholm Marathon. It took discipline and training but…I was able to do it for my son.
Richard: How long did you train to run your first marathon?
Ingrid: 6 months – I had never really run before!
Diane: And I do have to compliment you, I know that little victory lap was only 1 mile. I get that. But – I’m an interval run/walker. And it was horribly hot! I was plugging along out there, but I was watching you – just a gazelle. And you were flying!
Ingrid: I wasn’t flying!
Diane: You, to me, looked like you were flying!
Jimmy: You brought other things with you along your run – can you tell us about the shirts?
Diane: We should have brought one to show you!
Richard: Along my run, we stopped at 9 children’s hospitals and dropped off shirts. They have snaps right here (Richard points to his shoulder) and right here (Richard points to his right bicep). They open up as a flap. Underneath the skin is the portacatheter through which a child gets their chemo or their blood drawn. And what happens is, when you have small children, the only way they can get access to this portacath is if they take their shirt off, or lift it up. So that’s a huge effort and very stressful – they could be crying, they’re angry, teenagers feel uncomfortable pulling up their shirt, they may have to wear a big, loose gown.
So one of my staff had designed this shirt. Because she had a son who’s in cancer treatment. And she had to cut his favorite shirt. And when he got home he was crying because his Mom cut his favorite shirt. But he was so tired of taking it off – she just cut it. Well, after he was crying, she kind of pieced it back together with Velcro tabs so he could reuse it – well! He is a survivor. A couple years later, she showed me that shirt and I thought: wow this is a great idea.
Jimmy: How many did you drop off?
Richard: 10, along the way. And with the money being raised, we’ll go back and drop off 100 more.
Jimmy: And I think you said – that the hospitals, the nurses and doctors got it immediately when they saw these shirts?
Diane: Oh, it’s so sweet! We were at Benioff Hospital in San Francisco. And we’re talking with the nurses, a couple of shirts with us. Out of this hallway walks this little itty-bitty 2-year-old. Black hair, black eyes. Absolutely gorgeous! She’s on an IV pole and this nurse says, “Oh my gosh, it’s Julia! You have to give Julia a shirt!” So we’re all excited.
We go looking for an extra extra small. And we open the package and we say, “Hi Julia!” And she looks at the shirt. And out of her mouth comes Portuguese – solamente Portuguese – because she is from Brazil. Her Dad was hired and transferred into Silicon Valley and as soon as the family arrived in San Jose and were moving into their new apartment they went to children’s hospital and Julia was diagnosed with leukemia. So here she is, speaking Portuguese, with a smile this big – just looking at her shirt! So excited! “Mama! Mama! Mama!” And they totally understood – in a moment – what that shirt –
Jimmy: Would do.
Diane: The dignity aspect, as Richard said.
Ingrid: And comfort.
Richard: It can be really stressful. We witnessed that with Emilio, firsthand.
Diane: And Emilio would scream. Every time he went to clinic. The worst part for him was sitting there and taking his shirt off. He would be cold. And embarrassed. It was…terrible.
Ingrid: What are your favorite spots to run in the city, Richard?
Richard: Balboa Park is one of them. It’s so gorgeous and we’re so lucky to have Balboa Park. Running down Mission Bay to La Jolla is another one. I also like running from Oceanside to Del Mar – I love that! If I take the train up to Oceanside and then run to Solana Beach…
Jimmy: You’re from San Diego, aren’t you Richard?
Richard: I am. I was born and raised in Oceanside.
Ingrid: And Diane where are you from?
Diane: Los Angeles!
Diane (affecting a Jersey accent): Everyone asks if I’m a New Yorker. (Diane laughs) But no! San Fernando Valley. I’ve been here 30+ years.
Ingrid: And you met here as well! Tell us about your meeting.
Richard and Diane share a glance, and some laughter.
Richard: Do you want me…?
Diane: I’ll jump in! Richard and I…it was a little later in life. We were both approaching 40. And single! Never been married, neither one of us. And in that time of life where we thought: woah, what happened to that life partner?
A girlfriend, Laurie, introduced us. She had a restaurant down in the Gaslamp. I’m in the wine industry, so I was with a group of women who were drinking champagne and gathering at Laurie’s restaurant for a tasting. Richard lived across the street from the restaurant in a loft upstairs and he painted in the window, every night, after work.
So Laurie called him! She said, “Richard, grab some buddies, come over and have a beer at the bar – there are a bunch of single women here.” I guess that Laurie knew you were clearly single and looking for a relationship.
