It was every Wednesday and she loved every minute of it. She was young, maybe five or six, but she remembers it like it was last Wednesday. They would hold hands and talk and like any loving dad, he would make her laugh and giggle. But the conversations went beyond cute little jokes and gentle tickles. They went to a place that she would need. A place that would help her for the rest of her life.
Jenny Keefe’s father Henry, died when she was 14, a brutal age to lose a parent. But those weekly trips to the ice cream store saved her. They strengthened her. And today, continue to inspire her. Jenny’s dad would talk to her about life, about working hard and about sports. He would talk about dedication, desire and will.
At the age of seven Jenny joined the Waltham Track Club and for the next 10 years she devoted her athletic career to running and to her father. She ran the 200m and 400m with all the heart he had spoken about. And when she became a mom, she passed on his legacy. Play sports she told her kids. Work hard she said. Don’t ever quit. And when they were old enough they ran for the WTC too.
In 2003 Jenny’s running changed. She started to run long, about 50 miles a week. For her dad she set her sights on Boston and in 2010 successfully finished the world’s most famous marathon. But during that time she also needed something different. A new test and a new challenge. Something that required her strength, her endurance and her will. Jenny started hiking.
Her new journey began first on Mt. Moosilauke in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. And by the end of 2010 she had successfully hiked 48 of the White Mountains four thousand foot peaks. She had become a member of The Appalachian Mountain Club, Four Thousand Footer Club!
No, this is not about rolling hills and endless meadows, holding hands or matching sweaters. It’s about grit and conditioning. Staying clear minded. Fighting off a sudden night storm of wind and hail on the southeast face of Mt. Washington and waking up 10 feet from the fall off to Tuckermen’s Ravine. It’s about the preparation and the nutrition. It’s about coming face-to face with an unhappy moose and her calf. It’s about toughness.
They have names like Goose Eye, Elephant and Pico. And they’re Jenny’s new challenge, New England’s tallest 100 peaks. Next on her list is Coe, number 90.
Hiking is Jenny’s therapy. It’s a time for reflection and sometimes the silence on her hikes is deafening. And sometimes the only sound she’ll hear is a pretty rendition of ‘Oh-Sweet-Canada’. It’s the song of the white-throated sparrow, a bird found only in the northern forests. The bird’s call brings Jenny comfort. It’s a constant. And it gently reminds her of the safety she felt with her father.
Jenny Keefe has not forgotten those ice cream Wednesdays. She’s not forgotten those lessons learned. She lives them on every hike and in every workout. She lives them every day. And she lives them for her dad.