Ask 8-year-old Luke Gramling about his Grandpa Dave, and his eyes light up like fireworks on the Fourth of July.
“My grandpa is the best grandpa in the world,” said Luke, who has been running long-distance races with his grandfather, Grain Valley barber Dave Gramling, the past five years. “He’s the best because he loves me so much. He loves to run with me and he loves to be with me.
“I talk to my friends about my grandpa and they are surprised he runs with me. I just thought all grandpas ran (with their grandsons), but they don’t – just mine.”
A devilish grin appears on Luke’s face as he pauses for a moment, and adds, “I love him. And I love to beat him in races. He used to be faster than me, but not now. I’m very fast.”
He’s also very truthful. Luke Gramling was second in the 10-under portion of the Kansas City Zoo 4-Mile Run when he was 7 and he won the Sounds of the City 14-under 5K at Bass Pro in Independence last year. What made than win special was that it came on Grandpa’s birthday.
“I can’t keep up with him,” Dave Gramling said, a touch of respect and pride in his voice. “That gun goes off and so does he – off he goes! There was a time I could keep up with him, but not anymore.”
Gramling and his family – wife Joleen, daughter Gloria and Luke – just returned from Disney World, where grandfather and grandson experienced the ultimate bonding experience.
Dave and Luke ran the Disney World 5K (all members of the Gramling family ran the race back in 2016). Luke also ran the Mickey Mile while Grandpa ran his first – and likely, his last – marathon, 26.2 miles through cheering fans, marching bands, choirs, more fans, and a daughter waiting at the finish line crying out to her father, “That’s my Dad!!!”
Dave still can’t talk about that moment without tearing up, regaining his composure and talking about the types of memories that only fathers, daughters, grandfathers and grandsons can experience once in a lifetime, if they are lucky.
This story poses a question that begs to be answered: Why does a 55-year-old barber, with no background in distance running, suddenly join his grandson on courses throughout the metro area?
“That’s easy to answer,” Gramling said, as he leaned back in his barber’s chair and talked about his newfound passion.
Luke needed a running partner.
“He loves to run, and he asked me if I’d run with him, and I said, ‘sure,’ not really knowing what I was getting into,” chuckled Gramling. “He was 3 years and 2 months when we ran the 2012 All-Star Game 5K in Kansas City (in conjunction with the Kansas City Royals hosting the All-Star Game) and as soon as he crossed the finish line he yelled, ‘I want a medal.’
“He now has a bedroom full of medals.”
And so does Grandpa, although his are hanging in his Main Street barber shop.
“I was 55 and liked to share running with Luke, and well, I guess the rest is history.”
Gramling soon dreamed about competing in a marathon, and what better place to live out a dream than Disney World?
Starting last Thanksgiving, he spent hour after hour preparing for the 26.2 mile trek. He had run more than fifty 5Ks and about ten 10Ks, and he chuckles when he thinks about to the times he spent six hours on a treadmill at the YMCA preparing for the big race.
“I know the folks at the Y thought I was crazy,” Gramling said. “But I had to make sure I could do it. I didn’t want to run out 13 miles that way, and have, well, you know, some gastric distress or other issues, so I ran on a treadmill.”
He then ran those 13 miles – out and back to Grain Valley – and soon, the family truckster was packed off they went to Disney World.
And a star was born.
OK, maybe not quite a star, but after completing the marathon, and collecting his special medal and marathon pair of Mickey ears, Gramling felt like a star.
“I don’t know where I finished, but I know I finished – in about 7 hours,” he said, “and I got up the next day and walked about 13 miles around Disney World. I got my medal and my ears and it made me feel good.”
It might have made Luke feel even better.
“My Grandpa ran a marathon and we all knew he would run it and finish it,” Luke said. “He’s the best Grandpa. He’s my best friend when we’re running and I love him.”
And Grandpa feels the same way – oh, how he feels the same way.
“You know I didn’t get the 'how to be a Grandpa' handbook when the grandchildren were born,” Gramling said. “My dad’s dad died in 1939. Mom’s when I was 5 so I never had much interaction with my grandparents.
“My own children’s grandparents only had minimal involvement. So I had nobody to learn from. Last summer Luke and I were at a Cub Scout campout. On Sunday morning a pastor delivered a message. He starts out, ‘I thought my life had come to an end when I was in the fourth grade. My grandpa died. Luke gets up, walks over to me, stares for a second and climbs up on my lap.
“Then he says, ‘I don’t want you to die.’ I couldn’t promise that I wasn’t going to die someday. I told him, ‘I will be here as long as you need me to be here.’
“I believe this. We are here for a reason. I hope that I get to see how it ends. Luke is an amazing little boy. I have been so blessed to be part of his life.”
If life is indeed a marathon, this dynamic grandpa and grandson are just leaving the starting gate and have a lifetime of memories waiting on the horizon.