It’s pretty hysterical really. Watching me run a race, or run anywhere. I have way too much heft in my mid section to look like a runner. And I run slower than most people walk. But I have completed three 5K’s in the last 4 months. The first one was in 95 degree heat running up and down the ramps in Gillette Stadium. In the last two, on much easier courses and under cooler temperatures, I finished last. Dead last. No one behind me but the truck to come take down the finish line.
Most people would look for some other way to get exercise, for some other way that allows for less assumed humiliation. Like when the elderly woman in the pic above was in front of me and finished before me in one race. All I saw was the back of her, which, by the way was pretty fit. After the race I asked her if I could take her picture because I wanted to remember the person who gave me inspiration to keep running. I just kept thinking, you can’t let this woman finish without you, she’s on the other side of 70. And she’s doing it. She’s trotting along then stopping to walk a bit, just like me. Just a wee bit faster.
“You were ahead of me for quite a while,” she smiled, and I agreed. Just not long enough. “I’ve been running for over 30 years and I love it. So don’t give up, you’ll get better over time.” What a sweet little lady with calves that I can only wish for at the moment.
The race this past Saturday was on Blackstone Boulevard in Providence, not far from Brown University, and the elite educated of our state. Sponsored by a local runner group, the race was free, so a few friends and I figured why not. One friend has been running for over a year and she’s evolved into this fantastic athlete, lost weight, gained confidence – just a real success story and I’m overjoyed and so proud of her. The other friend is a former athlete and easily jumped right back into pace. Then there’s me.
I have never been considered an athlete. Sure I was bigger and taller in elementary school and sure played a mean kick ball. And I played wiffle ball with my friends Kim and Joanne, Kim’s younger brother and his friends for what seems now like almost every day after school, out in the street, until it got dark probably. I took tennis lessons at the local park the summer of my 10th birthday , and the instructor, who would later become my home room teacher in high school, took a liking to me, calling me Lefty, because I am, and so was he. So I could play the game, I knew how, I appreciated it and I understood it. But nine weeks does not a star athlete make. I loved tennis, loved watching the blonde , cool gorgeousness of Bjorn Borg on TV, battling it out with John McEnroe usually. But if I played now I would probably have a massive stroke trying to keep up. Someday.
I played softball on a town rec team in 8th grade, on a team Joanne’s father coached. She was a good infielder; I was carefully placed in right field because I was not a good fielder at all, and when I did get the ball I usually froze, intimidated by all the girls my age who had been playing and received constant coaching since first grade. But I was a natural hitter and I was really fast. So I didn’t totally suck.
As a young adult I always belonged to a gym, took aerobics classes. Another great sight was me watching myself dance one way while the entire class moved the other way. They used to have those big mirrors on the walls in those days and I just wanted to cringe the whole time. But I never gave up.
When Jeremy and I met in the early 90’s I played slow pitch softball with him, on a real team. You see, the team was supposed to be co-ed and that meant they needed a minimum oftwo women on the field at all times. I played catcher and absolutely reeked. I played second base once and almost had a nervous breakdown. Luckily the shortstop was a kind person and helped me when I froze. But even then, I did well offensively. I could hit, lay down a pretty decent bunt, and I run out a throw to first.
So, you see, I am not unfamiliar with being an amateur, or making a fool of myself. I’m actually very proficient. Coming in last really in a race full of string beans doesn’t bother me. Watching children and elderly people pass me while I am killing myself with every step just makes me laugh. I simply turn up the Jonas Brothers even louder and slip back into that place where I’m not thinking, just moving.
Next year I am going to run over the Pell Bridge that spans from Jamestown to Newport, Rhode Island. It’s a four mile run that starts at 6:30 in the morning at the beginning of November each year. I can imagine the chill, the sharp air cutting into my lungs, the steam snorting out of my nostrils, the exhilaration at being so high on that beautiful suspension bridge that I used to believe was heaven when passing over as a little girl in my father’s car. I am going to make it to heaven again, next year, and if I’m the last one over so be it.
I think physical struggles like these are important for me to overcome, as a woman, as someone who is overweight and out of shape, and as someone who never heard anyone say ‘you can do it’ growing up. I think everyone assumed that because I was ‘the smart one’ who got perfect grades in school, stayed out of trouble, and did as I was told, that there was no need to prompt me when it came to physical activity. But aside from school work, I had no confidence in myself as a physical person. Always feeling out-of-place, awkward and not beautiful or graceful as a physical entity.
These are some of the struggles my new main character faces in ‘Don’t Call Me Pound Cake.’ I hope I capture the feelings of helplessness and then, empowerment that all have to come from within, that must be nurtured from the outside, and then kept alive by the individual. And the ability to laugh at yourself without ridicule. Humor is essential to sanity and growing up and beyond. So I’m hoping it’s a fun read with a helpful message. Stay tuned. I’ll keep running in the meantime, and hopefully finish next to last next time. Or not.