Becoming a Runner*?

Second Arrow Definitions

Runner*: a person who moves at a slightly faster pace than a brisk walk

By May 2020 we were all experiencing both quarantine and working from home as we watched the world begin to suffer from a devastating pandemic. Living in a sunny Arizona suburb proved helpful to stay active and occupied as I could still wander freely through my neighborhood without terrible fear as compared to the life of my brother at the same time living in New York City who on his jogs masked up navigating carefully to avoid others on the busy city streets of NYC.

I wrote a blog setting a goal to jog 4 times a week for a 4 mile total each run. My husband shared this cartoon with me today to remind you of my love of running and of my skills:

That July I logged 54 miles on my Nike Run Keeper – more mileage than I have recorded in twenty years for one month. Then, as the summer turned to fall, so did my attention from self-care shift to caring for others as school came back in session in August. My mileage fell to a mediocre 20 miles recorded in August and 15 for September. And like the rolling of the tide, my self-care goals seemed to come and go.

When we had our fall break, I laced back up and was able to record a solid 26 miles making me feel new focus and a can do attitude hitting 20 miles for the month of November, but still failing to recreate the running spirit of the summer for which helped me hit the pavement for over 50 miles.

As a person who loves New Year’s Resolutions, even the failures, I spent hours considering of what my goals should consist. Here is what I ended on for January 1st, 2021.

  • Eat healthily. Clean eating is a focus, but also not to a point of deprivation.
  • Ensure that fitness is a priority – calendaring my fitness plan each week. (I do work for a company called Teacher FIT…so I guess I should you know, attempt to be fit).
    • Run twice a week (a minimum of a 5K)
    • 3 HIIT/Stength Workouts with Teacher Fit a week
    • Yoga one day a week – also with Teacher Fit
    • And an activity of choice on Sundays
  • And to live with ease. Nick asked, what does that mean? I explained that I am often very hard on myself…disappoint myself and have outrageously high expectations. I believe my self-criticism has been a quality to help me achieve, but it is also dangerously damaging. Frankly, it’s tiring. So, I will live with ease this year but still get more stuff done that the average Betty.

And so you can imagine when January 5th came to complete my less than favorite activity of running rolled around, and my energy level was low, the activity was skipped. But, something new happened to me. Something different. Something I have never felt before in my life. I longed for a run. I actually missed the activity and not due to self-loathing behaviors, but actually due to missing the enjoyment the activity brought me.

My body felt a need to move. I had an urge to expend energy. I had thoughts like, “it’s really not that hard.” I was compelled to hit the road. And so today, January 9th, on my Saturday morning, I woke and without thought or effort, laced up and pounded the pavement.

This 2021, I altered my course only slightly to record a 5K instead of 4 miles. It’s mentally good because 5 is a bigger number than 4 even though it is a shorter distance; one of my many motivational Jedi mind-tricks. But I found that as I cut about half a mile really from my regular 4 mile route, the 6 months of 4 mile jogs have helped me reach this point. Those months, even though I wasn’t reaching my goals, were still moving me in the right direction. As we say at Teacher Fit, progress not perfection. And so all that time served me well in cutting about a minute off my pace today while I still recorded 3.59 miles.

I highly doubt that next week my Tuesday run will be skipped. I feel that my body craves the activity, to be physical, to move, to expend energy. My body wants to feel a little pain and strain. My body wants to sweat. And I felt good after. And more so, I felt happy. Does this mean I have become a runner*? Maybe….just maybe. Check out your window, pig may also be flying.

A Simple Time

Many years ago, when I was 21 and a recent college graduate, I chose to live for six months with my elderly grandfather at his farmhouse in central Illinois. As an education major and a December graduate, finding a good teaching job was not in the cards until the hiring season of summer were to roll around. I was also unsure of my career choice and was busily applying for and being denied entry into journalism programs in my grandiose hopes to be an ESPN commentator.

So, I spent my spring semester in 2002 substitute teaching in this small town living on a retired farm with my 80 something year old grandpa.

I remember the weekend of my junior year prom five or six years before. I was sitting in our family room alone early in the morning. My dad came down the stairs before anyone else was awake and with tears in his eyes and a quiver in his voice said, “Grandma Clary has passed away.” I couldn’t believe it. Although she was in her early 80’s, she was healthy and happy from all I knew at the time. She had gardened that day and she went to sleep just like normal only to never wake again.

My grandpa had never been required to cook, to clean, to do the laundry, to organize, all the traditional things the wife of a farmer took care of. My cousin, the indisputable best human in our cousin clan, (sorry all other cousins) had lived in this town growing up and moved in with my grandpa and helped my grandpa transition from a dependent husband into independent widow. When my cousin moved out and moved on, I took his example and chose to live with my Grandpa to help him out while I waited on a career.

My days consisted of a wake up call from the local school district with my assigned class for the day, checking the floor for mice, and heading off to work. I often was able to drive home for lunch and make Grandpa and me some cold cut sandwiches with a side of Lays potato chips before heading back to the school of the day. I’ve never been accused of being a good cook, but Grandpa was always thankful for the help and the company.

After school, I’d go for a long run past the farm land and through the nearby neighborhoods or head into the local YMCA I had joined for a workout. On weekends, I’d sit on the front porch on the iconic white porch swing dangling from the porch roof watching the cars drive by knowing that I was always watched by the neighbors across the street whose property was elevated giving them the perfect view of our front door at all times.

Some days I’d walk the property and reminisce. I’d walk out to where Grandpa would bury the poor piglets who died too soon and the beloved dogs that kept the entire family entertained and loved over all the years. I’d walk out to the crick, never creek, and watch tadpoles remembering being a child collecting all the critters that lived in this water. I’d walk in and out of the old barns and imagine them as they were in my youth full of cattle or pigs.

Every day, my uncle, the judge, would stop by to say hello and make us the best, most sugar filled jug of iced tea you could drink. It was a daily ritual to sip on the cold tea while talking about things happening in the world. Then, each night, I’d make my version of a homemade dinner of mostly pre-prepared foods. We’d look out the window into the yard, the garden and the pasture beyond and watch for bunnies, or, if we were really lucky, deer. We’d watch the news, some crime series episode that always confused us both. We would laugh because we never could predict “who had done it” until the end of the show. And then we’d end the night watching the “funny guys”, usually Leno, who entertained us until we were too tired to be up any longer.

I slept on the second story where my mother and her siblings’ beds were as children. The stairwell was narrow and creaked loudly each time I walked up and down them. And each night, Grandpa would come to the bottom of the stairs and say “Goodnight Allison” in his elderly kind tone before I’d drift to sleep.

Although I am now a wife & mother myself, and have built a successful career, I long for those times, a simpler time. A time that filled my heart and not the minutes of my day. A time when you had to watch the crime series that was on prime-time TV and not one you can choose from on your phone. A time when I could step away from work to spend lunch with a loved one.

Society, in these last twenty years, has sped up. I wonder if I had been 21 now, if it would be the same experience. Just sitting on the porch, a book in my hand, the smell of green fresh cut grass, and the low humm of the passing cars going by. How cherished that time was for me then and is as a memory now of a simpler time.

I’m the crying baby in my Grandma’s Lap. My Grandpa is by her side. (My cousin is the one looking mischievous…bet you can guess.)

