Monday, March 19, 2018

A race to remember

Hot Irish stew at the finish line.

That was a first for me and mighty welcome as I completed the Shamrock 8k road race in Virginia Beach last Saturday morning, March 17, a few seconds behind my running buddy, Dave Klibbe. Both of us were pleased with our times on this fast, flat course, an out-and-back along the edge of the Atlantic Ocean. It was just cool and breezy enough that the soup really hit the spot.

There are moments, as I prepare for a race, from plunking down the money for lodging and plane fare to the hassle of travel, that I wonder why I’m doing all this. There’s nothing to get nervous about, yet I still have a hard time sleeping the night before a race—crazy!

But then the moment comes when I line up at the start and suddenly, it is all worthwhile and I wonder why I ever thought otherwise.

There were well over 7,000 people in this race, the first event in a weekend that included kids’ races and a half and full marathon the following day. Off-season in Virginia Beach is the perfect time to stage such an enormous event. The hotels and restaurants are plentiful and there’s a state-of-the-art convention center to hold packet pick-up, an expo and a slate of speakers. A Hilton Hotel has to be one of the most comfortable places ever to stay warm during the moments before the race start.

Sixteen “corrals” kept the runners separated according to predicted times and staggered their start so that the fairly narrow boardwalk area never seemed crowded. Runners celebrated St. Patrick’s Day with lots of “wearing of the green.”

Being part of the USATF (track and field organization) made this huge race seem small and intimate. A separate awards ceremony was held following the race for the couple hundred of us there from all across the country. Old friendships were renewed and there was the usual chatter about upcoming races and dealing with injuries. Runners are such a congenial crowd, it is a pleasure to interact with them.

I can’t think of a better way to spend a weekend.

Dave Klibbe is happy the race is over. Waiting to board the plane for home.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Honoring women athletes

The 44th Annual Awards Celebration sponsored by Sportswomen of Colorado promised to be a “marathon.” Fifty-seven women in dozens of sports ranging from barrel racing to indoor skydiving, soccer to tennis, wrestling to ice climbing, were to be honored individually.

The event began with an athletes reception at 4:15 followed by a cocktail hour, followed by dinner, followed by the presentation of awards—all held at a hotel the Denver Tech Center well over an hour away from my house. To be honest, I wasn’t overly enthusiastic about making the trip.

If I hadn’t, I would have missed learning the details about the accomplishments of an amazing group of women, to stay nothing of an elegant dinner, happy chatter around a table for 10 and the chance to touch base with some athletes that I knew from previous encounters and some that I met for the first time last night.

Award winners ranged in age from high schoolers to oldsters. Barrel racer Sally Ann Fosha is 70 and I’m thinking that at 81, I was no doubt the oldest, getting an award for what I have to call persistence in running. Speed is a thing of the past.

A highlight of the evening was a lively talk by special guest and Olympic silver medalist in the bobsled Lauren Gibbs. An athlete all her life, she was encouraged to take up the sport because of her incredible leg strength. After three years of training, at age 33, she and her pilot took the silver in South Korea a couple of weeks ago. In order to do so, she put on hold a newly-earned masters degree and a six-figure job in the corporate world. Who could ask for a better advocate for following one’s dream?

Every presentation was accompanied by inspiring music and a photo montage. Surprisingly, every athlete’s accomplishments were described by a couple of talented MCs and the event ended promptly at 9:30 p.m. with the announcement of Mikaela Shiffrin, Olympic skier, as the overall Sportswoman of the Year for 2017 in Colorado.

I loved every minute!

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Making sweet music together

The other day a received a note from a man I do not know. Gregg Holley wrote to me about the band his wife Mina plays in. He hoped I’d be interested in writing a story for the small paper I work for about an upcoming Spring Concert.

I was.

The Wellington Community Band, 15 members strong, is hard at work practicing for a performance in mid-April featuring favorite music from films. They meet every Monday night at a church in Wellington, a community of 7,000 souls 12 miles north of Fort Collins and the last town along I-25 before the Wyoming border and Cheyenne.

