“I’m still defining my life,” says Neal Collick. “I’m part Marine, part runner, all Dad.” Collick picks through the 40 medals and trophies hanging from the handmade shelf that he built with his 12-year-old son, Chase. He points out Chase’s first shiny orange participation ribbon from the children’s Whipper Snapper race during the weekend of the 2012 Grandma’s marathon in Duluth, Minn., when Chase was 8 years old. He lays out two 2015 Boston Marathon medals—one from Neal’s 26.2 race and one from Chase’s 5K on the famed course. Above the hardware, three framed photos show Chase and Neal running together, symbolic of such much that has happened since Neal returned home from Iraq in 2005.
“My time in the Marines was just about me—I only worried about myself,” says Collick, who served active duty in Iraq from 2003 to 2007. “It was a big change when I came home.”
Chase was born on January 1, 2003. Ten days later, Collick shipped out to Iraq. The Marine would see photos of his son and get phone calls, but it wasn’t the same. It couldn’t be. Reintegrating into his old life, therefore, proved difficult.
“I missed the first three years of his life and that’s something I’ll never get back,” says Collick, his voice beginning to tremble. “Connecting with Chase was hard to do. A lot of people might not understand that, but not being there and forming that bond when he was so young was really hard on me. I still think about it.”
Running was becoming a salve to the inner turmoil that came with Collick’s new civilian life. He had no idea it would do so much more for his relationship with Chase. In 2012 Collick brought Chase to Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, Minn. At Mile 25, Neal convinced 8-year-old Chase to run to the finish with his father. Chase didn’t feel any sort of thrill running the children’s race the day before, but finishing with his father in front of the crowd made the child’s eyes light up with that unmistakable rush that comes in the final mile of any race. Chase started getting into 2-mile races, then 5Ks.
But Chase didn’t just thrill in the finishing of the race, his passion became the training itself. When he isn’t joining his dad for runs or pacing him on his bike, he spends nights at home Googling training philosophies, running form, and Steve Prefontaine. He’s coached his mom through her first 5K and his cousin through a trail race. He also corrects his father’s running form. And if that’s not enough, he’s become Collick’s manager. Together, they came up with the name Superior Running, named for their home near Lake Superior, for Collick’s online coaching business. One night, Chase sat his father down to talk with him about the necessity of business cards and gave him the name of some places he should look into.
“He’s really pushing me,” says Collick, laughing. “He’s a great business manager and because of him, I’m up to speed on social media.”
Chase is now looking forward to training for his first half marathon. Collick couldn’t be happier. Father and son found mutual love in a sport that will keep them logging miles together throughout their life.
“Running the races myself was rewarding,” says Collick. “When I started to do them with my son, it changed everything. He’s my biggest supporter and my drive for everything. It’s been the biggest connector we’ve had and it’s incredible. It’s my favorite part of running.”