Monday, September 25, 2017

What is an athlete?

A few days ago my daughter Kristin asked me a question. “Do you think of yourself as an athlete?”

Hmmm. I had an urge to seek a definition from google before I answered her but the google dude was not immediately available so I was on my own.

I had to say, “No.”

Then I asked, “Do you think of yourself as an athlete?” She took less time than I did to answer, “No.”

Both of us have been physically active for a long time. She was a swimmer and tennis player in high school and has been hitting the running trails for at least three decades. She has done more than a dozen marathons and more half marathons than she can count. She has been a dedicated and consistent stretcher and weight-lifter for long enough that she has beautiful rippling muscles in her arms and legs to show for it.

I’m getting a little ancient for this running game, but I’ve been at it for a few years longer than Kristin has and I plan to do it for as long as I’m able. A run in the morning makes my day.

So. Why don’t either of us see ourselves as athletes? What is an athlete anyway? I did go to the google-dude and here’s what I learned.

“An athlete is a person who is proficient in sports and other forms of exercise. Synonyms are “sportsman, sportswoman, sportsperson, jock, Olympian, runner.”

Checking on the word “athlete” the old way—in a paper dictionary, I learned that athlete is derived from the French, athlein, to contend for a prize. The meaning is listed as “a person who is trained or skilled in exercises, sports or games requiring physical strength, agility or stamina.”

Neither of us has ever had a trainer but that does not mean that we have not trained. Runners like to talk about going on “training runs,” which means that they are practicing—no doubt for the next race coming up on their schedule. We both do that but more often than not, we go out to run despite, wind, rain and cold, just because we like to. It makes us feel good. It is a time to think, a time to chat, a time to take a look around at the world and see what is going on.

I do remember being quite surprised a few years ago when someone said to me, “You look like a runner.” I liked hearing that. I hadn’t thought much about what a runner looks like, but I was happy to fit the image, at least for one person.

Maybe Kristin and I don’t think of ourselves as athletes because neither of us have dedicated a large portion of our lives to the act of running. I for one, have a hard time getting into the technicalities, though I am quite fascinated with the people who do. And it would probably do me good to do so.

So. Do you think of yourself as an athlete? Would you choose to be one? Does it matter at all how we define ourselves?

Something to think about.

Monday, September 18, 2017

What would you like to explore?

What would you like to explore?
What is important about this?
What impact will it have on you?
What would you get that you don’t have now?

Tomorrow morning I am meeting with someone who is going to ask me these questions. Right now I have very little idea about how I will answer them and just where the conversation, limited to an hour, is likely to lead.

 I just returned from a quite amazing weekend spent in Steamboat Springs, Colorado at the 25th anniversary of Literary Sojurn, a booklovers’ event attended by more than 500 people.

In a single afternoon we were treated to five well-known authors discussing their books, other peoples’ books, why they write, who influences them, and how writing has affected their lives.

So I guess it is not surprising that something I want to explore is related to the world of writing. Also, it is probably related to the imminent self-publication of White Shadow, an historical novel I’ve been working away at for ages.

I think that what I am going to tell my interviewer is that I’d like to explore, well, writing. That could include figuring out a new writing project. Should it be fiction, that does not come naturally to me, or non-fiction, which I feel more confident about tackling? I’d like to write something about women. Probably about women who run—from ordinary recreational runners to those who have dedicated their lives to training, nutrition and technique, in order to become the best they can be.

To respond to the question about why this is important to me has to do with my curiosity about what these runners have gained from running over the years, why they keep doing it as they age, and what are their hopes and dreams for the future. For the older runners: How do they deal with aging? What will replace running when they can’t do it any more? For the younger ones: how will they fit their running into career, family, other interests?

I’d like to think that I’ll be impacted by the stories these women tell. There will be similarities and there will be differences. It will be more important for some than for others. Who knows, I might even discover a nugget of a story that could grow into something longer than a chapter in a book.

What would this exploration give me that I don’t have now? I would hope for more expertise in pursuing research. More patience when it comes to writing, revising, revising again, and caring about small details. There’s nothing like practice. In the course of such a project, I’d hope to become a better writer.

Just in case you are interested, the speakers at the Steamboat Springs Literary Sojourn were:

Eowyn Ivey, new novel, To the Bright Edge of the World.
Nadia Hashimi, new novel, A House Without Windows.
Paulette Jiles, new novel, News of the World.
Robert Owen Butler, new novel, Perfume River.
Amor Towles, new novel, A Gentleman in Moscow

Chris Cleave, new novel, Everyone Brave is Forgiven, served as a brilliant master of ceremonies.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Fortitude--10k road race comes to Fort Collins

I had a pretty cool experience on Labor Day this year. The organizers of the Bolder Boulder, my all-time favorite running race, brought Fortitude, a 10k road race with all the Bolder Boulder trimmings to Fort Collins for the first time ever.  Even better, the race went right past the home where my children grew up, my younger daughter’s house is now, and my own house on Mountain Avenue.

