He’s a striking figure to see at an ultra, his face made up like the Joker: white clown makeup for a base — thick azure blue under the eyes — a wide stretching smear of red over the mouth. Off to himself around the other runners, he broods. With the horn, he bolts like a running banshee, fast off the line as he disappears with the leaders into the woods. Under the paint, this Joker with the NIN tattoo is anything but a monster. Truth be told, the getup acts as sort of a buffer for Gene, like booze for the socially shy. He’s a caregiver — a soft, sensitive soul, highly devoted to the wellbeing of others and loyal to the end.
Gene’s Ultrasingup score is mid-pack: 50%, and that bugs him… a bit. He has run a 24-hour, two 48-hour Dreadmill’s, a backyard ultra, and several 50k trail runs. But running is always on the backburner. His real focus is on his wife, Veronica. Having won four of her last five ultras, she’s tunnel-visioned, full bore, expecting to excel at long, technical trails. And Gene’s devotion to her is total. He zips around in his car with their son Vlad to the next aid station, then the next, then the next race, sleeping in the back, always overprepared for whatever she may need. She gives him a list. He fills it and then some, expectant of what she might need before she even thinks of it. Veronica runs light, and that puts more burden on Gene, but he doesn’t complain. “I can see how she looks and see what she needs,” he says. In one instance, “This vegan needs Bacon pizza.”
“This vegan needs Bacon pizza.”
“How did you know?” She replied.
He wasn’t born a caregiver. He was turned into one, early on. His drug-addicted mother was abusive, physically, emotionally, verbally. Then, she left. “I woke up in the middle of the night and she was gone.” Gene was four. He gave the care he craved from his mother to the animals at his father’s pet shop. His first official role as a caregiver was to Peanuts, his Spider Monkey pal. Peanuts would come home with them and sit at the dinner table, running across the table to grab something off a plate and scramble back to his seat (he had his own).
Veronica is even wilder; she lives on the edge. She pushes herself on brutal training runs in the White Mountains, often alone, and has called Gene on multiple occasions, panicked, freezing, stuck, having gone too far with too little. Gene stays calm. He’s always calm. “I’ve come to expect it,” he says. “I need to know how to manage it.” He helps her with “safe” and “not safe.” Most times with Veronica, not safe wins out. Then, Gene is there to pick up the pieces — like when she crashed her brand-new mountain bike. Concussed with a fractured skull and three brain hemorrhages, her life could have been over or forever changed. Gene took immediate control. A text message came through to Veronica’s friends from Gene: “Hi All. It is critical today that she [Veronica] have absolutely minimal screen time… What she does now will impact the rest of her life.”
He nursed her through to a full recovery, while also taking care of their child, putting solar panels on the house, and installing heat pumps. He wants to prepare them for the effects of climate change. (He cares about the planet, too.) He runs when he can, finding moments when he’s not urgently needed. He always caries some extra nutrition just in case someone on the trail happens to need it.
Gene’s not comfortable discussing Veronica’s plans for this winter, which most certainly involves high levels of risk. Perhaps, he’s gotten superstitious. But he won’t stop her; he’ll follow, support, and be there to pick up the dirty bits and even encourage her to keep pushing. He knows Veronica is the childlike side of himself that he never got to fully enjoy. She frees him to show up to races made up like the Joker or the Crow. Afraid of becoming what he saw as examples of adulthood, the pageantry keeps him forever youthful, living each day as if it were his favorite holiday, Halloween.
Well written and we’ll researched. This is Gene. Gene has also crewed for and supported other runners to great achievements. I am deeply grateful for his friendship and Geneness!
We caregivers have methods to our madness. I have many runners who swore I was trying to kill them, yet 30 years later they’re 80-something and still competing. I guess I didn’t try hard enough lol. Actually had a runner tell me the best handler he ever had was an orderly in a mental hospital, he didn’t know why that would be an important skill set!
Love your lives’ story… keep on keepin on! …. Taking risks in pursuit of a passion is a more often an unknown spark in human life; especially when it involves the great outdoors! Cheers to you and your family!
Beautifully written. Big hugs, Gene Machine!
Amazing partner! He knows her so well. Different, but a very nice story, Jared!
Beautiful story. Beautiful man. Having seen him in action, I would offer the two things you left out are what a calm, loving, patient father he is to Vlad in all circumstances, and what a uniquely warm and welcoming host he is in his home.
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