Saturday, November 26, 2016

Three generation Thanksgiving Day run

Forty-five-hundred humans plus uncounted numbers of dogs and strollers turned out for a four-mile jaunt starting at 9 a.m. in downtown Fort Collins on Thanksgiving morning. Some of these humans were very fast and earned prize money for their efforts, but most ran because what better way is there to celebrate gratefulness for family, friends, community and the anticipation of a great feast later in the day?

Cool, sunny weather with enough wind to make runners take notice was the order of the day for this race, the largest in Northern Colorado. From the start on College Avenue, the main street of town, the route took runners west for a mile-plus, then around City Park Lake to make a loop and head east back to the downtown finish line on College Avenue.

After the race, there was time for participants and spectators to meet up with friends. Everyone seemed animated and happy to see each other and catch up with the latest goings on.

At the awards ceremony there were cash prizes for the overall winners and big beautiful pies for age group winners. By late morning, the crowds had dwindled. People were headed for home to get on with the holiday festivities.

A morning run is a good way to start any day and, to my way of thinking, the very best way to get ready for a memorable Thanksgiving Day.

Two daughters, two sons-in-law and four grandkids showed up at my house before the run—and no one had to be coerced to do it!

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Thank-you notes

I’ve been looking through some letters from 25 years ago that I filed under “keepers.” They are thank-you notes, from Rebecca, my step-mother and Mary Ann, the mother of a college friend. And one from Atsuko, in her twenties, about to become my daughter-in-law.

The older women have an elegant command of the language. Japanese Atsuko, struggling with the skewed logic of the English language, had just made the bittersweet decision to leave her homeland to follow an American into the great unknown.

“It is so hard to either write down or call you what and how I think and feel now, in English, to you. But when I received your letter with present, I was so much happy that I knew you welcomed me into your family. So, I’m in the midst of happiness greatly that it scares me a lot. . . By our mutual understanding I believed that Kurt is my better half (Isn’t it funny you can’t say best half?) and on that moment I did feel I was going to marry into the James family. But quite honestly, this makes me really nervous. . .

Rebecca thanked me for birthday daisies, “my favorite spring blossoms. . . they lasted for days and I loved them.”  Failing eyesight keeps her from driving these days. “Friends say ‘Call if you need a ride,’ but I choose to call a cab even though it’s expensive. I sound sorry for myself, but I’m not. I can walk, and my ailments are just boring…My contemporaries are much worse off. . . I am ashamed to complain.”

Mary Ann’s note brought memories of my own mother, born on the same day in the same year. Mary Ann and my mother only knew each other through their daughters but discovered they had much in common. Late marriages, daughters born in the same month and year followed by two sons, about the same intervals apart—trivial perhaps, but they developed a special caring for each other, like long-distance soulmates.

“Never a January passes,” Mary Ann wrote, “That I do not think of your mother, always with the wish that she could have been alive all these years to see your family develop and go out in the world. She would appreciate the rapport you have with your children—enough guidance—never too much—comradeship even when you are all going different ways. I’m always waiting to see what you are going to do next and I know it won’t be dull.”

Why these comments about a few thank you notes that arrived the same day so long ago? Perhaps because the holiday season is upon us and it is nostalgia time. Perhaps because I can see a parallel between my mother’s journey away from her homeland and the one Atsuko is about to embark on. Maybe it is in praise of the hand-written word. Phone calls, texts, emails, instagrams, Facebook—all fine, but they are hard to save, re-read, savor and save for your grandkids.

A postage stamp is still a bargain.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Go Girls!

When I got a last-minute invitation to run in a “Girls on the Run” 5k race in Cheyenne, Wyoming, I said “Sure, as long as I don’t have to run fast.” I’m finding myself in a mellow walk-a-day, run-a-day mode after a gut-busting October. No races planned for a while, but I knew a little of the Girls on the Run organization and I wanted to support this, the first race ever for them in Wyoming.

Girls on the Run was founded 20 years ago to teach life skills through dynamic conversation-based lessons and running to girls ages eight to thirteen. It has spread steadily across the country until, in the fall of 2016, Wyoming became the 50th state to adopt the program. Today it is in 200 schools in the U.S. and Canada and in 2015 sponsored the largest series of 5k runs in the U.S.

These 5k races celebrate the end of a ten-week program, held in the spring and fall. Aside from being a whole lot of fun, they celebrate the girls’ achievements during their participation in the program.

