I know where I met Francis Houston, Planet Fitness, but I cannot recall exactly when or exactly why.
I suspect we nodded at each other once or twice, an inobtrusive acknowledgement of a fellow senior citizen’s physical effort, and the nods led to smiles and the smiles to conversation.
When he told me he had been a runner most of his life, I was impressed and intrigued. When he told me that over a 20-year period he had run 25,000 miles, basically the circumference of the earth, I said to myself there’s a column in this guy. A column about running.
But I could never seem to get around to it. Every time I’d see him, I’d think, “Oh, yeah, gotta do that.” Then another few months would go by.
Fran introduced me to his wife, Lucille, and one day confided she is the survivor of a kidney transplant. She was always at the gym, too, and I said to myself there’s a column in this gal. A column about perseverance.
I did not see them for a few months, however, and when I did I could tell something had changed. Lucille was guiding Fran from apparatus to apparatus, and standing close by as he went through a truncated version of his old routine.
Fran, I later learned, had had a stroke.
But he kept coming to the gym and I said to myself there’s a column in what Fran is doing. A column about inspiration.
This time, however, I made it my business to follow up and we finally got together a couple of weeks ago. The three of us spent a few hours together and as I drove home I said to myself, yep, there’s a column in these two all right, but it’s a bit different from what I had thought. It’s a column about love.
“When we got married we promised, just like so many others, to love each other in sickness and in health,” Fran said. “Well, it’s been 53 years and I think we’ve lived up to that vow.”
They certainly have.
The “health” part came first and both believe their commitment to fitness is what allowed them to handle the “sickness” part when it arrived.
Both Jenkins Twp. natives (Fran was born in Port Griffith and Lucille in Sebastopol), they met when Fran was a student at the University of Scranton and Lucille a junior in high school. The matchmaker was Fran’s aunt, Anna Gilroy, who was Lucille’s homeroom teacher.
Life took them here and there, to Long Island and Brooklyn and Syracuse, where Fran accepted a fellowship for graduate school, to Long Island again, and Laflin, and the Poconos and back to Jenkins.
Fran began running while at Syracuse and has run more than 200 races, including four New York City Marathons. Lucille also competed in numerous races, including the Philadelphia Distance Race. Her motivation was slightly different though. She wanted to control her blood pressure which had the potential to race out of control because of inherited kidney disease. She always knew dialysis or, if lucky, a kidney transplant would be in her future.
Nine years ago dialysis seemed imminent when at the eleventh hour a donor entered her life, a person she had known no more than two weeks. She has been healthy since.
A year and a half ago their roles were reversed. It was Lucille’s turn to take care of Fran. Relying on her nursing training at Pittston Hospital years earlier, Lucille immediately recognized her husband’s symptoms as a stroke and swung into action. He’d eventually be life-flighted to Geisinger Medical Center in Danville where a blood clot was removed.
The stroke did not affect Fran’s mental capacity or speaking ability but left him with limited use of his left hand. And he is left-handed. Today he cannot tie his shoes or sign his name but feels fortunate to be as healthy as he is.
They still can be found at Planet Fitness on a regular basis and those who know them often comment on Lucille’s role in Fran’s progress. Some even ask her if she would consider training them. She declines with a smile.
“Our wedding vows live on,” Fran says but he does not have to. It is clearly evident to anyone who sees them.
Ed Ackerman writes The Optimist every week for Greater Pittston Progress. Looks for his blogs online during the week at www.pittstonprogress.com.