Chicken

On a normal weekend on a beautiful spring day in Kalamazoo, Michigan I ate a lunch and prepared for a normal jog I would take from the sorority house to campus for a little individual workout at the WMU recreation center. OK, maybe there were cute boys at the gym too, but no matter the intent, I was on my way on foot for the short 1 mile run from Fraternity Village Drive down Michigan Avenue to the rec.

Cell phones in 1999 were the kind with coiled cords that would unfold but still were the size of a rainbow trout. Further, because my father paid the bills, I was not allowed to actually ever use the phone as it was intended for emergencies only. So it might as well have been a paperweight. Therefore, the only thing in my hand was a portable CD walkman and my school ID.

I jogged past the Big Burrito, Jimmy Johns and the campus bookstore. I ran onto campus passing the education halls and the dorms I had stayed in as a freshman. It was about half way through my jog that I started to feel an itch in my throat. I started to feel itchy all over. I felt red. I felt weird.

The rest of the run was downhill, so I talked myself into running faster and thought I’d figure it out when I got to the rec, but by that time, I was feeling nauseous. The student athlete training facility was adjacent to the rec center, and so instead of being miserable in front of all the people attending the rec, I decided to go into the softball locker room and be miserable by myself.

I used my ID to enter the building. I saw the training room door open and knew some poor athlete was doing weekend therapy to heal an injury, but I didn’t actually see any other soul as I climbed the one set of stairs leading to the locker rooms. As it was the weekend, there were no athletes in the computer lab that I walked by and all the other locker room doors were closed and quiet showing that I was likely the only person on this floor.

I used my ID to unlock and open the softball locker room door and I ran to the toilets. I will save the details, but there I stayed for at least an hour. I was drenched in sweat. My gut heaved and contracted over and over. I itched all over. My throat seemed like it was closing. I thought to myself, this is where I am going to die.

This was my first experience I can recall with my EoE. It’s a long name and it is a disease, but all of that is detail and dramatic…so to expedite the WebMD version, I experience a food allergy in a way that causes choking. It’s fine. I’m fine. It’s not a big deal…except for when I choke. Which is like never, maybe only like once a day. So, again, not a big deal.

I attempted to investigate this issue with the help of medical professionals. If you know me, I hate making appointments, so to call a doctor, or many and setting an appointment was, to me, a terrible annoyance. So, when I finally got into seeing a doctor, his words were exactly these when asked about why I experienced choking and heartburn, “God does funny things sometimes.” Wait, what? Was I talking to my pastor or the doctor? So, yes, that caused another 5 years to pass before seeking medical help again.

Over the next ten years, I couldn’t go anywhere without Tums. I remember having fancy dates with Nick in downtown Chicago and asking the Taxi to take me to a Walgreens after a wonderful dinner so I could fill my purse with reflux medication.

I had an endoscopy and was diagnosed with EOE when I was 30. The diagnosis came with no support. I see know that maybe there was no support ten years ago, or very little research at the time, but basically I was not given any help on how to make this issue stop other than having the confirmation that it is due to a food allergy. The doctor said that adults can almost never determine their food allergy. Again, great. Thanks Doc.

Throughout my 30s I took every allergy test imaginable. I took blood tests. I was pricked, over 50 times, with the result, wait for it, “inconclusive.” Ugh. I attempted a food elimination diet without a dietician and basically gave up. I then found a doctor willing to try a unique tactic. She saw the results from my blood test and my prick test and she suggested we attempt a skin reaction test. The plan was to tape the allergens to my back for 48 hours. This meant that I would have little cups of dried food contents, like dried dairy, taped to my back for 2 days. Sure. That sounds lovely. I was at the end of my rope and agreed. After more questions from the doctor, she decided we should check not only the 6 major food allergens, but also chicken. And so on my prescription paper sent home with me, it was typed, “Patient will bring cooked chicken to next appointment.”

Sometimes I have moments that I imagine the game show host appears straight out of the 60’s with a skinny wired microphone saying, “Allison, This is your life” confirming like a pinch that this is real and not a dream.

And so, I cooked chicken with the supervision of my husband. I got a little Tupperware container and I arrived at my appointment, chicken in tote.

I laid on my belly as the doctor created a grid on my upper back with a Sharpe. In each square, she labeled the food that would remain in that area – taped to my back for 2 days. And, in the last square, she wrote, CHCKN. Yes, Allison, this IS your life.

Prior to the appointment, although odd and although I had concerns, I had chosen only to go into work late not taking the day off as this was a fast doctor visit. So, after the taping ceased. I got dressed, placing the uniform cardigan of all female assistant principals over my shoulders and got in the car to drive to work. It was here, in the privacy of my car, and with the pull on my skin from the tape, that I became more and more overwhelmed with the reality of the situation I was in. I arrived at work, walked straight into my boss’s office, and said, “I have food taped to my back” before falling into a chair crying.

Yes, it was awful, but yes, it was also hilarious. I wasn’t allowed to bath that area of my body for another day after having the packets of dried food plus the chicken removed from my back. I finally was able to go in for the results. I remember laying on my belly again, feeling the doctor touch each square on my back, investigating any irritation she could find to determine my allergen of concern. I was becoming irritated as she continued to poke and not have any determining answers, and then here it was, the outcome. “It looks like oats is showing some redness.”

I almost shot up off the bed to scream, “Oats? Oats? When is the last time I’ve had OATS?! OATS are not the reason I have been choking for the last 15 years lady.” I was so mad. I could literally not remember the last time I had had a granola bar, or an oatmeal cookie, or even breakfast cereal, or a yogurt parfait topped with granola let alone an actual bowl of oatmeal.

Chicken. Cooked. Taped to my back. And for this, a hesitant and way less than confident determination of stupid oats.

So, in true Allison fashion, no doctors on this topic ever again in my life.

Last year, my mom was spending time with me. She noticed how often and sometimes how severely my choking was that she said, “Now Allison, don’t get mad at me for saying this, but I think you should go to the Mayo Clinic for this choking thing.” I wasn’t mad at her. I was thankful she cared. And thankful for her suggestion. And so I called. I got an appointment and turns out I got a doctor, a young vibrant female doctor who wears an enamel esophagus pin on her doctor’s jacket because she is such an EoE nerd. She loves the study of EoE, and better, she told me she would help. During questioning, she asked, “does this cause any other issues in life, like enjoyment of life”. I started to cry. I wasn’t expecting to cry. But there I was a blubbering mess, as I said, “yes.” When I go to backyard BBQs, I choose the applesauce and skip the steak. When out to eat, I locate the bathroom, just in case I need to make a run for it if food gets stuck. My kids watch me at home during dinner slowly drink water standing over the kitchen sink hoping the food will go down, and not back up. So, yes, it was causing issues in my enjoyment of life.

I had an endoscopy two weeks ago. I have 200 of these eosinophils in my esophagus where as you have less than 15. I also had my first consultation from a dietician. I real person who is going to help me. And tomorrow, I begin a 9 month journey to determine my allergen or allergens through a food elimination diet.