It was a weird and wonderful sensation. I felt as if I was running in the Bolder Boulder but in this totally familiar location. To make it even better, Kristin, my older daughter, joined me from Cheyenne for the run.

And Donna Messenger, one of the fastest female runners in Fort Collins when she lived here years ago, came from her home in Coeur d’ Alene, Idaho to join me in the run. It was old times revisited for her as well.

The course began just west of the Colorado State University campus and wound through neighborhoods until it returned to the campus and finished on the Sonny Lubick Field in the brand new CSU football stadium. Runners circled the track inside the state-of-the-art structure to arrive at the finish line.

There were nearly 8,000 participants, making it by far the largest running event ever held in the Choice City. What a kick it was to see so many people circling a good part of the town encouraged by spectators and lively music from several bands along the way.  Okay. So there was no sign of Bolder Boulder’s famous fryers of bacon and belly dancers along the route, but just give it a year or two!

Elite runners took part in a handicapped "chase" race later in the morning, geared to making it possible for all runners to arrive at the finish line at about the same time. 

Participants found seats in the stadium to watch the runners behind them pouring in and stayed for a Labor Day celebration honoring first responders. Race organizers even thought to put a request for donations to the survivors of the Houston, Texas flood on the big screen in the stadium. Heads up!

I now have two favorite races.  The Bolder Boulder that opens the season on Memorial Day and the Fortitude that ends summer running events on Labor Day.  Two just doubles the fun.

See you at the start, September 3, 2018. Registration is now open.

Monday, August 28, 2017

On sanctuary and signs

This is what I wrote a few days ago: I called it taking a risk. I said, I am ready…more than ready…to become one of the people at my Unitarian Church enthusiastically supporting a move to become the first sanctuary church in Fort Collins. The congregation will vote on whether or not to take this step—to make this commitment to providing a safe environment for a woman facing deportation in less than three weeks.

If the congregation gives their go-ahead—which requires approval by 75 percent of a quorum, a woman from a town more than an hour away will move into the church and live there until her fate is decided by the court.

There’s way more than what meets the eye in undertaking this effort. The church will need to get additional insurance, convert a storage space into a bedroom, make sure there is someone at the church with her at all times and make sure she is well-fed and her needs are attended to.

It takes a crew of volunteers and a reasonably long-term commitment to make all this work. There are questions about risk to the church, its ministers and the rest of the staff and to church members.

I was surprised to learn that the church is committed to being open and very public about what they are doing. They want the woman’s name and story told. They will not be concealing her, rather they will be providing her with a safe place to shelter until her fate is decided by the court.

Should an ICE officer come to the church with a warrant, we will ask them to wait while a lawyer determines the legality of the warrant. If it is legal, the person taking sanctuary will have to leave.

I find myself so enraged by the current atmosphere in this country in regard to immigration that I am anxious to do my small part to resist what is happening.

The goal of the church is to keep families together. This woman has the support of her family. Her older children apparently have jobs and are keeping the family afloat. More details about her story will no doubt emerge if she comes to stay.

In the end, no one knows for certain what the future will bring. Nevertheless, there are many church members willing and able to say “yes” to this commitment physically, financially, and emotionally, just because if feels like the right thing to do.

PS- On Sunday, August 27 the church voted by 92% to become a sanctuary church.


I found these two signs at an area near the CSU campus. Kinda fun!

Monday, August 7, 2017

Running for Morgan

Some weekends fly by with nothing special to remember them by. Not this past weekend for the 500 or so runners who made their way 198 miles from Fort Collins through the Colorado mountains starting early last Friday morning, August 4, and finishing on Saturday between 8 a.m. and late afternoon in Gondola Square in Steamboat Springs.

I hooked up with a team of 12 with the unlikely name of HumpalOtt for Morgan. Each of us ran three legs of the journey which went through Livermore, Red Feather Lakes, over Deadman Pass into Woods Landing, Wyoming and Walden, Colorado before ascending Rabbit Ears Pass and descending into Steamboat Springs. The 61 teams who participated were all there to have a good time. For many of the runners, the Wild West Relay, subtitled “Get Your Ass Over the Pass,” the event has become a sacred tradition. Every year they confront the logistical challenges—finding a couple of vans—planning food and lodging—and training enough so that they can approach their appointed legs of the run with a reasonable hope of contributing to the success of the team. It’s an adventure run more than it is a race, making fun and camaraderie way more important than competing with each other.

John Humpal and Brad Ott were the original organizers of our team several years ago, and both of them were quite pleased with the creativity of the team’s name. This year our team wanted to remember one of us who died tragically and too soon in January—thus the addition of her name making our team HumpalOtt for Morgan. We carried photos of her, had special shirts made with a shot of her running on them and we told Morgan story after Morgan story as we made our way through the hills. “She’s still with us, making sure we have a good time,” someone said.

And she was. The event became a positive for our team. It took some of the sting out of losing her. It simply made us feel better. And when all 12 of us gathered at the finish line wearing our Morgan shirts to complete the last steps together, it was a high point.

We hung around for dinner together on Saturday night and for breakfast the following morning before heading our separate ways, each taking home a whole new set of memories.