Erin’s Run FTS Q&A: Kyle Woolley

By now, everyone in Fill The Steins Nation knows how important Erin’s Run is to your friendly contributors.  We were honored to be a sponsor of last year’s inaugural event and are proud to continue our sponsorship for this year’s race as part of our #FILLanthropy campaign.  The second annual Erin’s Run takes place on Saturday May 3rd along the picturesque Bangor Waterfront. 

The race, which benefits Spruce Run and a UMaine Swimming and Diving scholarship in Erin Woolley’s name, is an important, personal cause to many people.  Our own Matt Grondin shared the personal nature of his relationship with Erin’s Run for us here just a couple weeks back.  Bangor Mayor Ben Sprague did the same here.  Ben will also join Adam and Brian on the Fill The Steins Podcast this Sunday at 7pm to talk about Erin’s Run and his memories of Erin.

Today, we continue sharing personal stories of Erin Woolley, a young woman who contributed much to society in her all-too short time on this earth, with perhaps the most personal perspective of all…that of Erin’s older brother, Kyle.

I have known Kyle almost all my life.  We grew up in Bangor together and spent an inordinate amount of time with one another as kids.  As we grew up, the way we spent our time changed, but we always remained close.  Kyle is one of the most intelligent, thoughtful, and introspective people I’ve ever met.  That’s why it was so difficult to watch him and his family grieve during the time following Erin’s passing.  It was not surprising, though, to see Kyle’s family and friends bond together to put on such an important event to honor his sister’s legacy. 

With that, Fill The Steins is proud to welcome Kyle Woolley for a very special Q&A; where he remembers his late sister, talks about his family’s legacy of giving to those who are less fortunate, and, yes, what currently fills his stein:

Fill The Steins: How did you, your family, and other people involved in getting Erin’s Run off the ground know that three years after her passing would be the right time to start an event in her memory?
Kyle Woolley: I believe the idea came from Ben Spraque who approached my mother, Debbie Chaiken and Carol Woodcock and some of Erin’s friends. My mother initially told me about the idea, but it has been a real challenge to be intimately involved in the process given that I am in Chicago. The committee back in Bangor really has done the heavy lifting and I have been more of a supporting voice from a distance. Planning an event three years after her passing seemed about right because it was a good moment to remember her. I think I speak for many in saying that three and now fours years later, it still seems that if it was yesterday that Erin was still with us. In planning this event, those involved are helping us all keep the dialogue alive with Erin around issues that she held close to heart.

FTS: Erin was clearly an extraordinary young women who accomplished a tremendous amount in her short life.  What we she like growing up as your kid sister?
KW: Erin and I are six years apart in age and so as kids she tolerated my various sporting endeavors and I learned a great deal about the world of Barbie. As she grew older I became her fan as she excelled as an accomplished swimmer and writer. Many have stated that Erin had a flair for the dramatic and I can speak to that because she did. Even as children, Erin never did anything halfway, she invested her entire person in whatever activity that she did and any relationship that she had. As a big brother I quickly learned that Erin had a gift for silent observation, which always caught me off guard because she always knew what I was up to! She also had an incredible sense of others and was an extremely perceptive young person when it came to sensing the needs of others.

FTS: Both you and Erin have a reputation of giving back to the less fortunate…you with your work in Central and South America, and she with her work with Spruce Run and other domestic violence victims’ causes.  Where were you both instilled with that characteristic?  Did it come from the same place?
KW: Our grandparents were very involved in our Parish, St. Mary’s and also did a great deal of work with the Dorothy Day Soup Kitchen at the Salvation Army. Therefore, Erin and I were also involved with many activities at both places. In addition, our mother worked with the Good Samaritan Agency and I think that as we became more socialized to the realities of those less fortunate in Bangor and the significant degree of socioeconomic opportunities in life chances in the Greater Bangor Area, we came to understand our desire to work toward social justice in the greater global community. Obviously it manifested itself in different places, but our upbringing and exposure to the needs of others built a strong foundation for later social action.

FTS: As you both got older, you and Erin were rarely close geographically but talked and corresponded frequently.  What was your relationship with Erin like as you both became adults?
KW: Erin was my best friend. I communicated to her the challenges and joys of the reality in Peru, Bolivia, Chile, and the Dominican Republic and she likewise shared with me her intellectual pursuits in college and he desire to work for greater gender equality. We became sounding boards for one another. As we grew older, our communication, despite the long distances became more frequent and we were able to lean on one another for the love and support that one needs when working with and for others on the margins. As we got older, the “kid sister” dynamic faded away as we became confidants. Before I made any bid decisions in my life, I always consulted Erin first and she likewise. It was a true testament to the power of the relationships that can exist between siblings. As it turned out, distance was just a number and our bond crossed all international boundaries.

FTS: Last year’s inaugural Erin’s Run was an unquestionable success.  What are your goals for this year’s event?
KW: I hope that this year’s run will be as successful as last year. I am just hopeful that people will come out in large numbers to support the event not just as a way to celebrate Erin’s legacy, but also as a way of becoming more aware of the needs of others in the Bangor area.

FTS: Many people might not know that the morning of Erin’s Run last year, you actually ran 26.2 miles BEFORE the 5K, which is, of course, certifiably insane.  What prompted you to do that and how did you become such a fanatical road runner?
KW: I started running at the end of college, nothing major 5 miles here and a few more there. Over the past 6 years I started to up the amount and it felt great, especially as a stress reducer. A few years ago I got more serious about distance running and then one summer, while visiting Bangor, I went on a run with Bob Cattan, a good family friend, who runs ultra marathons. He took me on a trail run through the blueberry barons in Aurora that kicked my butt and I was hooked. I started running half marathons with the goal of running the Chicago Marathon in 2013, which was amazing as I ran it in Erin’s memory. However, last winter Bob challenged me to run 27 miles to the starting line of Erin’s run to make the total 30 miles after finishing the 5K. As Bob pointed out to me, Erin always swam the longest events, she was tough, never gave up and I have found that her spirit pushes me to run long distances too. So Bob and I started at 5:00 am in Aurora and ran Route 9 (the airline road to those scoring at home) to Bangor. As we came down Route 1A, Bob and I talked a lot about Erin and shared our own stories about her and her own determination as an athlete, it was a memorable experience. Now, I can’t get enough of running the long distances. I am running Chicago again in October, 2014, but this time for the Lymphoma Society, so you will be hearing from me soon about donating to this cause which will be dedicated to Erin.

FTS: Erin’s Run has clearly become a big part of your sister’s (and your family’s) legacy.  What do you, as her brother, want people who may not have known Erin to know and remember about her?
KW: Erin was selfless and she gave of herself without asking for anything in return. She was invested 100% in her friendships, family, the people she served and the study of law. Erin was tough, from an early age she drew the short straw and struggled with several health conditions. Yet rather than wallow in self-pity she had the courage and tenacity to fight back. Erin swam the endurance events because no health challenge was going to stop her; there were no excuses only opportunities. She was also a tender and compassionate women often giving more than was asked of her. Her purpose in life was always to advocate for those without a voice. At the same time, she was a brilliant writer and could paint the most poignant pictures with words. There is not a day that I don’t think of her and as the years went by, she became the person I looked up to. I can honestly say that society at-large lost an amazing person 4 years ago.

FTS: Lastly, on a lighter note, what are you filling your stein with these days?
KW: IPA of any variety. Chi-town has some excellent local choices!

Photo courtesy: Erin’s Run

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