Richard (laughing): Well, there was a lot more than that, because – see Laurie and I used to go to her bar, because I worked at a frame shop right around the corner.
Ingrid: Richard, Jimmy remembers meeting you at the frame store downtown.
Richard: Right! Laurie’s restaurant was kind of a Cheers bar around the corner, you kind of knew all the same people. So that day, I went to sit at the bar. I could see Diane out on the patio. I could see her talking. Laurie’s like my really good friend and kind of bossy because we’ve known each other for so long. I said, “Laurie, who’s that out there?” She said, “That’s Diane! She’s so nice.” I said, “I want to meet her.” And Laurie came right over to her.
Diane: She came right over and asked me, “Are you dating someone right now? Are you dating that guy in Oregon?” And I said, “No, no thank goodness.”
I was super gun-shy because I’d about had it. I thought: all these wrong decisions, I’m going to be alone for a while. But then Richard came over.
And I thought – you’re going to love this – I thought he was so assertive. Just so interested! So quickly asking for my number and I was just scared silly. It happened so quickly.
Richard: A week later. And our friend Laurie went along with us on our first date! Our chaperone.
Diane: We went down the street. Cafe Sevilla for tapas and sangria. And I swear within 5 minutes, Laurie left because she felt like the third wheel. We were just –
Richard: Like this –
Diane: We just talked –
Richard: The whole time.
Ingrid: That’s a similar story for us.
Jimmy: Ingrid was 40. And I was 37. I had never been married before. And Ingrid had been, I hear.
Jimmy gives Ingrid a playful look.
Ingrid: Who knew!
Jimmy: Ingrid owned Croce’s Restaurant at the time. Her favorite employee had been arrested. She knew my law partner, Randy, a little bit. So she called him for help. It was a Saturday night. She said that her employee had been arrested – federal police came in and put him in handcuffs! He was in a federal prison downtown.
Randy was out of town and so he called me and said, “Jimmy, Ingrid Croce has an employee in jail – can you go down tonight?” I hate jails – who doesn’t hate jails, right? Especially on a Saturday. I thought: why do I want to do this.
The employee had been AWOL from the Air Force for 15-20 years, after Vietnam. He had one testicle shot off – and when it healed, he decided not to go back! So they finally caught up with him through his Social Security number. But I went down and I interviewed him.
The following Monday, Randy and I went into Ingrid’s restaurant for lunch. Ingrid came over to the table to thank Randy for helping with her employee. And of course, Randy and I were very competitive about women – so he never even introduced me! I got no credit for this!
So Ingrid, ever the promoter, immediately starts to sell me on a package for Croce’s for New Years Eve. I made a smart ass comment to her – anyone surprised? I said, “You got a lotta nerve asking me out on a date and you don’t even know my name.”
And she said, “Well, what’s your name?”
I said, “It’s Jim.”
Ingrid: At that moment, I knew I was going to marry him.
Diane: Oh my! That is incredible!
Jim: We went to Dobson’s. That was our 1st date. And we got together that night. And since then we’ve spent – not more than 2 or 3 nights apart.
Diane: That’s it though. You knew then.
Ingrid: Oh, absolutely. We both knew.
Diane: We did too – we did right away. Because he was ready. And I knew in about a week that we were going to be together.
CC: How did you know?
Diane: Timing. Timing is everything.
Jimmy: And chemistry.
Richard: You want someone who’s similar to you. Who understands your background.
Richard: Diane’s family is just like mine – hers are Italian, and mine is Hispanic. And they were the same. It was important to us. To connect. I was glad to realize that I was marrying into a big family.
Diane: The humility of a big family.
Jimmy: You have to have a bond that’s beyond the physical attraction. Of course, for Ingrid and I, it was music in the 60s and that period of time. But we had that common bond where all of our references – about life and everything – immediately we understood each other.
Diane: Being a little bit older, chronologically, when you meet. You have all of this experience of what you don’t want to wait for, what you don’t want to settle for. And it either happens, or it doesn’t.
Jimmy: It kind of makes you really believe in fate.
Diane: Oh yes, definitely.
Richard: I actually had given up myself!
Jimmy: And so had I.
Richard: I lived in San Francisco for a lot of years. I lived a lot. And moving back to San Diego – I was really done. I really had no desire to date. But when I met Diane? This woke me up again.
Before I met Diane, I was considering being monastic.
Diane: A monk!
Richard: I was trying to figure out how I could tell my family. My parents were very Catholic. So I spent months agonizing – how to tell them that I wanted to follow an Eastern philosophy. Then Diane happened! It changed everything.
