Six months after his brother’s shocking death, Chris Grover finally found the strength to lace up his running shoes.
He didn’t run far. A mile and a half out and then back to his home in Falmouth. It was May 31, his niece Lily’s 12th birthday.
Those steps were the first on an emotional journey that, in Sunday morning’s 22nd Maine Marathon, will lead him past the school where his brother taught second grade and fulfill a quest begun by Kevin Grover, Maine’s 2010 Teacher of the Year.
“There’s going to be a lot of tears,” said Mindy Grover, Chris’ wife. “Tears of sadness but also happiness. Kevin would want us to be happy.”
Lily lost her father on Thanksgiving Day, when his run in Rangeley ended with an apparent massive heart attack. Mourners included his wife, their two children, extended family, current and former students and colleagues, local and national. The Grovers grew up in Greene and Kevin taught in Auburn before Falmouth.
“It’s been tough on everyone but especially on Chris,” Mindy said, “because Kevin was not only his brother but his best friend.”
They started working out together after college when both lived in Windham.
“We both have high cholesterol,” said Chris, a mail carrier in Falmouth who is younger by 20 months and now, at age 39, lives in Cumberland. “So for health reasons we started running to keep that at a manageable level. We would sign up for 5Ks and the half marathon.”
The last race they ran together was a 5-kilometer run, partially organized by Kevin, in Falmouth to benefit Southern Maine Toys for Tots. Shortly thereafter, Chris became a father and found he rarely had time for exercise.
Kevin, whose daughter and son Eli were older, continued to run.
“We had done the half marathon and he always wanted to do the full marathon but I wasn’t interested in the work that’s involved,” Chris said. “It’s a lot of running and a lot of mileage. I think he was actually in the early stages of preparing to run this marathon.”
Chris took Kevin’s death hard. He slept a lot. He battled depression throughout the winter and into spring.
Finally he started thinking about how Kevin lived and what he would have done. The marathon. If Kevin couldn’t run it, maybe Chris could.
For the first several weeks he told no one the reason for his daily runs. Training for a 26.2-mile race requires serious commitment and there was a legitimate fear that the physical toll would be too much to handle. Indeed, at one point he was forced to back off the rigorous schedule he had set. A knee injury and, just this week, a cold have also hampered his preparations.
Still, after logging enough miles to quiet his trepidation, Chris told his sister, Laura, and then his wife about his true motivations. A month later he confided to a friend, Jason Lewis, who joined him in the quest and made the 15- and 20-mile runs seem easier.
During Sunday’s race, both Jason and Chris will wear shirts designed by Laura. On the front will be Super Grover, the furry blue monster of Sesame Street fame that was a fixture in Kevin’s classroom. On the back is a simple message.
Today is for Kevin.
Nearly two dozen friends and family members will be wearing similar T-shirts. Others have been asked to wear red — Kevin’s favorite color and a staple of his wardrobe. Also this week, Falmouth schools are soliciting donations of non-perishable items for the Falmouth Food Pantry, for which Kevin volunteered.
The race course normally would not pass by the former D.W. Lunt School, where Kevin worked until the new elementary school was completed in 2011, but construction on the Martin’s Point Bridge between Portland and Falmouth forced race organizers to alter the route.
For a man paying tribute to a beloved brother, no further reminder was needed.
“Without this kind of inspiration, his inspiration, I don’t think I could have been able to do it,” Chris Grover said. “I’m sure I’ll be a wreck coming down that last (stretch).”
When the race is over, Chris said he plans to cut back on his running but not eliminate it entirely.
“I’ll probably take it down a few notches,” he said. “Some of those were brutal three-hour runs. A lot of times I’d just stop and think about him.”
On Sunday, Super Grover will soar once more.
Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at: