As the product of two gymnasts, it was only natural for me to fall into that sport. When we were little, Mama taught in exchange for us to take beginners classes. I mostly remember lots of time on the trampoline. When we moved to Houston, my parents got me into a good local gym. I remember learning to do a back-handspring off a 12-inch deep mat. When we moved to Ohio I started at a facility that emphasized plenty of jumping rope and rope climbing; I took some time off and then went back to the sport and another gym after Bridget got interested. This last gym also focused a lot on conditioning (read: 500 sit-ups a practice, splits with each foot raised several inches off the floor, push-ups with heavy weights on your back).
I loved it, but I was not fearless enough be a competitive gymnast. I also had no clue how to control my own strength, which is pretty much the key to any sport. After several not-so-safe experiences with over-rotation, I tried to reign in my body’s power. Running across the mat only to under-rotate my back-handspring set me up with weakened ankles and plenty of landing on my knees. Forget aeriels or back tucks. Uneven bars were my favorite aparatus, but I was too scared of rips and falling to commit to the wild-but-controlled thrusting my body away from the bar. Forget release moves or even successful kips. The beam was my least favorite and combined my fear of heights with my fear of tumbling on narrow ledges. Then, there was the vault. I was terrible at the vault. If you’ve never tried it, you may not understand the complexities involved: proper vault height, the perfect distance between the springboard and the vault, the exact number of steps counted out back to the starting position, the affect of sweat/humidity/temperature on your feet; so very many things can go so. very. wrong. Like this:
Can’t tell you how many times I launched myself full-force straight into the side of the vault. Face. Plant. Man, that hurts. I loved hurtling down the strip toward that thing, never quite sure what would happen, very certain it wouldn’t be pretty. But that run was pretty much the only point in practice when I was more determined than afraid.
Along with gymnastics I tried myself at a number of ball sports: soccer, volleyball, basketball. I enjoyed being active and participating with a team, but I’m just not a very competitive person by nature. I like the effort; I like the physicality; I don’t really like the sweating; I enjoy pushing myself. But I just don’t care about winning. So after some intramurals in college, I stepped off the field for awhile.
After years spent mostly inactive, my friend Courtney took me out for a jog. I barely made it a mile. Sure, it was July, which is practically the worst month to be alive in Tennessee, second only to August, and I was pushing a jogging stroller, but I was devastated that I didn’t have the stamina to go further. ONE MILE?! I couldn’t make it any further without my lungs giving out or my legs seizing up?! I determined that must change.
The thing about running is that you’re mostly only competing with yourself. For me anyway, it’s not a sport about winning; it’s a sport about meeting a certain goal, pushing myself only to finish. It becomes more of a mental challenge than a physical one. I slowly began to train for a 5k (3.1 miles). When the heat never gave way, even into September, I quit. I’d made my 3 mile goal a number of times, but I thought screw that race, it’s too damn hot to be out here. Then I got knocked up and put off running for over a year and a half. When I started back last March I had to build back up to 3 miles, but I did quickly. Courtney recommended trying to run in a few races to stay motivated and stick with it. This past summer I began adding miles onto my runs, hoping to find a half-marathon or marathon nearby.
My friend James was in the same boat, getting back into running after more than a decade out of the sport. We started running together a few mornings a week until late fall when our schedules stopped lining up. We kept training separately, and I finally found a local race and asked James if he wanted to try it. When we signed up for the half-marathon in February, I think we both had hopes to just simply finish the race. We ran together just once after registering for the race.
I met James at his office at 7am; it was 23 degrees outside. He said, “Oh, I got you something.” Now, this rarely happens for me, getting random gifts, and it’s what you might call a little awkward when one of your friends, who is the husband of one of your other friends, says, “I got you something.” I waited, huddled in my jacket, as he pulls a record out of his backseat. “It was a quarter at Goodwill.” That’s a relief anyway; I won’t have to feel weird about you getting me something expensive. He turned it over and handed it to me. OH. MY. GOSH. I love my friends.
We ran our race this past Saturday. When I realized there would be a professional photographer on the road, I told James we had to pose like the cover of this record. And because we are epic and have bizarre senses of humor, we did.
Yes, I stole this photo. PeachSports.com wanted me to buy a 4×6 for $20, and that’s just not going to happen. Anyway, the photo merge is rough, but you get the idea of just how awesome we are. We ran 13.1 miles in 2 hours, 29 minutes and 25 seconds. Not fast; we didn’t win; but by-gum we finished. And we looked good doing it.