Cameron Bean lives.
How else can you explain what happened last Saturday, when a small town of runners woke up before dawn to descend upon the North Shore, all because of Cameron?
Everybody was calling it a 5k.
Really, it felt like something else.
"It felt like heaven on earth," said Cameron's mom, Lisa.
Twelve months ago it was hell. Her son Cameron — a Baylor School grad, a national steeplechaser, one of the most likeable guys on the planet — went for a late-afternoon run, an 11-miler from the North Shore towards Moccasin Bend. On the way out, Cameron was running on the left-hand side of the road — properly, against traffic — when a woman driving in his same direction drifted across both lanes and struck him down from behind. Two days later, Cameron, 28, died.
Here in Outdoor City, we were stunned. Cameron was fast, but also unforgettable, in the way everyday saints are. People talk of meeting him just once, and their lives were changed.
The Bean family — Steve and Lisa own Bean Heating and Air — found comfort in so many of you: church family, Cam's friends, even strangers. Yet several months ago, a group of runners decided to honor Cameron in a most fitting way.
A new 5k.
Last September, just before he was killed, Cameron ran this teensy, tiny 5k on the North Shore.
Only 74 people entered.
This year, friends re-created the race in his honor: the Cameron Bean Memorial 5k. Word spread around town. And spread.
Saturday morning, more than 600 people ran.
In one year, the Cameron Bean Memorial 5k went from being one of the smallest to one of the largest 5k races in the city. From 74 runners to more than 600? That's off-the-charts growth, like pacing Grandma one year, then Usain Bolt the next.
It's also signature Cameron: this Pied Piper whose influence simply made life bigger. Richer. Deeper.
The 5k morning began and ended at a forgotten patch of national park land on Hamm Road. With the briefest of hills, the course went out Moccasin Bend Road — the very path Cameron was running when he was killed.
"When Cameron died I was less afraid to go for a run than to get in my car and drive down the road," said race director Alan Outlaw. "The thought terrifies me every day that I — or any of us — could take away someone's mom, dad, grandmother, best friend, co-worker, or child, simply from zoning out, texting, driving under the influence, or being distracted from the road."
Outlaw owns Fast Break Athletics on Frazier Avenue, where Cameron worked. One goal Outlaw had for the new 5k?
"Advocacy and increased awareness," he said.
For runners and cyclists?
"For everybody," he answered.
He's adopted the motto of a Georgia cycling group: "Pass Them Like You Love Them."
"View every pedestrian as a loved one," Outlaw echoed.
Cameron's funeral was last September; the Saturday race felt like its sweaty, second-line procession. Volunteers handed out free Ray-Ban knockoffs, the sunglasses Cameron loved.
Chattanooga police Chief of Staff David Roddy ran the 5k in his uniform and bulletproof vest.
There were cross-country teams — girls and boys, high school and college. Parents pushing strollers. Even basketball teams, with their coaches trailing. (Talking to you, John Shulman).
The morning felt crisp, acute and alive, in the same way a wedding can; I told the Beans I wanted to write about it.
"Please write from your heart," Lisa asked.
Here's what my heart wants to say:
We all lose things we love.
A healthy body.
And such loss can cause our hearts to shutter their doors. Even nail them shut.
But what if the people and things we lose aren't really lost at all?
What if they live on, somehow, in the rest of us?
Somehow, Cameron Bean was alive last Saturday. And still is today. And so is my father-in-law, who died this summer from cancer. And your deceased mother. Your spouse. Your child. Or all the beloved things you and I have lost. Somehow, the dead are held alive — bequeathed, distilled — in the living. Somehow, they live on through us.
I know, I know. These are not logical words. My rational brain doesn't understand this; yours may not either.
But my heart tells me it's true.
"You know," one friend said after Saturday's 5k. "Cameron won this race last year."
He won again this year, too.
David Cook writes a Sunday column and can be reached at email@example.com or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook at DavidCookTFP.