Now, more than ever, mindfulness will have to help me. I will need to be mindful of what I buy, planning my meals ahead of time, and what I eat. I will be making all my foods at home, no eating out. No pizza. No cheese. No bread or pasta. (Some of you are saying, well you can have dairy free this or that or gluten free this or that… and I say, have you tried those options. You can help by NOT saying that stuff and still truly enjoying your food, OK!? Thanks.) I will be mindfully reading labels and searching recipes. I will be mindful to not lick my fingers when making my daughter’s 6th birthday cake in a few weeks.

I will live in the present and enjoy all that I have, not be upset at all that I do not. I will find a connection with my husband as he plans to support me in this journey by joining many meals with me even though he doesn’t have to. I plan to be the most disciplined elimination diet patient who ever lived and make this a simple process that does not discover oats as the culprit again. My super power will be mindfulness.

It will be hard, but I am not afraid. I am actually so excited. It has been 20 years since I ran choking into the WMU softball locker room and now I am only a mere 9 months away from answers. What could be better? It is a good day.

PS Thanks ma.

Say I Can’t, I Dare You

PE is a required course in Illinois, where I grew up, for all students in every grade kindergarten through twelfth and held each school day. In my opinion it’s really a great outlook on health. I not only was physically active in PE, but we were required to learn anatomy taking tests on bones, organs and muscles. I learned how to use weight training machines as well as free weights all in a safe setting. We even learned about nutrition taking tests on calories and figuring out our BMI.

We also took many physical tests. In elementary school it was the sit & reach and flexed arm hang. In high school it was timed runs. And one test I will never forget was a middle school sit up test.

Sit-ups of the ’90s consisted of laying on your back with your arms crossed in front of your chest almost with the fingertips holding your shoulders. While a partner sat on your feet simultaneously holding your ankles to the floor, you’d draw your torso up off the floor and touch your elbows to your bent knees and back down for a count of one.

I was pretty good at sit ups. Pushups were and continue to be a challenge for me, but sit ups I could do. This test was to assess the maximum amount of sit ups we could do in 60 seconds. We were assigned an ankle holder who would also be our counters so we couldn’t pad our numbers…for what reason we would do that I am not sure, but that was what we did anyway.

The time started and I sat up again and again. I could see the other kids. Their pace drove my competitive spirit and up and up and up I continued on and on. My counter passed 40, and 50 and 60, 61, 62…and time. 62. I was stoked! More than one sit up per second was pretty awesome. I was proud.

The teacher called out our names as she marked our scores in her gradebook. When I gave her my score, she asked my counter to confirm. He did. She refused to take my score. “You couldn’t have done 62 sit ups in 60 seconds.”

She literally refused to believe my score was accurate. If I am one thing in my life I am honest. Actually it is a quality others dislike in me and a quality that got me in trouble with my mom as a kid. Instead of a cover up, I just straight told her what I had done. Me an Abe.

My ethics combined with my competitive spirit were shaken when my teacher continued to take scores from my classmates after she had publicly humiliated me by calling me a liar. As the class was ending, I stood and spoke my truth pleading to get my score recorded in the meaningless gradebook. Each stubborn statement I made was countered by an equally stubborn comment from my teacher. Finally I said, “let me do it again.” She paused. She agreed. And she would also be my counter.

The entire class gathered around before heading to the locker rooms to see what drama would unfold willing to be late to their next class to see who would be the victor in this sit up version of Hunger Games. We had all just moments ago put all our energies into our max efforts towards these sit ups; I was sure to fail in claiming legitimacy simply due to muscle fatigue. All the kids watching built a literal wall of grey school required PE uniforms of intimidation as they stood around staring at me laying there on the floor. And, my disbelieving teacher’s face was at my knee level, her hands pinned my ankles to the floor as she began a 60 second timer for the second time.

I started again, up and down and up and down. My shoulder blades would only graze the floor before I would spring up again tapping my elbows to my knees confidently as to not have a missed count or error for which my teacher could claim to be the winner in this middle school debate of integrity.

I didn’t count and I didn’t listen. I was a machine. Up and down and up and down. My eyesight was blurred looking into space at nothing as I simply went up and down over and over again. I could feel every acute movement of my shirt and tap of my back to the mat and the elbow to knee. My actions were exaggerated as the world around me seemed to have disappeared.

And time.

65

Yep.

My teacher did something wrong that day; she told me I couldn’t.

Since this time, I have had coaches at the collegiate level say I wasn’t a leader while having been voted team captain by my teammates as a junior. As a teacher, I was told both that women don’t make good leaders and that I was too young to be an administrator just months before earning a job as high school assistant principal at age 32. One of my supervisors laughed at me when I informed her I was seeking a job as principal; the 2020-2021 school year will mark my fifth year in just that exact role.

Tell me I can’t…I dare you.

What is this? What is happening here that make a person instead of feeling defeated and giving up actually push forward? Break limits? Counter stereotypes? And even physically outwork personal bests?

Laurence Gonzalez is an author of one of my favorite books, Deep Survival. This is a look at the psychology of those who survive dire situations and those who do not and why. Gonzalez suggests that the more we can have control of our fight, flight and freeze aspects of our brain in our regular, daily life, we can carry that calm into a situation of danger. It is a paradox that this sense of calm can actually fill us with spurts of energy when called upon. It’s an intense focus of knowing exactly what must be done in that moment to stay alive. It is a moment of conviction to go a little farther, only to find many of those tiny moments of conviction linked together to ensure life instead of death.

George Mumford, a mindfulness instructor and mindful coach for the Bulls during the second Jordan era refers to “not trying” in his book the Mindful Athlete as a way to be in the zone. It’s almost like “trying” interferes with excellence. And when a basketball player stops trying, stops pushing, he/she actually can see the court in a new way, almost outside of him/herself. Again, in this calm there is a partner of intense focus and knowledge of what must happen in that moment to get the “W”.

In Atomic Habits by James Clear he talks about the zone which he calls “flow”. When athletes become so focused and they are at peak performance this flow allows them to perform at rate 4% better than normal.

These concepts seem contradictory. To win by not trying. Or to gain a boost of energy from a place of calm. But this is exactly why we can do things we are not supposed to be able to do. Let this paradox give you courage the next time you are challenged. This paradox is the reason you can when others tell you you can’t.

Just for fun…

4% of 62 = 2.48 (about 3)

62 + 3 = 65

MIND BLOWN! My middle school version of me…who would have thought. I was in FLOW!

Running

I hate running.

Sorry Running…no offense.

I was on a soccer team for one season as a five year old. Man it was a lot of running. And for what outcome? Just to run from one side of the field to the other. I never understood it. I’d play a whole game, doing absolutely nothing but run from here to there. My parents tell the story that when I was on this team I would shout over to them on the sidelines, “The ball hit me Ma! Did you see it?” I was no Brandi Chastain. Needless to say, that was my last formal soccer experience.

I remember in grade school we had the coolest PE teacher, Mr. E. Every so often he’d have us run the “Green Monster”. I do not know the length of the “Green Monster” but it consisted of a loop around our playground space made mostly of a mass of green grassy space we used for tag and wiffle ball at recess. The whole class would run around the kindergarten play structure, the willow trees, the four square courts and then the massive expanse of the schoolyard. In this particular memory, I was determined to keep pace with the tallest and therefore the fastest boy in the 5th grade, Jay Diener. I was going to show all the boys up. Hashtag girl power. I kept pace for almost 3/4 of the grassy track and then I just couldn’t. I may have been the first girl to finish, but it was without fanfare as I puked up my breakfast in the trees just beyond the imaginary finish line instead of raising my hands in triumph.

