Friday, 26 July 2013

Small Pants

“I have a pair of pants in my drawer that are much too small for me,” you told me quietly, with that grin on your face.

Each morning, we would cycle the 5 miles out of town for an early morning rowing session on the Thames at Radley. This particular morning, we had been discussing the state of our training kit; mine was practically able to stand up by itself and in dire need of a wash.

“When I put these pants on, I think “Ooh, small pants” and I spend the day reminded of this. I know it’s time to do some washing then.”

We knew you from then on as Small Pants. It was a silly name for such a great man, really. You went on to achieve so much. No matter what you accomplised, you always remembered us, and you never minded us calling you that.

On those bike rides, we established our mutual love of cycling. Long after I stopped rowing, and even when rowing became your job, we talked bikes before boats. We laughed at the noises our student bikes made, both contraptions we’d owned since our early teens; we coveted and congratulated each other on the upgrades over the years since; we swapped stories of accidents, adventures and ambitions on two-wheels; we shared an aspiration to complete an ironman.

You took on Ironman Nice on the hottest day of 2009. One third of the way into the bike course and halfway up the biggest climb of the day, your chain snapped. With the nearest race mechanic 10km away at the top of the next pass, they told you to DNF. Instead, you jogged until someone loaned you a tool to rejoin the chain and completed the remaining 100km on a fraction of the gears you started with. All this before running a marathon. You took this photograph of yourself at the start of the day and posted it in your Facebook album from the event; I keep it by my computer at work and cherish the caption as much as the picture itself.

"Day 3: Happy! (Whatever may be in store for me today, at least I'm not stuck behind a desk in an air-conditioned office under artificial light in front of a computer screen...)" Acer Nethercott

The day I heard the news that you were ill, I rode my bike. I rode my bike and I thought of you. I rode my bike and I worried about you. I rode my bike and I questioned why you hadn’t told us. I rode my bike and I got angry. I rode my bike until I came to the conclusion that you’d tell us directly if things were that bad. I told myself that everything would be OK; you would tell us if it wasn’t. That conversation never happened.

The fact that you kept your illness such a secret has been one of the hardest parts of grieving for you. Feelings of shock and loss, all mixed up with doubts and worries. Only after you passed away did I even begin to comprehend the privacy with which you dealt with all of it. The memories in so many of the messages left in tribute are so completely consistent with how I remember you - funny, generous, inclusive, kind, relentlessly optimistic - that I learned rationalise your choice as simply, "You just wanted us all to remember you". That’s what I will continue to do.

Tomorrow evening, I am starting what will be my longest race ever. I am utterly terrified. I am terrified that I’m unprepared. I’m terrified that I am out of my depth. I am terrified that my body won’t cope and that I won’t finish.

But I will do my very best and I will remember you throughout. I will remember how you faced your fears. I will remember how you conquered difficulties. I will remember that, when life gives you tiny pants, you put them on, smile, and remember to do some bloody washing.


  1. So sorry to hear about Acer! But I'm sure he'd agree with me that you'll be putting on a spectacular race tomorrow. Go get 'em Iron Katie!!! xx

  2. A fitting tribute to a wonderful man. He would have been so pleased and proud to support you during this race, and I know that when times get tough you will think of him, his cheeky grin, his arsenal hat, his astonishing determination and that will make you keep going. However, also remember that you and he share so many characteristics - the determination being one, and humility in the face of astonishing achievement being another. So pleased and proud to have you both in my life. Good Luck xxxx

  3. My dear Cakey,

    I won't pretend to know exactly what it feels like to lose a friend. Because I don't.

    But I do know what it feels like to lose someone very precious, and I know what it feels like to grieve, even after time has passed and memories fade and the years move on.

    This tribute was just exquisite - and tomorrow -as you do your best - your determination, strength and integrity will be the biggest tribute ever to him.

    Race with your heart, you'll always win that way xo

  4. Brilliant. I'm having a little cry at my airconditioned desk at work and will remember this quote at the start of many races from here on.

    Have a fantastic race on Saturday. You'll be great!


  5. What a beautiful, beautiful post. So sorry for your loss. I hope writing this has helped in some way - I always find writing helps make sense of feelings and thoughts racing around my head. I'm sure you'll do just fine tomorrow - you know you will too, really. x

  6. All the very best today.
    For all the reasons I don't know n more.

  7. Lovely. He'd be proud of you. X

  8. Revealing and beautiful to hear what you have been churning over. You have done it and I, like lots of others, am very proud of you, Ma.

  9. This post is beautiful and makes me well up every time I re-read it. I remember hearing about Acer's death earlier in the year, and thinking how terribly untimely it was and what an amazing person he was.

    (PS it also looks like a pretty amazing Ironman too - adding it to the list!)

  10. Beautiful entry and beautifully written. xx

  11. When you put it like that, Katie, it's no wonder those punctures got mended, the miles ticked down and the finish line appeared. There was a very good friend looking after you. ;-)
    Amazing stuff. Both of you xx


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