Name: Chris Dycka (pronounced Dick ‘uh, which is why Denise and the kids are McKeons!)
Occupation: Systems Engineer at Estee Lauder
Family: wife Denise McKeon, 3 sons Ty 9, Ryan 7 and Brett 5
I can’t remember the day I started thinking of myself as a runner, but I know for certain that it was only in the past year.
When I was a kid, I played little league baseball for a few years. The first three years went well, and I even made the All-Star team. The next two years took a dramatic turn in the opposite direction. You may have heard the phrase, “There’s no crying in baseball.” Well, I proved that phrase very wrong! So, I hung up my cleats, and focused on academics where I excelled all through school.
Around age 12, my aunt taught me to play tennis. I enjoyed it, so I took lessons over the summer. I played for the junior high school team and all through high school. In 11th grade I added bowling to my varsity sports list.
As a geek, bowler, and tennis player, I wasn’t up for the most popular award. I had a few circles of friends, but I never felt like I really fit into any of them. I always seemed to be just on the fringe where each circle had their inside jokes and experiences that left me feeling more of an outsider than part of the group.
While tennis and bowling were my only varsity activities, I did play a lot of other street sports throughout junior high and high school. I’d ride my bike to a nearby neighborhood (Pete Maniscalco’s) where a group of kids would play whiffle-ball, football, roller hockey, basketball, etc. These informal games helped improve my coordination, athleticism and confidence. I distinctly remember in my senior year of high school, I was picked to be captain for one of the basketball teams in gym class. It was quite a shock!
While I was in college at Bucknell University, I was looking for something to keep me busy and stumbled on a flyer for the Men’s Club Volleyball team. In a short time, I realized that I had found my passion. One of the guys on the team recognized my potential and repeatedly stayed after practice setting ball after ball for me. That first year, we travelled out of state for a couple of tournaments. We didn’t do very well, but I still loved it. My sophomore year was a big year for volleyball. We had a huge turnout at tryouts and four very experienced high school players along with me became the core of the team for the next 3 years. We joined a league and travelled to many tournaments. In my junior year, we attended Club Nationals in Buffalo New York. It was a three day tournament that involved a number of rounds and eventually playoffs. We hadn’t won any major tournaments up to that point, but this weekend, we found ourselves playing extremely well and at 10 PM on the last day of the tournament getting ready to play in the finals for a national championship. Our opponent was extremely intimidating and smoked us in the first game. We were shell-shocked but decided to come out strong. I started the second game with a few tough jump serves that got us the early lead. Somehow we were able to pull out a win in that game. We dug deep in a close final game and emerged victorious as the Division II Club National Champions. It was a tremendous feeling, and we celebrated like we had just won the Super Bowl. Over 20 years later, I can still visualize us running around the court after the last point. For the next few years, I played almost non-stop. I played doubles in beach and grass tournaments during the summer, I was an assistant with the women’s team for 3 years of college, and I played with Miller Lite Men’s team out of Harrisburg, PA after college, spending weekends travelling around much of the North East. Eventually, the time and travel got to be too much, and I stopped playing competitively.
After college, I was working for Prudential Insurance in New Jersey with Denise’s sister, Karen. Denise was a server at the Houlihan’s Restaurant next to our building, and we used to go in for happy hour on Thursday’s. I flirted with her every week, and almost got her to go on a date with me, but she had an image in her head that I was just another “Suit” that came into the bar. That view eventually changed when she learned I was quitting my job at Prudential after four years to spend 5 months travelling throughout the U.S. with my cousin Mike.
Mike and I began our trip in July 2007. We basically lived out of my Saturn, well actually 2 Saturns, for most of the trip. We were in a car accident in Calgary, Canada that totaled the first car. We ended up getting to Seattle and purchased a new car there. We were stuck in Seattle for a couple of weeks, which ordinarily wouldn’t be a bad thing, except when your totaled car was your home. I ended up calling my ex-girlfriend’s sister who reluctantly let us crash in the living room of her 1 bedroom apartment. You can imagine how thrilled she was when our new car was finally ready!
The trip came at both a great time but also a tragic time in my life. A few months before we left, my dad had committed suicide at age 50. It was a complete shock to our family and so out of character to everyone that knew him. The difficulty with suicide for me is that it is very hard to ever find full closure. The lingering questions of “Why?” and “What if?” fade but never actually go away. The trip offered lots of time for me to reflect without the normal stresses of everyday life.
