Christmas Letters, Running Buddies, And My Friend Tony 

This story was originally published in the Traverse City Record-Eagle.

I hate to admit it, but until this year, I’ve been one of those guys who likes getting Christmas letters from friends but never sends them. Why the change in 2022? My friend Tony Anderson.

I met Tony on January 19, 2019. We were in the Eastern Elementary gymnasium waiting for the Traverse City Track Club’s Frozen Foot awards. I knew Tony from Marathon4Kids – an impressive 51 marathons in 50 states (and DC) to raise $900K for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northwestern Michigan – but this was our first conversation. 

While chatting on the school bleachers, I learned that we had a lot in common:

1)  we both have ties to South Dakota – Tony grew up in Timber Lake; my dad in Aberdeen. 

2) we both have sons who wrestled – Tony’s Andy won the D4 160lbs state championship for St. Francis in 2008; my Carter wrestled for four years on Central’s varsity team.

3) we both care about helping kids succeed – in addition to Marathon4Kids, Tony was a long-time Big Brothers Big Sisters board member; I was leading a youth-focused nonprofit that my wife Johanna and I started.

4) we both love running – Tony fell in love with it when he was 36; I did when I was 23.

 We became friends on that snowy day almost four years ago, and we’ve been running together ever since.

Like my other running buddies over the years, Scott McDonald, Toby Freebourn in Tucson, Jeff Wentzloff, Brad Pauly, Keelan McNulty here in Traverse City, my runs with Tony are less about fitness and more about friendship.

Tony and I usually talk about family, work, and community while running 3-5 miles monthly together. For me, our runs are part exercise, part catching up, part therapy session. 

Running alongside Tony has also gotten me through rough times – the pandemic, political unrest, family stuff, and my career transition last year. He isn’t just a running buddy; Tony is one of my trusted mentors.

Our most memorable run together was on May 3, 2020 – Tony’s final marathon. We were supposed to be in Cincinnati, but the pandemic required an audible. A handful of Tony’s running buddies started 26.2 miles south of Traverse City, and we ran to town to complete his Marthon4Kids. It was an incredible honor to run with Tony that day, an experience I’ll cherish forever. 

After that, I made it onto the Anderson family Christmas letter list.

Tony’s a great writer. His Christmas letters are always from the heart.

I love this part from his letter this year that reminisces about the 1960s-70s:

“Everybody sent Christmas cards in those days. There may not have been letters inside, but there were certainly handwritten notes. Each one was a sign that somebody cared about you. Pen to paper is so much better than “here is our family picture on Facebook.”

Pen to paper – a sign that somebody cares about you: I liked that. And that’s what got me to write the Schmidt family’s first-ever Christmas letter this year. 

While friendship, in general, is on the decline in the US, I’m grateful to be able to spend time running with buddies like Tony.

Charles Darwin once said, “A man’s friendships are one of the best measures of his worth.”

I’ve learned that the muscle of friendship grows stronger with use. You have to use it or lose it – especially as we get older. 

I’ve noticed that friendship now takes intention.

It takes effort and commitment.

It takes reliability and consistency. 

It takes running together as buddies. 

And it takes sending each other Christmas letters. 

Check out the first-ever Schmidt family Christmas letter