They meet twice a week after school for a series of activities which finish up with a training run each session. At the end of the ten weeks, participants take part in a celebratory 5k race. The organization also conducts programs for older girls where the focus on running becomes a bit more serious.

The idea is to encourage girls to be joyful, healthy and confident using a fun, experience-based curriculum to achieve that goal. It seems to be working. At Lions Park in Cheyenne, a group of 35 excited little girls from three elementary schools got their faces painted, hair-colored and danced up a storm to lively music as a warm-up for the race. Meanwhile their parents, siblings and a whole host of other supporters prepared to run as well.

I was lucky enough to shout “ready, set” and then ring a cowbell to start the race. Off they went amid dogs, strollers, walkers and well-wishers along the sidelines. Billed as “non-competitive” the races are just that. The kick comes in participating, in finishing and in, at the end of the day, feeling good about yourself. It is what running is all about.

I couldn’t have been more pleased that I was able to be part of it all.
I will add a photo as soon as it is available.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Women's running has come of age!

I was rummaging through some old scrapbooks devoted to running in times past and came across these words that I wrote for a newsletter sometime in the early 1980s. Thought I’d share it.

Women in Running

When I was a ninth grader in Seattle, Washington in 1951, the criteria for getting an A in physical education was to take 40 showers during a semester. I’m not kidding!

Thirty showers qualified for a B, 20 earned you a C, and so on. Clever kids that we were, we soon discovered that you didn’t even actually have to take a shower. The teacher only checked for wet towels and it was easy enough to wet a towel and show it to her.

I don’t even remember what kind of physical activities we participated in, but I can assure you there was no running in the curriculum. We would all have balked anyway. We were girls, after all, and girls weren’t supposed to sweat back then.

When I moved to Philadelphia in 1952, things were a little different in the women’s sports arena. They had actually girls’ tennis and swim teams and they played lacrosse, a funny game where you carried a little ball around in a basket on the end of a stick and you actually had to run with it. I tried out, made the fourth team and soon quit in disgust. Too many showers and not enough sweat in my past.

In college, physical education consisted of golf and bowling for me. I earned a C in both and learned nothing.  We had to swim a single lap in the college pool and “pass” a dreadful ordeal—the taking of a posture picture. You were photographed in the nude and the authorities then determined whether you could indeed stand up straight. If you flunked, there was a class you had to take to get straightened out and before you could graduate.

I have a close college friend who was recently admitted to the athletic hall of fame at our school. (Of course there were no women in it when we were there.) She was unable to attend the ceremony because she was busy rock climbing, necessary research for a book she was writing, but she wrote a nice note thanking the school for thinking of her 25 years later. What she did not say to the people at Ohio Wesleyan University was that all she really needed to do to qualify for this belated honor was to be “vertical and breathing” at the time.

But hey! Times have changed. Not since 1967 has a woman had to hide in the bushes and wear a hooded sweatshirt to compete in a marathon. You find us all over the place, at all hours of the day and night, running and biking and swimming and getting sweaty and even spitting when the need arises. We’ve learned that it feels good to sweat, that in fact we need to, if we are going to experience the sense of well-being that comes from using our bodies as they were meant to be used.

We’ve learned that these little 98-cent (worth at least $2.50 by now) machines that we live in thrive on use. Exercise is kind of like loving, the more we do it, the better we get at it. The more we give, the more we get in return.

We’ve learned that exercise can be a tremendous stress reliever and that it can be a time each day that is set aside for us, when we don’t have to think about our jobs, our husbands and kids, or what we are going to have for dinner. We know that after a little time away, we come back to our responsibilities refreshed and eager.

We’ve learned that it is okay to be competitive, that it does not make us less feminine, and that it is great fun to test ourselves against others and more importantly against ourselves.

We’ve learned that regular exercise can help keep our weight under control, revive us at the end of a frustrating day, improve our self-confidence, (If I can run 10 miles, heck, I can do anything!) and introduce us to a whole new set of friends we otherwise might never have known.

I am just getting started. I could go on and on. Thank goodness, most of the myths that once surrounded women’s running have been dispelled. We no longer have to worry about developing a fallen uterus, unwanted muscles, drooping breasts or a masculine personality—running won’t cause any of those tragedies. Thank goodness for the simplicity of a sport that lets us throw on a good pair of shoes, shorts and a t-shirt and hit the road, alone or with a friend, to participate in the most elemental of human activities.