Jimmy: And yet, you have the best of both worlds. You still have your meditative spiritual endeavor.
Ingrid: And running!
Diane: And to tie into that, here I was – approaching 40. Finally meeting my life partner. The love of my life, so to speak. And one of the things that we started to say to each other? You know, I think I’d like to have a child.
I’d had to put that on the back burner as I was approaching 40. Oh, this may not happen. I was very clear I wasn’t going to do it myself – get pregnant and raise a child by myself. Of course, you can do that. But it wasn’t for me. I kind of wasn’t sure it was ever going to happen.
When I fell in love with Richard, I knew I wanted to have a child. I didn’t know what he was going to say. It’s very easy to meet men who wouldn’t be interested. But he said he’d like to have a child. Just like that. So that was another thing that solidified us.
Interesting, how it all turns out. We did get pregnant pretty quickly – unfortunately, miscarried. And then I was pregnant with twins. Emilio and a twin. And ten weeks into it, I lost the twin.
But Emilio was thriving. There was an interesting sense of relief for me, because I was working full-time – and I was scared to death of what twins would look like financially. I was scared to death of what twins would look like in my life at 42.
Emilio was thriving, though. He was beautiful. The first 3 years of his life – they were beautiful. To be in one’s 40s and become a parent is the greatest thing in the world because you realize that nothing else matters. Not a career move. No other life experience makes any difference at all compared to the baby.
Richard: I tell people that one of the highlights of my life was walking into Emilio’s preschool. And taking him to school. Bringing the snacks, you know? That was it for me. I couldn’t believe how happy it was when it was my turn to bring snacks to his preschool. It was really something.
Ingrid: I remember the diagnosis hit particularly –
Diane: Absolutely. It was right after his 3rd birthday. We noticed these…recurring colds. But all preschool kids have colds, right? So everyone said, “This is normal, don’t worry.” Our parents. Other families. The doctors.
The cold turned into a fever that stayed way too long for a fever – over a week, for a high fever. Then the bruising and the lethargic behavior.
Richard: The bruising was really it. We had gone to a doctor 2 times. But after the 3rd visit, Emilio started getting these little dime-sized bruises everywhere. And that’s when they did the blood tests. And once they did the blood tests, that was when he was diagnosed with leukemia.
Diane: Emilio went into remission immediately – which is what happens with this particular leukemia. And he was in remission for a year. We were thinking: we made it, he’s fine, he’s in remission. We just knew we were going to make it through.
So to have him relapse – only about 25% of this diagnosis relapses – that’s when the only thing to be done was to have a bone marrow transplant.
We went on the bone marrow registry for 2 years and didn’t find a donor. Finding a donor is pretty tough. It’s like finding a needle in a haystack. Emilio had a double whammy of not many chromosomal match-ups. So, we had that going against us.
And I think the real tragedy is here we are in 2018, and acute lymphoblastic leukemia is the most common form of childhood cancer – still! And if a child relapses, there is nothing else still to this day but bone marrow transplants.
Scientists are working to identify which children diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia have a propensity for relapse – findings are happening. Which is great. If we’re able to identify that propensity for relapse, the whole protocol for treatment would change.
Ingrid: Richard and Diane, at the end of every one of my Conversations, I ask the folks we’ve sat down with to share a great conversation that changed their lives. Would you share?
Richard (immediately): The conversation with Diane after Emilio passed away, to be honest with you. “How are we going to continue going on without our son?” We really talked about it very seriously. Neither of us really wanted to be here after he left. But the conversation turned – we made it about Emilio and for Emilio. He really wants us to do something for his life. If we took our own lives, they wouldn’t have meant anything.
Coming home from the last hospital, and flying back from Boston – that first night being home? It was a huge conversation. How are we going to continue to live without him.
Diane: Not hearing his little feet down the hallway? That hurt us the most.
Richard: We both promised that we weren’t going to kill ourselves. We were going to do something in a positive manner to make him proud. We both said, “We’re going to go on living because we know he wants us to do something positive.”
To me, that changed everything.
Ingrid: Bravo. Bravo.
Diane: And…well, I’m a big lover of nature, and animals. And we had a dog. That dog got us up out of bed. The fact that we had to walk her several times a day? Going from loss and grief to walking the dog on the beach, during a sunset – the simplest thing helped. In time, recovery starts to take place. But what I never thought about all these years, until recently, was purpose. The purpose that comes at the end of that. Whatever it might be – if it gives an itty bitty ray of hope to anyone? That’s a purpose.