One of my most successful moments in running was in high school. I was buddies with a girl on the track team and one day we were to run a timed two miles on the track for PE class. She taught me a trick; together we ran the 8 laps sprinting each straightaway and jogging the curves. We finished in under 13 minutes. Not too shabby. But, what was the point? I just changed out of my gym clothes and went to the next class…yeah high school is gross like that.

Going to college in Michigan meant winter softball training was indoors. The recreation center had an indoor track. It didn’t overlook anything interesting and the windows were too high and so it was basically just a round empty dull space. We were expected to run 3 miles in 30 minutes on this track which was 30 laps 3 times a week. This was so boring. Lap after lap after lap. They also stationed a coach at the track whose job it was to ensure we never walked and that we completed our 30. I always felt bad for her, having to watch us go ’round, and ’round, and ’round.

When I was a coach, I used to have my girls run a timed mile and insist that they finish in 8 minutes. Man, I’d fail my own expectations today. Yeah, the last twenty years have changed my body’s output…yet, with all these bad memories of running with only faint moments of highlights, I still run.

Some days are OK and some days are awful but I assure you no days are fun. Again, don’t take it personally Running, it’s me not you. Sometimes I limp along so slowly with my shoulders slumping that I wonder if a passing car will mistake me for needing hospitalization. I also stop and walk. I’m not ashamed. But can I then say, “I jogged today” or is there a word for my pattern of jog – walk – jog – walk slower – jog and quit? OK, we’ll just call it “jogging” and have a shared understanding of what this means to me.

Yet, season after season, year after year, I always find a time that I come back to running.

This month, I joined the Teacher Fit community in the search to improve our lives through creating healthy habits. A habit that I plan to include beginning next week is to run. I would like to be in the habit of running, well “jogging” (you know what I mean) 4 times a week at a minimum and to complete my 4 mile loop here near my home.

Here are some of my strategies I will use to make this thing I loath into a habit.

Creating A New Habit

  • Tell other people I am going to do this…Check!
  • Reduce Decisions:
    • the 4 mile loop means I don’t have to decide my distance (or wimp out by going a shorter length)
    • the loop means I know my route and don’t have to make any decisions on when to turn and where to turn, again helping avoid wimping out and taking short cuts
  • Be dressed in workout gear in morning or ASAP after work
  • When I don’t want to – do it anyway. Slow is better than nothing.
  • When I want to quit – take each sidewalk square at a time! Every little bit counts
  • Remember, rate is more important than intensity to start
  • And use both my Runkeeper app and my habit tracker to track my journey

I figure that I have never, well since B.M. (before marriage), run regularly so if I do start to run regularly, this has a possibility of really helping me improve my health, no matter how slow my pace might be right now. Slow is better than, well, the couch.

Maybe we can check in with each other in a year or so and see if I can’t improve my speed or distance, but for now, I’ll be “jogging” and I’ll be OK with that, actually, I’ll be pretty proud. But if I see Jay Diener, dude, I’m gonna keep up! I’m not letting him slip ahead of me again! Just don’t greet me at that finish line; you’ll need to give me a minute.

Me after this morning’s jog. You: you should have smiled. Me: I WAS smiling.

Go Tell Mom

I will change the names in this article to protect the innocent…or just the reputations of three of my favorite men.

My oldest brother, whom we’ll call Jamie for his safety, was a trophy winning wrestler in high school. Often, us siblings and even our own mother were practice dummies for him to hone his wrestling skills at home. We’d be minding our own business, making lunch in the kitchen standing along the counter and suddenly you’d find yourself in a headlock left kicking and yanking attempting to defend yourself from the hold.

I can’t recall my age, or the details, but somehow we were gifted wrestling mats when we were kids. The gift was most likely a Christmas or Easter miracle providing hours of entertainment, especially during the freezing winters of Chicago. These mats could have been called, gymnastic mats, or tumbling mats, but in the, let’s call them the Cats, in the Cats’ home, they were called wrestling mats.

The wrestling mats were placed in our basement. Half of the basement in our Chicago home was finished by the hands of our father. Being my father’s favorite daughter, I helped in all the re-modeling efforts. I remember the carpet installation as I had never seen such a sight before. The giant spool of carpet was rolled over the thin flat multi-colored pad which lay to cover the concrete foundation. Although there was capet, it was not plush. The wrestling mats were a welcome addition as the previous situation was not conducive to injury free wrestling frenzies.

Often, basement wrestling was sporadic and without rules or organization. This particular day, we actually attempted to follow the formal wrestling rules despite our age and ability differences and we took turns just like a one-on-one match. This particular match was Jamie versus me. As my memory recalls, we were set up to begin the match, me on my knees in the starting position and Jamie ready to knock my arms out from under me. I recall prior to the whistle for match to start, I thought I’d out-play him by planning to fling my upper body toward the ceiling overpowering my older brother in attempts to evade a pin. And so I did. As “Christoph” blew the whistle to begin, I forcefully flung my torso upwards.

Little sisters always think they can match the strength of their older siblings. Always. But, in reality, often, little sister’s will-power is stronger than their actual power. And so as I flung myself upwards, Jamie’s force came down and my face was heading straight down towards the mat nose first. Without the strength to stop or even slow this feat of muscle and gravity, I couldn’t do anything to slow my nose from the inevitable. Unfortunately, instead of smashing nose first into the mat though, I missed the mat, and went forcefully nose first into the lightly carpeted basement floor.

As we’ve never intentionally wanted to hurt one another, I was immediately freed to find blood rushing from my nose. I stood to run into the unfinished work area of the basement grabbing the entire roll of paper towels off my dad’s workbench. My eyes poured with tears and I squealed with pain. I am sure I said little sister things we say. The collective retort from my brothers is all too familiar to you little sisters, “Cry. Go tell mom you baby and cry.” Well, I wasn’t going to cry. And I wasn’t going to be a baby and tell mom. So, I sat on the bottom of the stairs covered in bloody paper towels while my brothers carried on with the match.

I’m fine. Just a broken nose, deviated septum, and lifelong issues like snoring, but I’m fine. No harm done. My face was only altered slightly with the addition of a permanent bump as a life-long reminder. But, it’s fine. Don’t be mad at my siblings. I am not. I am not mad at all. I am sure it wasn’t long before I threw out the bloody mess of paper towels and with laughter re-joined my brothers.

But this story epitomizes the tough guy mentality. The tough guy mentality has many benefits. I have stood up to coaches and bosses for whom I’ve held ethical differences because I have the courage to do so with my tough guy mentality. I have given birth three times and have handled medical procedures like a champ when honing this ability to be the tough guy. I can even manage a grueling crossfit workout or hold a stressful job as school principal when digging into my tough guy mentality.

But now, we are undergoing a pandemic. We are experiencing a change to our normal way of life we have only seen in the movies. The overwhelming statistics of death and illness are at times so awful it make a person debilitated with sadness. During a time like this, cry. Cry and, if possible, call your mommy. And if not possible, pray to her. It isn’t time to teach anyone about toughness. It might be the right time to teach compassion and emotion. Crying might be your body telling you to let it go, let go of the pent up fear rising which each new day watching the death toll grow.

