How I became a distance runner.

When someone discovers I am a distance runner, their next quizzical, confused question is, “How did you get started doing that?” What they really want to know is whether I’ve always been foolish enough to actually enjoy running for hours at a time or did something “ignite” this gene in me later in life. It’s a tough question to answer so I usually just shrug it off.

Yes, I have always enjoyed sports and even in the absence of sports, I have always been competitve. I remember playing bad mitten against the side of our house as a very young girl until my mom would beg me to stop. During high school and well into my 30s, I played tennis and softball in tournaments and in leagues. I was the state champ in typing (that dates me) and piano.

As a young, working mother there was little time for sports, and this is about the time I began to run. No partner was required, as with tennis, and I could run before work while my son was still sleeping. Even though I ran almost every day, these runs never went for more than 4 or 5 miles.

Life takes many turns and my commitment to running kind of blew along with the winds of life until late 2005 or 2006. For some reason that I don’t even remember, I started running again and worked my way up from barely surviving 2 miles to running for 45 minutes straight.

My husband had a trip to India coming up and since I had never been there, we decided I should tag along. That first morning, I found the hotel gym and spent my usual 45 minutes on the treadmill. The next day, I leisurely went through 45 minutes but found I wasn’t tired. So….I decided to go for a little longer. A little longer ended up being 60 minutes – and I still felt fine. I didnt die that night so the next day, I ran for 60 minutes again. Wow.

It was during this trip that my son shipped off to the Navy. When we left for India, we knew the next time we would see or talk to him, he would be graduating from boot camp.  We could write letters though and these letters turned out to be intense – his were stories about boot camp that I found intriquing and emotional, and mine to him trying to be encouraging and supportive.

Shortly after our India trip, I came home one night from work and noticed a package on the front porch. Since I wasn’t expecting a package, I rushed out to see what had arrived. There, on the top of the box, was my son’s handwriting. I rushed into the kitchen with it, found the scissors and ripped it open.

People associate smells and sounds with places. I can hear a song that was popular a few years ago and picture the runs that song took me through. There has never been a sound or smell before or since that compared with opening this package.

I popped open the flaps on that box so excited to hear from him already.  I stuck my head right into the box and it literally made me jump back. My son’s soul, his very essence had been captured and sent to me. I felt his anxiousness, his excitement and downright fear all at once.

It was actually his clothes in that box. Everything he had worn the day he left for boot camp. There was a hat, dirty socks, shoes, shorts and a t-shirt, his boxers and his sunglasses, some money thrown in the bottom, even his prescious cell phone; the papers he had to carry with him showing that he was now a part of the U.S.Navy with his signature at the bottom. Every single thing that was left in his life when he left home was in this box.

I stood there alone in my kitchen speechless and that moment changed my life forever. I became a warrior.

My son and I watched the terror of 9/11 together. We lived in Sarasota, Florida where President Bush was in a classroom just across town. My son was sent home from work that day when they closed down just about everything in town. I worked from home at the time and we spent the day glued to the TV. Late in the afternoon, he sat in the chair at my desk, used my PC and registered for the draft. Doesn’t that sound so foreign since we haven’t drafted anyone for years.

That was a huge step for him – a kid that had not been especially easy to raise we’ll say. It took years before he made it to boot camp but he did it. A long journey that took us to this moment. And now I felt a need to be all that I could be. To support this child of mine that was trying so hard to be more than he had ever been.

Before he could get accepted into the Navy, he had to get his blood pressure down – believe it or not. He had lived a hard life and he had to take an about face in every possible aspect of life to get himself to another place. I decided I could do the same and somehow give him more strength as well.

I started adding 10 minutes to my runs every few days. I was pretty naive initially and its a miracle I didn’t kill myself. But, before long I was running 10 miles every day. I started reading books, improved my diet – I was on a mission.

I guess you never know what will move you to do something you never dreamed possible. I have friends that have become great fundraisers, established successful charities when a mother or family member got cancer or alzheimers. There was a sad mother that started MADD and changed America. Its inside us. We just have to be willing to let it happen. We have to be brave enough to try.

After the graduation ceremony at boot camp, I was finally able to ask him what was going on the day he sent me that box. By now it had been many weeks since he had left home and those first few days of boot camp were long forgotten. He immediately went back to that moment though and described how they had been kept awake all night, stood in line to get their heads shaved, issued their “uniform” and then told to strip naked and put all their belongings in the box and address it home. As they stripped off their clothes all lined up in front of each other, an officer would stand behind them screaming, “Hurry up, hurry, hurry. Move sailor, move!” I asked him, ” What were you feeling?” He told me he was anxious, nervous and excited all at once. I told him I understood completely.

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