Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Birthday Suits and Cowboy Boots

“I love my eyes. I love my mouth. I love my belly. Oh yeah…and I love my heart too.” Helen Barker

The last time I did a triathlon was in 2001. I did a half Ironman in Florida. I hope to return to the sport this summer with attempts at a few events around the nation.

Returning to the sport after a 9 year reprieve is something akin to getting re-married…except this time I’m nine years older. My body is also nine years older. That precarious balance between committing to it and giving it all I’ve got while also gently carrying my older body, my experience and more years of life through the training is just that…a precarious and interesting balance for me to try and achieve. There is a comfort in my skin this go ‘round that I lacked back in 2001. My participation in the event this year is connected to something richer, deeper and more meaningful.

Last week I made a surprise visit to a fabulous little girl named Aislinn. Aislinn had to do a project on a notable Tarheel (North Carolinian for those of you who don’t know what a Tarheel is) and she chose to do her project on me. Her mom, her Girls on the Run coach, her teacher, our council director in her area, and I were all in cahoots with one another…planning the fun surprise visit. (Here’s a picture of me with Aislinn and her wonderful mom Beth!)

I’m just like a big kid. I looked forward to visiting her school as much as I know she enjoyed my being there. I spent an hour or so with her fourth grade class. We laughed. We talked. We played.

During that hour together I learned a lot of amazing things.

Faith: “Being comfortable in your skin means just being yourself.”

Ben: “Saying thank you when someone compliments you is showing confidence in yourself.”

Jake: “It’s always more meaningful to show what you feel through your actions rather than telling what you feel with your words.”

Aislinn: “Running showed me that if I set my mind to something I can do just about anything else I set my mind to do.”

Thomas: “Never give up.”

Rosie: “I love space. One day I will be an astronaut.”

Madison: “I cry because I worry a lot. Running helps me not worry as much.”

Maddy: “I don’t run to cross the finish line. I run because its fun and I see things I haven’t seen before.”

Many of you have seen me speak to kids. My heart sings when I am with them. I feel a bit like the Pied Piper of running or the Art Linkletter (showing my age here) of sports. I am in my element there, maybe because I am nothing more than a big kid at heart, in mind and in spirit!

I kicked off my time with Aislinn by sharing a fabulous, and very entertaining, story (if you are 9 years old) about my daughter Helen. The story goes like this.

One summer day I was getting ready to run. It was very hot outside and my kids were hanging out inside the comfort of our home, alongside their Dad.

“Alright, guys. I’ll see ya later. I’m headed out for my run. Back in about an hour.”
When I returned, James, my children’s father, was out in the yard cutting the grass. The engine of the lawnmower was rumbling and so I yelled loudly so I could be heard. “James, where are the kids?”

He yelled back. “They’re in the house!”

Ringing wet with sweat I walked into the house and made a beeline for the linen closet, grabbed a towel and came back out to the den.

Hank was just four years old and comfortably lounging in the biggest lazy boy chair you can imagine…or at least it appeared so with his little 4 year old body nestled down inside the comfortable cushions. He was watching television and sipping on an apple juice. His feet were propped up. He was, after all, master of the universe.
“Hey bud.” I’m now toweling off and cooling down. “Where’s Helen?”

In the fabulous way that all masters of the universe respond, his gaze never left the television and he responded in that amazing master of the universe (MOU) nonchalant way…”I dunno.”

“Alright,” I replied. I go to the fridge, grab a bottle of water, continue to towel off and start looking for Helen.

Helen was about 14 months old at the time. She was definitely walking by then…or more like toddling.

“Helen, where are you? Are you hiding from Mommy?”
I’m walking through the house.

No response other than the quiet voice of “mother-angst” beginning to speak. I cannot locate my daughter.

I walk rapidly back outside. “James, where’s Helen?” This time my voice is firm, loud and demanding.

The lawnmower is still running. “She’s in the house,” he shouts.

I now rush back in, toss the towel to the floor, throw the water in the sink and begin searching high and low for the girl. I’m looking under the sink, behind the shower curtain, in closets, under the bed. She is nowhere to be found.
The mother-angst has now turned into full-blown panic.

I stand directly in front of the master of the universe, purposefully blocking his view of the television and emphatically ask, “Hank. Where is Helen?”

MOU looks up at my face and shrugs his shoulders.

I run to the telephone, place my right hand on the phone, lift the receiver and am proceeding to dial 9-1-1 with my left, when I take a glance out our front den window.

I see something…off in the distance. About half the length of a football field away, she is found. I drop the phone, pull open the front door and run in her direction.

As I approach, the mommy angst begins to drift a bit and the mommy belly laugh begins to emerge. Each step closer, the girl…MY girl…comes into greater focus. I’m not sure if it’s the diaper at the end of our driveway, the hot pink cowboy boots on her chubby little toddler legs or the naked butt cheeks that first bring it up…but without warning the belly laugh erupts. It is loud, relieved and downright “tickled.”

Helen is walking down the street, completely naked, decked out in nothing but her “fave” hot pink cowboy boots. She is on a mission. To where? I have no idea…but she is hell-bent on getting there. She is waving as cars slowly go by. She is purposeful, driven and clearly headed to a destination that only she knows.
I run to her, scold her for fleeing our home (in that futile way that mothers do when they are laughing at the same time). I grab her free hand. We wave to the passing cars together on our way back home.

Today I will run six miles, lift some weights and hit the pool this evening. I don’t plan on doing any of it too fast. But it will be purposeful. While I won’t be wearing my pink cowboy boots, I will be decked out in my own body, celebrating it all along the way. (With clothes on I might add!)

I realize that my return to the sport is a way to honor the progress I’ve made in my own woman-evolution. I am purposeful with no REAL destination other than just moving along, waving at folks along the way, seeing what’s out there and being present with it all. I wonder what I will learn and feel and what will reveal itself over the course of the next several weeks. I look forward to being as Helen was, comfortable in my skin. To, as Maddy so eloquently put it, “not run to cross the finish line…but run because its fun and I see things I haven’t seen before.”

I wonder what will show up this time. What have you learned by participating in an endurance event? Let me know by commenting below.

1 comment:

  1. I don’t have a blog but I do a race recap for marathons and some triathlons so I can easily answer the famous question: How did your race go? Here’s the end of what I learned during the Ironman in Wisconsin in 2007:

    Many people ask “WHY do you do it?” Simply, because I CAN…

    Because of the sense of pride and accomplishment.

    Because of the unmatched sense of comeraderie you experience on a 100 mile training ride with friends.

    Because I am healthy enough to do it.

    Because questioning your mental and physical limits makes us human.

    Because amateurs racing along side of professional athletes is unique to Ironman.

    Because I set a goal.

    Because maybe I will inspire someone along the way to break out of their comfort zone.

    Because it’s a lifestyle.

    Because the energy at the finish line makes all of those early morning swims, epic rides, and runs in the pouring rain totally worthwhile.