Another powerful emotion is positivity. Deep Survival, a book written by Laurence Gonzalez, also shares the science of the brain associated with laughter and smiling. He highlights that sometimes absurd and disastrous situations are best handled by those who can laugh through them. Smiling alone causes the brain to exit the areas responsible for fear, anxiety and negativity. And laughter does this even more powerfully throwing us closer to positivity and farther from fear. A jaw dropping outcome of laughter is motivation. When we laugh, we become more motivated! If I am ill, I hope to have the motivation to overcome! And in that I hope someone makes me laugh even though the scene may be dismal and grey and scary.

A meditation teacher Susan Piver also claims that a person cannot be kind and anxious at the same time. What a statement. It seems like the brain cannot be in two places at once in these regards. I am sure we all had the “attitudes are contagious” poster on our walls as kids. What attitude are people catching from you?

So, men, women, brothers and sisters, especially you little sisters…

  • Cry. It’s not only OK, but sometimes a giant release of all the pent up anxiety you may be carrying during this scary and crazy time.
  • Call. Go tell mom. Go tell dad. Call your friends. Call your family.
  • Laugh. However absurd it may seem to laugh in the midst of fear, laughter might be the best cure for sadness as well as illness. What attitude do you hope others catch? What attitude will help in a time like this?

I hope my brothers do not read this. But if they do, I hope they remember and laugh.

Poof, You’re A Sandwich

I was very lucky to have a mom who chose to stay home to care for me as I grew up. My mom taught school up until her first child was born. Then she and dad chose to have mom stay home to raise us kids. She didn’t go back to the classroom until her youngest child was in full day kindergarten. This meant, that until middle school, my mom was always there for me.

Our elementary school, being only a skip and a hop away from our home, allowed us kids in walking distance to sign out and eat lunch at home. I know right?! Crazy to think about that rule being in place now, but I was allowed to do that in the ’80s. I loved going home for lunch. When allowed, I would race across the green field of the play area of school and up a little hill to our little neighborhood and home. I’d barge in the door and say, “Hey ma, can you make me a sandwich?” To which she’d reply, “Poof, you’re a sandwich.” And we would laugh. I’d sit at the kitchen table eating PB&J and applesauce while she worked in the kitchen. What wonderful few brief moments were spent together right there in the middle of the day. Scarfing down my food, I’d get a kiss and out the door I’d race again back to school to play with my classmates.

Routine ruled our days. My mom drove my dad to the train station each morning as he hustled off to downtown Chicago. Then, she ensured we had all we needed to be successful for the day and that our homework was complete and hair was combed. If we didn’t come home for lunch, I always had a sack lunch full of healthy and fun food. I still, to this day, do not know what it is like to buy hot (or cold) lunch at school…even though I have also worked in schools for 18 + years. Arriving home from school, I remember many days warm cookies and ice cold milk were waiting for me as I walked in the door to sit and do my homework with. And each night, an amazing home cooked meal on the table. We’d greet dad as he arrived home on the 5:20 train with a big hug to the table our family of 6 sat to talk and be together. The meals were spaghetti, lasagna, steaks, meatloaf, fish, always with a side of salad or potatoes or garlic bread or veggies. These meals were always nutritious and plentiful.

As we all were older, mom ensured we were enrolled in and able to attend all our activities. Mom was always there. She was at every game, picking us up from every practice. She was never late and I never worried my mom wouldn’t show up. We always had the right equipment and were wearing the attire appropriate for the practice or event. She made sure we were prepared.

Then there is me…mother of three…and well, I am not the mother I grew up with.

Contrastly, I cannot remember, honestly, the last meal I cooked for my children. If I am home alone with the kids, I say, “kids, make your dinners.” They then go to the fridge or freezer, grab hot dogs or frozen corn dogs, or start boiling water for pasta. The 8 year old can jump onto the counter to reach the microwave. The 5 year old grabs plates and they make their own dinner of multiple frozen items. The only warm cookies they eat, are now the ones they make for themselves or the ones my amazing secretary, Lisa, makes for them at school.

Each new school year, my husband and I make the kids lunches for roughly two weeks before the morning routine proves to be just too much and so we start to require the kids to buy their lunches, crossing our fingers that they eat something nutritious at school. I find out from my kids that they have begged the teacher for a snack because we forgot to pack them in the morning. Even though I work at their school, I rarely even see them at lunch, let alone set aside time to eat with them.

Recently, my daughters wanted to join the new art club. I carried the sign up sheet in my work bag for two weeks before the first day of art club became tomorrow. That night, I learned that the registration was full. I attempted to explain this when the girls woke in the morning. Apparently I did not do a good job because after school, while I was at the PTO meeting, I realized I hadn’t seen the girls after school. I thought, again while sitting in a meeting, “my girls went to that club.” Sure enough, they attended and although the teacher was nice and allowed them to stay, I received a curt email the next day reminding me that the girls were not in fact enrolled and will not be allowed to attend in the future. I like to call these moments, “Mother of the Year” moments. Total mom fails. Those moments that you hit your forehead with your hand just like the emoji filled with a variety of emotions from embarrassment to sadness and insecurities.

In the last ten years, not only have I had all these children, but I have also increased my workload and employment responsibilities going from teacher to assistant principal and now principal. My kids know no other life than this. They think all moms don’t cook and that teachers just give out extra snacks. Last night at the school’s movie night, I arrived after my girls as I was attending a meeting and saw they both had pizza, candy (their blue lips were a dead giveaway to having enjoyed a ring pop), and glow necklaces. I asked, “who bought those for you” and both of them replied, “they were free.” #motheroftheyear I explained, someone had to pay for it….who paid for it…who were you in line with? Finally, I discovered that multiple sweet teachers and parents covered my kid’s indulgences. Hopefully I paid them all back by now…and it is an example of how amazing my school community is to support all kids, but man, these kids need a mother.

Every year I go through extreme feelings of nostalgia. Every November I want to move back to the midwest. And every February I call my mom in tears with mother’s guilt. I want my kids to have a childhood like I had. I want them to have a PB&J lunch. I want them to have a mom to great them at home at the door with warm cookies. I want them to have healthy home cooked dinners while we all sit at the table together. I want to attend all games and be there on time for all pick ups. And, yes, I have had the uncomfortable moment when the teacher is sitting outside the school with only Carter as I forgot to pick him up. #momoftheyear I want them to have what I had.

Each year when I call in tears, my mom is there for me agian and helps me pull up my boot straps.

  • She reminds me that all generations have a new view on motherhood. She says when she stayed at home, the culture was encouraging women to work and she was the victim of much judgment for her choice to stay home. She reminds me that other people’s opinions don’t matter and I just need to do what is right for my family. Not to worry what other people think and not to be jealous of what other people do.
  • She reminds me that I am doing a good job. She reminds me of what is important and builds me up helping repair my insecurities. She teaches me to let go of the negative thoughts that consume my mind.
  • She reminds me of the lessons my kids are learning from my actions. She reminds me that my girls see me at school and are learning lessons from this life that will help them in their futures as women tasked with hard things. To focus on the positive aspects of our situation and see how they can be good. Instead of focusing on the “I don’ts” to focus on the “I dos”.
  • She always uses humor. We laugh together when she claims I’d be a bad stay at home mother, which might be true. When I am home I eat and shop. Not good for my waistline or pocketbook! Maybe I thrive in a lifestyle that is the one I have. She helps me see that the grass isn’t always greener.
  • And ultimately, she says, you can do this. She says keep going. She never lets me quit or be off the hook. She gives me the confidence and strength to stand back up, brush off my pants, put a smile on my face, and get back to work.

