I haven’t written here for months.
Silence seemed the only answer when the things I wanted to write about were painful, sensitive, and a betrayal of others’ privacy.
I’ve been overwhelmed with the situations faced by people my age or older: crippling injuries, serious illnesses, and death. I can’t avoid thinking about the fact that people my own age, people I know, are suffering and dying from ALS. It’s a terrible way to go. Alzheimer’s disease, too, is affecting people close to me.
Keith’s serious knee injury, still undiagnosed, makes me feel sad and helpless. We haven’t been able to do our usual hikes and bike rides together. I hate to see him in pain, but can do little except share his twisted laughter about the need for self-medication with alcohol and heavy doses of extra-strength Tylenol. Our medical system is not helping him, and it seems all wrong.
My own physical problems are trivial in comparison to the ones above. I know I’m blessed with good health and I’m thankful for all the activities I can still enjoy. Yet it’s frustrating to have a hamstring injury that’s lasted for seven months already. Even taking multiple weeks off running doesn’t seem to help.
Even without that injury, though, I’ve realized in the past year or two that running at any pace has become increasingly difficult. There’s really no such thing as an easy run. I’m a parody of the runner I once was. I can accept slowing down, but when other injuries and aches are added to my arthritic knee, and I can’t even recapture a glimmer of the powerful, fast, natural runner I once was, then I know that the line between quitting running because I have to or because I no longer want to run is getting blurred.
My dilemma is: What do I write about/speak about when I can’t write about running? I always feel the pressure, whether as a running role model or as a Toastmasters speaker, to be positive and inspirational. People always want to hear my running stories. So my reaction, on this blog, has been—silence.
As for speaking, I’ve given people what they want. This spring I had some special opportunities to speak and didn’t want to turn them down. In April, I was asked to give a keynote speech about my “heroic Olympic journey” at the District 96 Toastmasters online conference. Although I instantly cringed at the use of the word “heroic,” I delivered the speech. My 13-year progression to the Olympics despite many obstacles was possible, I explained, not through any heroics of my own, but because of a combination of talent, luck (meeting a coach who recognized my talent in spite of scant evidence), hard work (yes, I can take some credit here), and all the support I received from my team (my husband, my coach, training partners, medical people, and countless volunteers and running aficionados).
I had another chance to speak when Kevin O’Connor and Ellen Clague from the Vancouver Falcons Running Club (VFAC) asked me if I could participate in their monthly “Coffee Coach’s Corner” (again online) as a guest speaker. This ended up being a 90-minute session where I spoke about my unlikely beginnings as a runner, my progression leading to the Olympics, my training philosophy, and my experiences on the US road race circuit as a professional runner, both when I was young and as a Masters runner in my forties. My talk evolved into a friendly discussion with multiple participants. I especially enjoyed reconnecting with some old running friends and reminiscing about the great Pinetree Classic cross-country races we took part in over multiple decades.
One unexpected side effect of preparing for this VFAC presentation was that it suddenly made all the stages of my life more visible to me than they had been before, more clearly delineated. It’s in retrospect that we can recognize these stages and patterns in our lives, and understand that although we’ve changed, and the building blocks of our daily lives (families, friends, homes, jobs) may have changed, we have core identities that never change completely.
Many people have said to me, “Once an Olympian, always an Olympian.” What I understand that to mean is that I can never lose all I learned, all I became, all the friendships I made and the places I travelled because of running. So many races and other running experiences are indelible.
I’m not old yet. I don’t live to rehash the past endlessly. That’s why I’ll refuse to write and speak about running exclusively. I’m excited about the editing project I’m involved in now. And I’ll never lose my drive to write. It’s been part of my nature since I was eight years old. But I’ve needed this period of silence to mull over what I want to write about.
This morning I woke up early.
It’s barely beginning to get light out so I guess it’s a little before 4:30. Tux cuddles with me and purrs. She climbs on top of me even though I have no coverings, and for once she’s careful with her claws.
I can hear, faintly, just a few birds. It’s not like springtime.
I know sleep will not come back. I feel the same sadness that has been my background emotion for a while now. I worry about Keith’s infirmity, the way he can’t seem to be aggressive enough to get the medical help he needs, my nagging sense that I could help him more.
I think about our recent Phoenix Running Club “reunion” in Mundy Park. It made me realize what a cornerstone of my social life our Saturday morning workouts had been for so many years. We closed down our club over a year ago because too many members couldn’t run anymore. Now we were saying goodbye to one of our most loyal and enthusiastic families before their permanent move to Winnipeg. And we were remembering one of our club’s long-term members, Jim Thomson, who had just passed away days earlier. Jim was a great contributor to our club; a Race Director for the Pinetree Classic and Mother’s Day races many times; and a fast runner into his 70s, often seen in the West Van Masters Mile. Plus he always called me “Young Lady.”
Once I get up and make coffee everything is better. How I love the peace and purity of early summer mornings!
I see that overnight, a small “incredibly fragrant” rose has opened. This bud survived the Heat Dome! So did the six sister buds on the plant that will soon be opening. Some of the leaves are scorched, but I consider it to be a small miracle that all these buds developed during our record-breaking Heat Dome days.
These lovely flowers remind me that it’s all right to be dormant for a while. This rosebush produced only one bud in May and then surprised me with all these later buds. I’ve regained my belief in my own resilience. I only need to be patient. There is so much energy, joy, writing—even running!—in me still.