Like several of the small towns surrounding Fort Collins, Wellington is experiencing a growth spurt, for better or worse. But so far, it remains a tight-knit community, proud of its heritage which includes a genuine concern for the importance of coming together to make music and to make friends.

There are no tryouts. Everyone is welcome. Over time members have ranged in age from 9 to 84.  Grandpa Murrell Johnson, tuba, his son Craig, euphonium, and granddaughter Emily, flute, make up one-fifth of the band. There’s a lawyer, a professor, a p.e. teacher, a stay-at-home mom, an accountant, a nurse and an engineer among the members.

Four annual concerts are free, supported by members who bake cookies and sell them at intermission during performances. Change is never a problem. Every item is a buck.

Long-time middle school band director, Linda Anderson donates her time and energy and lavishes affection on the players. “Music. It’s our common thread,” she says.

The band got started several years ago when euphonium player Bob Williams decided that Wellington’s Fourth of July parade was suffering for lack of some rousing music. He recruited from townspeople, some who had not played an instrument for as long as 17 years. Linda Anderson stepped up to direct and the Wellington Community Band was born.

After enlivening the Fourth of July parade, their most public performance, the band heads to the park to give a concert. Other concerts are on Veterans Day, Christmas and in the spring. The people of Wellington look forward to every one.

I came away with a warm feeling inside, once again understanding why I keep writing for the North Forty News. It allows me to have experiences that enrich and encourage me despite the national news.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Writing a book that people want to read

In the early days of writing White Shadow, a historical novel, I remember wondering if there would be anyone interested in reading about a revolution in a faraway African country. It didn’t matter really, because I was going to write it anyway.

Mozambique is a country that doesn’t get much press.  In 2004 when I had a chance to live there for a while, I had to look it up to see where it was. All I knew was that at one time it had been the poorest country in the world.

White Shadow came out a few months ago. With some trepidation and after several years of writing and rewriting, I finally let loose of it, for better or worse. I hadn’t realized how downright scary it was to send it out into the world, but I knew I had to do it.

Much to my surprise, people are actually reading it. Several of them have taken the time to call or write. They let me know that they were interested to learn about the traumatic end to the colonial era in a country they knew nothing about. One reader said that during those days she was so consumed with raising children and returning to graduate school as a young widow that she knew nothing of what was going on in much of Africa in the 1960s and 70s.

Perhaps the story appeals because it is a human drama focused on the lives of a couple of incredible people caught up in a changing world that demanded much of them. Maybe it doesn’t matter that the story takes place in a faraway country they know little about.

Whatever it is, I have been pleasantly surprised at the response to the story.  Those little checks from Amazon keep coming and it has found a spot in several local outlets.

I’m now at work on a book about running, a long-time passion of mine. And I’m wondering who in the world will be interested in reading it.  But I’m writing it anyway.

Sometimes I think this business of applying words to the page is a difficult and silly endeavor that takes hold of you and won’t let go.


Tuesday, February 20, 2018

The power of community

My friend and neighbor has a new knee and I have a new appreciation for the value of community, or is the word simply friendship?

From Saturday through Friday nights last week, I stayed at my friend’s house as she began the road to recovery following her Thursday morning knee replacement surgery. All went well and she was able to put some weight on her knee that very day. But getting back to a normal routine, doing the things that need to be done to keep body and soul together, takes some time and a bit of help.

That’s where her friends came in. One person organized a “meal train” and every night a lovely meal appeared. Other friends volunteered to take her to physical therapy every other day. Still others provided a whole array of medical equipment ranging from a stationery bicycle to a slick little plastic envelope that made it much easier to put on a long supportive stocking—and everything in-between. A fat envelope came from her church with a stack of get-well greetings.  People called on the phone, sent emails and stopped by to check on her.

Much has written about the positive effect created by having a sense of community. This week I saw it in action. My friend is a giver and she has been helping others in big and small ways for a long time, never with the anticipation of getting anything in return. People notice and they remember. And when it is their turn to step up, they do.

My friend has enough good food in her house to last her for a long time. And for the next several weeks, she will have a free and friendly ride to the physical therapist. Every little gesture is contributing to her healing and lightening the task of getting her new knee to function normally. I predict that, because of her friends, it will happen sooner rather than later.