And so I do. I get back to work. I even think of new ideas like writing a blog, or a book, or creating a company like Second Arrow because of my new found energy to persist through her encouragement to do so…to be brave and proud.

We can’t allow our own minds to talk us into our situation being wrong. We can’t allow social media to tell us we aren’t doing it “right.” We can’t allow our minds to quit because something is different or hard or against society’s norms. We can’t allow our own minds to talk us into the grass being greener. We can’t allow our minds to talk us into insecurities of not being good enough or failing to reach perfection….realizing that there is no such thing as perfect. We must hone our inner “ma” whoever she is for you and find ways to do and be more, not to give in to feelings of failure and the insecurities of comparisons.

We must “poof” and become what we want to be!

I remember when Carter was born, my oldest baby, I had a profound and deep feeling rush over me, as I am sure all new mom’s experience no matter the birth order of the child as all children are miracles. This feeling of new love and an obligation of protection consumed me and filled me with happiness that I had never known before. At that time, I picked up the phone and I called my mom. I called her and said, “I’m sorry.” I finally understood the love she had for me, and I couldn’t stand all the negativity I had put her through as a bratty kid.

Thank you for being there for me Ma. Thank you for being here for me now.

Just Around the Next Bend

Nick and I celebrated our 10th anniversary in the summer of 2017. We skipped the Costco Hawaii trip for a venture around Arizona in our 1975 Winnebago trailer that we bought for cash from a guy who replied when asked how sentimental the trailer was to him, “I have no connection. I got this trailer from a guy who owed me money.”

Upon purchasing, the trailer seemed in decent shape, but Nick and I tore it apart anyway and started from the guts to renovate making it clean and cute and operational. June 15th, we set off in our little “Mickey Mouse Trailer”…you know the one that unhitched from Goofy’s car and passed Goofy on the narrow road…yep…that was us.

We stayed at my all-time favorite campground, Cave Springs, set right on Oak Creek just north of Sedona to begin our trip. We then visited Williams, AZ to stay at White Horse Lake and try out our new kayaks and then off to Page, AZ to experience Horseshoe Bend, Lake Powell, the Glen Canyon Dam and our most exciting adventure would be to kayak into the Antelope Canyon. An experience I will never forget and hope to do many more times in my life.

Summers in AZ get hot. Growing up in IL, I know what humidity is, and can empathize with those of you with sticky summers. But nothing is more awful than 120 degrees with no cloud in sight. Being educators, and that our anniversary is in the month of June, that was the time we had to travel – the AZ summer. We were prepared for hot, but Page, AZ was stifling. One thing we chose not to renovate in the Winnie, nicknamed Cousin Eddie – yep – after the good intentioned yet disastrous cousin of Clark Griswold in the Vacation movies for accurate similarities between the character and trailer, was the air conditioner. Nick promised that, “it’ll be fine.” It was certainly NOT fine in Page, AZ. Our campground was all concrete, although affording us running water and electrical hook ups, had no trees and no reprieve from the constant and consuming sun. One day we went to the visitor’s center of the Dam and laid down on the cushioned seats to take a nap while other visitors walked the mini-museum reading about the Colorado River treading around our sweat ridden bodies.

I had wanted to visit Monument Valley on this trip while we were that far north, but Nick hadn’t been too interested. It was over a two hour drive from Page and for a day trip, didn’t seem worth it to him at the time in the comfort of our home in Gilbert with the air on full blast. So when I suggested it again in the heat of Page, AZ, Nick agreed. The next morning, we woke up early with the sun and heat, popped into our Ford F150 and started the 2 hour trek.

Wow. If you have not visited Monument Valley, please put it on your Bucket List. The landscape is like no other. The beautiful buttes rising up from the red earth are simply breathtaking. No cowboy western movie or photograph can truly highlight the impact these formation have on one’s soul. In our truck, we drove on the rudimentary car trail through all the buttes, stopping at each one to oohh, and awe, and take photos. Each one more marvoulous than the next.

At one butte, there was a horse staged atop a hill and for only a nominal fee, you could hop on the horse to take an iconic picture; something straight out of any 1950s western depicted movie. At another stop, there were local native peoples with jewelry and leather stands selling the most beautiful turquoise items. We took our time going through each butte, walking around, looking into the distance, and just enjoying the day…and the slightly cooler weather.

We were believing that the self-guided tour may almost be complete as we approached the buttes we had first visited by going on this circle tour. One last butte to check out. The sun was getting lower in the sky and we talked about dinner and the drive home. We pulled into the parking area to step out and enjoy the last mount of land and it’s surroundings to take it all in before heading back to Page. The vendor there was beginning to pack up, and so I told Nick I would catch up to him after looking at the remaining jewelry…you know…just to look…not to actually buy anything. So, Nick walked up to the butte while I continued to scour the table of beautiful gems, sterling silver and feather adorned knife sheaths…all things I must own…who doesn’t need a leather, feather adorned knife sheath? Am I right? At some point, I felt in the way as we were literally the last car in sight and the vendors were clearly looking to call it a day as most items were already packed in their van to leave for the night. So, I started up the same way Nick had to join him in taking in the sunset on this final butte.

As I approached, he was not in sight. So I started along the clearly marked path to see if he was just around the bend. I could only see a limited number of feet in front of me on the path as the butte undulated vertically. I enjoyed my walk by myself and was enjoying nature…but I was looking for Nick. I kept walking. And walking. I opened my phone to try to text or call…but…we were literally in the middle of no-where…so that didn’t work. So, I kept walking. I thought, “he wouldn’t go that far ahead of me, would he?” “Was there a different path I missed?” “Nick, I am so mad at you, where are you?”

I walked for a terribly long time. I was sure the vendor had left the parking lot at this time. I thought, without my phone working, what would I do? I thought, “he’s dead.”

Do you do this? Think people are dead or are going to die? I think when my kids get on their bike and come to an intersection they are doomed. No car can be in sight, but my mamma radar goes up and sure enough my imagination always jumps to “they’re dead.” It’s so bad that my kids will say, we will be careful mom, we are not going to die. But anyway, back to the story…

This is not the first time Nick has disappeared on me. Just that trip alone, there were two other incidents. Once on our hike of the West Fork in Sedona and another during our kayaking adventure of Antelope Canyon.

I was so scared. I tried to think, he’s fine…he’s always fine…he is just adventurous and is around the next bend…but each bend I turned, there was NO sight of my husband of ten years.

I started to think…I can’t carry his dead body this far back to the car. Do I leave his dead body there, go to car to get help? What if an animal attacks him? I can’t just stay with him…no one is around anymore to save us or even notice us. I just kept walking – no longer enjoying the scene. No longer aware of the setting sun and the beautiful sunset. Only thinking about my dead spouse.

