Feature article: Runner with a cause
Lee and his wife, Paulette, own and partly operate a trucking and pilot car fleet, respectively, under the Jordan Enterprises moniker. “The pilot car company has been our biggest sponsorship, obviously with the vehicle, taking it out of the fleet and keeping it with Jazz the whole time. When we’ve run low on funds, the pilot cars have been able to step up.”
Paulette started the pilot car side of the business three years ago. “The pilot cars have been supporting Jazzy’s run, as well as supporting everything at home,” she says. Lee’s three-truck fleet was running oversize windmill-blade loads up until just beyond the beginning of the run, at which point Paulette says Lee “turned his trucks back in” as freight dried up and his absence left the trucking side of the business in an uncertain position. “When you’re not there to manage everything,” Lee says, “it’s hard to really rely on anybody.”
Sheila Grothe was a fellow driver in the pilot car business, which specializes in oversize loads. “Sheila and I were friends since grade school,” Paulette says. “We lost touch, but I met up with her again, and she saw I was driving pilot car.” The business was just Paulette for a time, she says, after which she “had to go up to two cars for a contract, then up to four.”
Grothe came to driving pilot car after a stint with UPS and subsequent co-ownership of a bar in Dalton, Minn., the town the Jordans call home. After her business partner “drove that business into the ground, in essence,” Paulette says, “Sheila came to drive pilot car for me.”
Their friendship was immediately rekindled. “Sheila was a very big-hearted woman,” Paulette says, “fun to be around. All the kids, if you were a good kid or a bad kid, you went to Sheila with your problems. People going down the bad path in life, Sheila would tell them, ‘You come to my house.’ It was funny, she and Jazzy would joke back and forth a lot, but she always knew Jazzy was an angel, and she told her that all the time.”
Sheila had a very bad cough, Paulette says. On certain overnight stays on pilot car runs the two women shared space in the travel trailer Lee and Jasmine Jordan are utilizing for the cross-country run today, stationed near the end of one leg. “And she snored,” Paulette says. “She could’ve snored a log cabin every night.” As it turns out, those may both have been symptoms of a bigger problem, a grapefruit-size tumor in one of her lungs, which by December 2008 had been discovered and had spread to her brain.
“I heard the news and I thought, ‘It’s going to be Christmas, and she’s going to be gone,’” Paulette says. But she hung on for another year, and her tumors were responding to radiation treatment. “Her primary cancer was diminishing, but they never radiated the cancer in her leg,” Paulette says, which despite growing evidence in the form of increasing discomfort — even to the point that the 38-year-old Sheila was using a walker to get around — doctors missed until it was far too late.
Two days before she died, says Jasmine, “I saw her … in the nursing home. Her whole family was there. It was so hard to see her like that — all they could do there was give her pain medication.”
Paulette had cautioned her daughter about visiting Grothe. “I said, ‘Jazzy, you probably don’t want to see Sheila.’ I said, ‘She does not look like Sheila.’ I sat to the left of Sheila’s bed there. She had gorgeous eyes. And she could hear you, because she responded with those beautiful eyes.
“I said, ‘It’s OK to tell Sheila how you feel.’”
Paulette says she had to “catch” Jasmine to keep her from collapsing in the parking lot after the experience.
The situation for the Grothe family was made worse by an omission of convenience that turned out to be a costly one. “[Sheila’s husband] Randy worked at an excavating company and gravel pit,” Paulette says. “His insurance, because he’d have included everybody in the family in the normal course of things, was more expensive to cover the whole family rather than just the kids. Sheila insisted he have it for him and the kids. She had insurance at UPS and lost that when she got hurt and before she came to drive with me. The American family tries to cut costs, and in the end it really sucks. Her having medical assistance through the state, you still don’t get the care that someone with Blue Cross does, because the hospital can’t charge what they want to the state.”
Two days after her visit to Sheila Grothe in the nursing home, Jasmine Jordan says, “I got the phone call … saying she had passed away.” Jordan was a solid “two hours away from the house at the time,” she says, “and I came home, and all I could do was cry. I couldn’t think. I went out to run, because that’s where I can let everything all out.” On that late-evening run, around midnight or one o’clock in the morning, “when I was out there,” she says, “I remembered something my dad once told me: ‘If you want to make a statement about something, just run across the country.’ And when I got back home, I brought it up.”