Our trip was amazing. I never realized how much there was to see in the United States and Canada. We did lots of hiking and saw many incredible sights. South Dakota was probably one of the best surprises in terms of things to see and do. We also encountered many friendly people along the way. Some even let us crash with them for a night or two. Looking back, it seems crazy that a person would allow 2 strangers to stay in their home. I knew that Mike and I were harmless, but they didn’t know that! After further reflection, perhaps we were the crazy ones staying with complete strangers many hundreds of miles from home. After 30,000 miles of travel between both cars, we returned to Long Island shortly before Christmas.
One great outcome of the trip was that it gave me a reason to get together with Denise. I was back in New Jersey visiting friends when I ran into Denise at Houlihan’s. She mentioned that she was going on a 6 week cross country trip with a couple of her friends. I told her that I had a great book that Mike and I used on our trip. If she wanted, I could bring it out to her one night. She said sure, and I thought I was meeting her for our first official date. Who would drive 2 hours each way just to bring someone a book? It had to be a date, right? Wrong! I was on my way to NJ when Denise called and told me to meet her and a couple of her friends at Lone Star restaurant. It was her friend Cherie’s birthday. Ugh. While sitting in traffic on the Cross Bronx, I made a birthday card out of some scrap paper for Cherie (who I’d never met). I arrived at the restaurant with book and card in hand. We were sitting at the table and Denise’s other friend, Trish, who was a little better at geography than Denise asked where I was staying that night. I knew that Denise was living with her sister and brother-in-law, who I also knew very well, so I said that I was staying with Denise. With a violent turn of her head she shouted, “NO YOU’RE NOT.” If I didn’t have a good grasp of the situation before, I sure did now. I quickly back peddled and said I was just kidding. I was going to sleep in the car like I did on my cross country trip. Fortunately, the night improved from there, and I didn’t have to sleep in the car! When Denise returned from her cross country trip, she called me and made plans to return the book. And that was our first mutually agreed upon first date. I’d say the geek, bowler, tennis player overachieved in this instance!
Fast forward to 2010 (two Achilles tendon ruptures and three kids later). My longtime friends Pete Maniscalco and Kelly Jones were over for dinner. As Pete and I moved into the drunker phase of the evening, Pete mentioned that he was running in the Suffolk County 5k on Nicolls road just around the corner from my house. In my drunken state, I agreed to do the race too. I came in second in my age group, but that wasn’t enough to get me to want to race again until Pete convinced me to run the Courtney’s True Blue in Blue Point 2 years later. I recall seeing Todd Metro and Kelly Gibbons at that race. I had known both of them from the day care center our kids attended. I came in first in my age group, but wouldn’t race again until the following year’s Courtney’s True Blue. This was the year that things began to change. Pete finally clued me in that they actually give you free beer after each State Park Summer Series run. It sounded too good to be true, but I’m a sucker for free beer. In the meantime, Denise’s friends convinced her to sign up, and we decided to make Monday nights “Date Night” with some exercise.
I had always sworn that I would never run longer than a 10k, but in October 2013, I ran my first half marathon. I also ran the 10 mile Race to the Brewery in January, 2014. The free beer drew me in to yet another race! It was at this race that I first saw what an amazing group you all are. Denise had been running the hills for a few months and kept telling me how much I would enjoy it. Denise introduced me to Lou and some of the other people she had met. As I had already finished a few beers (notice the theme here?), I told Lou that the next day would be my first Hills run. It was a great experience. As I started to meet more and more of you, I began to look forward to running and entered more races. I even started to enjoy my solo training runs. It was around this time when I started describing myself as a runner. I ran my second half marathon last May in Wildwood, NJ where I heard people cheering for me that I had never met because I was wearing my Hills shirt. It turned out to be Alicia Delano, Jeff Littwin and Jenipher Quintanilla who introduced themselves after the race. I also completed my first full marathon in September in the Hamptons where I got to witness Steve Lutz propose to Kristine Densing. I have had so many great experiences with many of you. It is truly an honor to be part of this group and to be able share my story with you.
For the past couple of months, I have been battling a knee issue. My doctor believes that it is arthritis along with degeneration from all the years of volleyball. I may have to limit my running for the foreseeable future, but I hope to always remain an active part of this incredibly supportive group.
I now know in my heart that I am a runner.
If you made it to the end, thanks for staying with me.