I finally sat down. I got out my phone. I tried to think, “it will all be ok.” “He’ll come back any minute now.”

But he didn’t. I sat. And sat and sat. And stewed and stewed and stewed.

Then, there he was. I never hated him so much. He came happily around the corner and tried showing me this great photo he took…and now that I knew he wasn’t dead, I was going to kill him.

I pouted the rest of the trip. I refused to take in the beauty of the sky and the landscape. I was angry the whole way back to hot Page. This is me, forced to take a last selfie with Nick, trying to pretend to be happy…I was NOT happy.

Apparently, Albert Einstein said, “The most important decision we make is whether we believe we live in friendly or hostile universe.”

This has got me thinking about the way I approach things, even daily events like waking up and getting the kids ready for school let alone things like thinking the kids will die while heading to the very safe neighborhood park while wearing helmets, knee pads, and wrist guards….ok, I don’t make them wear all of that but you get the picture of my neurotic mamma mind.

Maybe I view the universe as hostile. Maybe I set myself up for negativity all day because of my entire outlook on life. Maybe my concern about death and worry about safety is because of my preconceived and deeply rooted beliefs. In contrast, maybe Nick has a sense of faith or trust in the universe that allows him to let go and continue around each bend.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I think mamma intuition is real and valid. I also think helmets are valid. A woman walking alone to her car at night should always be aware of her surroundings. But maybe I am making life too hard on myself. Maybe I can change my perspective in a very broad manner, a universal manner, and then I can see daily things in a better light?

This week – try to wake up happy that you have been given a new day. Try to enjoy the mess of the morning routine and maybe even see humor in the chaos of combing hair, mismatched clothes, and no socks in the gym shoes of yes, all three kids. Try to consider that work is a friendly place. Consider that you have the capability to handle what will come your way. Let go of negative assumptions and story lines. Instead of predicting hostility, predict happiness or even just contentment. Maybe worry about imagined future hypothetical disasters are truly a waste of energy.

I live a good life. I think it is time to recognize and revel in that fact. To rejoice and breathe in my blessings. And the next time Nick is believed dead, instead know that he will in fact return. Be calm knowing the universe is good and that he is just around the next bend.

Here’s his photo for which took him around bend after bend…he’d say #worthit.

Gats, Stick to Softball

I am very fortunate to be a school principal and thankful for my successes along the way to place me in my current professional position. I am also thankful for my failures. And, man, have I failed?!

In high school I played basketball, or should I say I was on the basketball team. I mostly sat by the water cooler cheering than playing exactly. I remember one practice hustling back to the court from a trip to the drinking fountain. I was alone on the court as the coaches planned the next drill seated on the bench. I grabbed a ball and started shooting half-court shots waiting for my pals to return from their water breaks. After my second half-court shot, the coach yelled out to me, “Gats, knock it off.” (Gats is my maiden name and my entire name from ages 13-21. Anyway…) “Gats, knock it off. Are you going to shoot that shot in a game?” I replied, “I don’t know coach, I never get in the games!” My coach just busted up laughing and allowed me to carry on.

I rode a lot of pine in softball too. When people would ask me my position during family outings, before I could announce that I was a catcher, my dad would beat me to answering and say, “she plays left-out.” (For those of you not familiar…this is NOT a position but rather a play on words as it sound like an outfield spot. Thanks Dad.)

Senior year of high school, I applied for the University of Illinois for my bachelor’s and was denied admission. After earning my bachelor’s at WMU, I applied to Syracuse, Northwestern, and ASU’s Walter Cronkite schools for a journalism master’s program and was denied admission into all three. I remember one application asked the applicant to list all publications to-date. That was a short list of none for me. I guess that was a prerequisite, you know to have written something in efforts of obtaining a writing degree. Hence, I became a teacher.

I ran the Pat Tillman 4.2 mile run the year after my oldest child, Carter, was born. Reaching the Arizona State football stadium marking the conclusion of the race, I was moving at an excruciatingly slow pace. I am sure fresh legs were walking faster than my slow run which was all I could muster. ASU football players and cheerleaders were required to greet and cheer finishers, but by the time I made it through this tunnel, the attention from these college athletes had long left their post and they were now creating their after race party plans while unenthusiastically clapping. I don’t blame them. To stand there and cheer for the early finisher, the elite athletes, was fun an exciting, but almost an hour later, they were sick of cheering as I would have been too. I embarrassingly passed the finish line and to your surprise, I had not been the winner of that race. I finished, but with less than a stellar outcome as marked by the lazy celebration. (And as a funny joke, they had the Gatorade and bananas in the mezzanine which meant racers must walk up stadium stairs to reach the post-race nutritious refueling stations. I think I skipped the snacks and just limped out of the first floor to my car.)

My most noteworthy failure came my senior year in high school while on the golf team.

My grandparents had generously gifted me a set of my own clubs in the 8th grade. During my sophomore year, I figured I was ready to learn more and grow in the sport and so I joined the high school team. Because golf was a no-cut sport, I simply was required to show up and attend the practices held during the other sport’s “try-out” week in the fall and I was on the team. In golf for high school, only a few golfers are allowed to have their scores count during a competition. A school with more members than those whose scores count, allow the extra golfer to play anyway behind the competitors as a form of practice. This was me. I was allowed to be in uniform and attend competitions, but my success or failure was never officially recorded. Now, I’m not a horrible golfer. I know how to chip and I have won longest drive competitions in scrambles, but I am also not good.

The golf coach was every student’s favorite teacher, Mr. Geppinger. He taught sociology and had a great rapport with students. This was my senior year after having played on the team for my sophomore and junior years. I remember standing on the putting green of Arrowhead Club practicing my putts with some teammates during the “tryout” period. Again, golf was a no-cut sport, so there were no tests or drills and no list posted to the locker room door saying if you were in or if you were out. Everyone who was interested in golf was automatically allowed to participate.

I remember it was a beautiful late summer day. The sun was out. The grass was green. And that’s when it happened. Mr. Geppinger walked from the driving range over to the putting green where I practiced. With his hand placed on my shoulder and his eyes focused on mine, he said kindly, “Gats, maybe you should just stick to softball.”

There you have it. I was cut from a no-cut sport.

(Actual putting green in this photo where the incident occurred.)

Talk about failure! I might be the only person that this has occurred to in the world. I remember grabbing my golf bag with my head hanging in sadness and disappointment and walking off the course into the parking lot and home.

I have failed often. Softball is full of failure. A baseball/softball player is a success if he/she is successful only 4 times out of ten. Tell me in what other arena, athletic or academic where 60% failure rate is celebrated? I think this is from where my confidence in failure was derived.

I have also failed upholding goals I have set for myself including New Year’s Resolutions. I run January 1st and then again on the 2nd and 3rd…but on the 4th, I am too tired and before you know it the day is done. And there it is, a failure. I throw up my hands in defeat and think of how horrible of a person I am to not even make it a week through my pursuit of my goals. I then do not run on the 5th or the 6th or again until January 1st of the next year.

Why do we let one failure cause so much grief? Why do we give so much power to one moment? One mistake? One loss? One denial? One error? One rejection? In order to then deny ourselves so much opportunity for success on just the very next day?

