Wednesday, March 5, 2014
Not long after my youngest sister Nancy was born, my mom crocheted an afghan blanket that ended up being kept on the back of the couch in the den. It was half decoration, half functional item, and it was part of the landscape of the various houses in which we lived over the course of the next twenty years or so. The colors of the yarn in the blanket were those of popular décor back in the 1970’s, mostly different shades of browns. Looking at the blanket, though, it was easy to spot the one color in the mix that really stood out, not because it took up the most space in the pattern but because it was the brightest, a brilliant shade of orange, like the tip of a flame in a campfire that has been burning for awhile.
During this time, Dad was typically running in excess of 100 miles per week, often in training for a marathon or some other big race in which he was set to compete. Sometimes we cheered him on from the sidelines as spectators, and sometimes we joined him in his running efforts, whether training for an event or running in a race, always with him running along with persistence and triumph etched into the expression his face and a can-do attitude that, in victory and in defeat, through challenges and transitions, eventually also became one of the strands of the fabric of our lives as a family.
The orange in that blanket is like the sport of running has been in my family over the years, something that stood out amongst whatever else was happening at the time, a mainstay or maybe even a theme sorts. Not everybody in my family is a runner, but everyone in the family knows about running and appreciates the talent and the dedication behind it, because of what we assimilated through my dad’s enthusiasm for it.
My dad started running when he was in elementary school; he said that he liked to race the bus to his house after school. In high school, he was a competitive middle-distance runner on his school’s track team, and he was awarded an athletic scholarship to Troy State (now Troy University) in Troy, Alabama, after graduation from high school. He continued to excel as a runner through his tour in Vietnam, which started a year later, and then again as a college student on the GI Bill at Auburn University.
After he graduated from college, my dad got a job with Cook Industries, a company for which he worked for the next ten years, a time during which the company required my dad and my family to move many times. Through it all and in the decades that followed, my dad ran, for sport, for social reasons, and for health and fitness. I heard him say many times that he loved to run because it made it feel better, because he got to meet all kinds of people and see all kinds of things through doing it, and because he liked to have a goal. “Plus,” he almost always added with a smile, “That way I can drink a few beers without worrying about putting on weight!”
Dad called on me to join him as a runner when I was in the fourth grade. I’d run laps around the track here and there while I was waiting for him to finish his workout a few times in the past as a young child, but it wasn’t until I was in late elementary school that he thought I was ready for an actual training program. With the two of us in training, there were always smelly running clothes and shoes and endless bottles of Gatorade around the house. As a family, our weekends began to center around road races in the area in which we ran; occasionally my sisters joined in the effort too with Mom backing us up as Head Cheerleader/Nurse/Logistics Manager. This continued throughout my middle school and high school years, and then, when I became more of a recreational runner during my college years, it extended to the running days of my sister Nancy, who was also competitive in cross-country and track during her time in high school.