People like Eric Altbush seem to walk between
the raindrops. With a grin that never seems to
leave and a penchant for always making those
around him laugh, heís one of the most popular
members of the Reading boys track team.
Those that know him well, especially his
teammates, simply describe him as, " Thatís just
Altbush, " when relaying some of the stories about
him yelling at practice through his megaphone,
being goofy, and running around lightening the
One such story was told of Altbush buying a
lemon meringue pie at a school bake sale, and
walking around school and practice with it, just
taking in the reactions that people had to him.
Everyone wondered aloud what he would do with it,
most fearing the worst, that they would get hit
with it, but he actually did nothing. He simply
wanted to see how everyone would react, and he was
just ĎBeing Altbush.í
" Heís so fun to be around, " said fellow
captain A.J. Kastanotis. " Heís such a character,
heís always making us laugh and making track fun.
It would be hard without him. Heís also a very
good leader. Yeah, he can be a clown at times, but
he knows that there is a time and place for
everything. Once itís time to work hard and be at
practice, then he gets down to it. "
Altbushís never ending smile vanished
temporarily in early December of this year, when
his younger sister, Faith Emily Altbush passed
away after battling a brain tumor for 18 months.
She was just 7 years old. The loss hit the senior
and his family very hard, but it was his
resiliency and ability to come back and still
compete that most impressed his teammates.
" He just handled it so well, " said captain
Jake Weber. " He downplayed it almost, he just
came back and it was sort of like nothing had
happened. We all knew it and were respectful of
it, but he came back after taking a break and he
was going to run, and that was it. He was going to
make the best of the season, and it was pretty
cool to watch. "
For Altbush, coming back and being himself was
something that he had to do. He wouldnít have it
any other way, but the 18 months he had to endure
with his sister and his family were very hard.
" She was diagnosed with a brain tumor, and for
the next 18 months she was trying to fight it, "
explained Altbush. " We had to make tons of
hospital trips, and when she was first diagnosed
my parents had to take her to North Carolina for
six weeks, so I was pretty much living on my own.
It was just so hard with our sister and our
daughter with this terrible disease and trying to
live normally for over a year with this lingering.
I would explain it if I could, but it was just
very, very confusing. "
After a long battle, one that lasted longer
than most in her condition and at her age, Faith
" It came suddenly but we had been waiting for
18 months, " Altbush said. " Finally when it did
happen it was almost like, ĎO.K., now what?í I
actually think that I have been less confused
since it happened. With this there is no one
really to blame. Itís not like she got in a car
accident or anything like that. When you ask
questions like why, what did she do, what did we
do, there are no answers. How do you react to
something like this, itís very confusing. "
Altbush described his sister as being lively
and happy all of the time.
" She was just incredibly energetic, " he
recalled. " She was just a lively and happy girl
who loved everything and hated nothing. She was
just the ideal child, full of life and so of
course you ask yourself why would someone like
that be taken away for no apparent reason. When
there is no answer for that question, the only
thing to do is to move on. I think that me and my
parents, after the initial reaction, came out a
lot stronger than we were before. You just look at
what weíve gone through, and suddenly things that
people worry about all get put into perspective.
Some things just seem so trivial after something
like this. "
Eric has a constant reminder of his younger
sister. Before she passed away, he got a tattoo on
his left shoulder with the initials F.E.A.
" It was just something that I felt that I
really should do, and something that I wanted to
do, " he said. " It was kind of a ĎSheíll always
be thereí thing. But my parents put up a Web site
with their writings and reactions to everything,
and thatís part of how they got through all of
this. I had gotten the tattoo and what I had done
was gotten a picture of my back fading to black on
the bottom, with the tattoo on my shoulder, and my
head is looking down. Someone said that Eric said
it best without words how he felt about the whole
After everything that had happened, Altbush
admitted that he questioned whether or not he
should come back and still participate in track,
even though he knew he was a captain.
" The first week after it happened everything
just paused, " he said. " Nothing was coming or
going, and I didnít really communicate with a lot
of people. Then after a week or two I didnít know
whether or not I wanted to continue with track for
a number of reasons. One was that I am going to
school to do graphic design and to create things,
not run track. It just took up so much time and
effort. Maybe I wanted to expend my energy doing
something else or not doing anything, itís kind of
hard to explain. There were a lot of questions. "
After much debate in his own head, he did in
fact decide to come back to the oval and his
" What I found was that being at track was good
medicine, " he said. " Just being there and being
the character that I am, with people thinking that
they canít wait to see what I pull out of the hat
next, was very good to have. Thatís why I
eventually made my way back. It was more of just
building off of what everyone had on this
character, which was me being silly and crazy.
Just being there and being me was very good
medicine. Like with the pie, I was very casually
walking around with it, and everyone was like, Ďuh
oh.í Just carrying it around all day and watching
people fill in the blank was funny. Not that much
was required from me. What I get from everyone
else was really the medicine that I got from being
at track. "
" It was apparent to us what was going to
happen a couple of weeks before, " said
Kastanotis. " He was ready for it, if you can say
that. He knew how to handle it, and he took it in
good stride. It was amazing to see, I donít know
what I would have done in that situation. He is
just one of those kids that always wants to go out
and win, even in some of the not so important
meets. He doesnít take days off, and he wants to
do well for the team. "
Basically, in the end, he decided to just carry
on with his life, and be the crazy, silly,
" My way of dealing with it I think was just to
acknowledge that it happened, and not to question
it, " he explained. " There is nothing that I can
do afterwards to change anything or make any
differences, and nothing that I can do to stop and
fix what had happened. I donít know why it
happened, but it was a terrible thing, and I just
decided to continue on, and it was my way of
coping with it. I had to accept it and continue
" My way of coping with it was to be as silly
and energetic as I could, although I should have
been depressed and grieving. I would rather just
be happy and take advantage of what I have,
because itís not something that you are always
going to have, and I know that first hand. The
things that are trivia become more trivial when
you see how real real can get. "
After helping his team get a huge win against
arch-rival Woburn in a rematch of last yearís mega
race, all seems right again for Altbush and
Reading track. The team should win another league
title this year after taking one year off in the
last 31, and they have one of their most colorful
characters sprinting around the track.
" Heís the man with no endurance, " said Weber
with a laugh of Altbush the sprinter. " Heís our
best sprinter and he always wants it. He came
right back to the team because he wanted it. He
was always worried about how everything would
affect him on the track, but he came back with a
vengeance. We took him back with open arms and he
came at us at a full sprint. "