This year, this is my mindset: allow failure to occur as the wind blows. I don’t mean that I welcome it or that I will lazily bow out of my resolutions. But I mean that failure is normal and is a part of life. Some say that failure drives success. So, instead of allowing failure to have power in causing defeat, instead think of it as coming and going just the breeze against my cheek allowing success to arrive the very next day. Thomas Edison was known to having said, “I haven’t failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

I’ve always been driven by quotes. Winston Churchill’s words often resonate with me although he does not lead me into war I am reminded to, “Never give in.” And although I’ve never battled on the gridiron, Vince Lombardi’s words that “Once you’ve learned to quit, it become a habit.” All these words of wisdom from legends before me give me a boost of confidence today to reach my own personal goals.

Connecting to the greater reason why the goals are even goals will support adherence to them as well. Do I want to exercise every day for vanity, really? No, I want to live a long healthy life. I want to grow old to see my children’s children. I prefer not to be ill and I know exercise can make my immune system stronger to fight off germs that linger in elementary schools.

Do I want to meditate for selfish reasons? No, it is a great bonus, but I want to be a better boss, friend, mother and wife. I want to more often be a person others want to be around. I want to remain calm under stress in a professional setting and not bring big emotions and personalization into the workplace. And I want my own children to emulate my kindness, not my stress.

This year reduce the power of failures. They are just part of our journey. They carry no authority. Allow the rise of the sun and rising from your bed to drive your success as each day is a new day to do anything, except for being cut from a no-cut sport…that one is just for me.

Do It Again

In college I learned what it was to struggle physically during grueling workouts with the team’s trainer. I have played on an organized softball team since I was five, and all counted that was 16 years of my life devoted to the sport. So in college, I spent hours either on the field, or in the gym preparing.

Our athletic field-house was inside the main arena housing the competition basketball courts at the time I attended and played for Western Michigan University. The equipment room ran along the edge of the building and was where our softball clothes were cleaned. We would gather our game and practice gear all on a giant metal clip, each item of clothing with my number, number 3, written on all tags as to ensure my clothes came back to my locker. There was a training room where injured athletes learned to recover. I have had the pleasure of dipping my room temperature feet into a freezing ice bath in that room helping to heal sprained ankles. There was a small pool for athletes to run against a current for rehabilitation as well as countless other gizmos and gadgets galore. An indoor track raced around the edge and provided ample space for torturing us with sprints. The weight room was tucked under the stadium bleachers. It was of modest size at the time, but big enough for you to feel crushed after the workout enforced upon you by the certified trainer. Then, just the basketball court, many hoops and the stadium seats.

We always looked like a team. We had practice uniforms, weights t-shirts and shorts that were all in uniform, and of course our game gear. All year long we had assigned training sessions as to organize all the teams to have ample time to gain the strength needed to win. This particular day was no different than any other. The softball team, all wearing the same gray shirts with WMU Softball written across our chests and the same stock black baggy gym shorts prepared first with a light jog and guided stretching. This day, unknowingly, would be one of the hardest workouts I had ever completed.

After our team stretching, the trainer brought us to the basketball court and lead us up the stairs to the second set of bleachers. We had never yet run this set of bleachers, but we knew exactly what was happening next.

The directions were to run, in a single file line, up each set of stairs on the left, and come down that set of stairs on the right. Then, we’d run across the bottom, passing the set of seats in that section the next stairs. Now, in the center of the stadium, the seats went very high. Along the sides, though, the seats were only 10-15 rows deep. I was looking forward to those rows!

We arranged ourselves a bit by speed before starting because passing would be challenging, and we started. I was behind like five or six girls and felt pretty strong. It only took 3 or 4 vertical climbs for me to feel not so strong. I was still running and I was gaining on one or two girls in front of me, but this was a much harder task to complete, than to look at from the comfort of the starter line.

My hip flexors couldn’t lift my legs up any longer. Each stair began to appear taller and taller. I missed reaching a step or two causing me to stumble, grab the railing only to hear, “Gats, hands off the railing” from my very attentive trainer. Coming down the mountain of stairs was challenging for different reasons; one little stumble and down you’d go. Knees took a beating and my heart was pounding out of my chest. I passed one girl on a straight away and I was right behind another teammate on our decent of stairs who I was able to pass as well. I was feeling very proud of myself getting through this burning sprint around the stadium. I looked up coming into the last few tall sets of stairs and only had 3 girls in front of me. That was pretty darn good. As the pride gave me courage to go faster, I then took another glance ahead as some of my teammates were pulling into the finish line. Why is Nicky still running past our trainer? As I asended the stairs wondering what she was doing, I talked myself into her being a crazy runner and this was something she wanted to do. It was only on my turn that as I decended the steps I could see all those in front of me are being sent to run it again.

WHAT?!!??!

I had just done all the sport cliches. I had laid it all on the field. I had given it my all. I gave 110%. I had nothing more to give. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I thought, “I can’t do this.” “I just gave all my energy to be as fast as I could during this round.” “My knees are toast.” “There is no way I can lift up my legs enough to do it again.”

Yet, as I approached my coach, he simply said, “Do it again.”

And so, I did. I carried every sense of doubt with me on this run. I worried I was going to trip and fall. I thought I didn’t have the strength. My confidence was shot and my will was all used up. I just kept moving. I took one step at a time and just kept moving. This time, passing wasn’t the motivator, each single movement was a triumph. Each single stair up or down was an accomplishment. But I was going to keep moving until I was done. Each stumble, I grabbed the railing, “Gats, off the railings” was shouted from below, and so it went. On my own. One stair at a time.

Until, it was over.

We all lay collapsed at the end. Each girl gasping for air. Laying on the ground. Sweat pouring from our faces. We had no air to verbally congratulate one another, but as we walked past the finishers for our own area to lay defeated we gave high fives signifying a job well done to our teammates.

As more girls finished, some of us were prepared to stand and welcome them past the finish line. And soon, a mass of players cheered on the few who were left on the battlefield to help them know it was possible.

Our bodies are capable of so much more than we give credit to. Our mind often is the culprit of holding our bodies back. We think we cannot, when we actually can. We think we should quit, when we have so much left in us. We are afraid of the distance or the cold or the heat and so we don’t even start.

If we want to be healthy. If we want to survive. If we want to be grandparents to our yet to be born grand children, we need to have strong mental health to even begin to talk about obtaining strong physical health. The mind must be conquered first.

Without my trainer yelling, “hands of the rails”, and commanding me to “run it again”, I need to find it within me to push my limits to find my physical health. I can do this by being aware of my mind and mental state. I can actually watch my brain as an observer as I talk myself out of a run. I can then choose to abide by the fear and/or laziness, or I can tell that part of my mind to “get off the rails.”

This 2020, don’t let any goal down! Get your mind right first and you can do anything! And then, you can do it again.

BOOK LISTS: My favorite genre of books, is that of survival. Laurence Gonzales’ “Deep Survival” is a favorite. Tim Ferriss’s “Tools of Titans” is great. “Into the Wild” and “Into Thin Air” by Krakauer are iconic. And I am starting “What Doesn’t Kill Us” by Scott Carney. These books mesmerize me with their proof of the ability of the human body.

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