Super Bowl Sunday: Who Are Your Champions?

Who Are Your Champions

It’s Super Bowl Sunday and the grocery store was packed. I mean packed. I don’t know why I didn’t think to get my weekly stash of life-sustaining food yesterday, but I didn’t. So I drove over there today, in a blizzard, parked on the lower level of the garage after driving through every row of the first level, and managed to push my way down the aisles for an hour without having a breakdown. Huge success, considering it was so crowded that they’d run out of hot sauce, and almost everyone in the store was packed into the condiments aisle waiting to see if it would be restocked.

As I was patiently waiting in the checkout line and handing over my coupons, it occurred to me that this is crazy. Continue reading

A Year in the Gym

A Year in the Gym

One year ago, I joined a local gym a little less than a mile from my apartment. One of my goals for the new year had been to start getting back into shape, so I found a gym that I liked that included fitness classes and I signed myself up. I figured if there was $40 being taken out of my bank account every month, I would force myself to go.

One year later, I’m proud to say that I’m still going.

Continue reading

7 Awesome Things about Running in a New Neighborhood

As you may or may not know, I have been haunting a new neighborhood lately. One more urban, more crowded and certainly more interesting. I’ve come to this neighborhood with plans and hopes and fears and dreams. I have ventured out into this unknown…

Part of my plan for exploring this vastly unfamiliar area is to run. After my first (and last) 5K, I stopped running for a little while. I figured I could celebrate my small and insignificant victory by taking a break. When I tried to start back up again, I was out of shape and my knees were bothering me. I needed to start slowly and that is hard. All I wanted to do was pick up where I’d left off.  Continue reading

Three Point One

5K copyFor some, it was a warm-up. They were stretching their legs, ready for some warmer weather and the beginning of spring. They were preparing for the real races down the road. Just another morning jog.

But for me, it was my greatest achievement. Well, as far as my running attempts go.
I finished my first 5K race on Saturday morning. I said I would do it, and I did.

I was most definitely not planning on running in the March Mad Dash. First of all, it is March. It’s cold and snowy and gray, and I like to run in nice, warmer weather. Second, I wasn’t prepared. I hadn’t been working hard enough at the gym and I wasn’t ready.

But my sister came home from school for spring break and it didn’t take too much to convince me. I like running with a buddy, and I will accept any motivation to get out and go. When she first asked me, I instinctively said no. And then I remembered my lifelong dream of running 3.1 miles and caved.

We registered in advance (couldn’t back out now) so when the day of the race came we got there early to pick up packets and get free T-shirts. (You know that’s really the only reason why I agreed to do it.) I was so eager to get there and warm up and get free stuff that I guess we got there a little too early. We ended up standing out in the cold for about 45 minutes. It was supposed to warm up later in the day, but at 8 AM, it was still hats-and-gloves weather.

As we walked from our car through the parking lot, we saw stickers on the backs of other people’s cars. 13.1… 26.2…140.3…I was so out of my element. We didn’t know where to go, or how the 5K course went. We were (are) such amateurs.

5K2

They told us to line up behind the starting line, according to how fast we thought we were in comparison to the other 750 people around us. Yeah right. I had no idea if I would be slow or fast compared to anyone. So I stood in the middle of the crowd with my sister, vowing to stay together. As it turns out, some people seriously underestimated their speed and tried to trample everyone in front of them, and some people seriously overestimated their speed and got trampled. More of the latter. And staying together? That didn’t work for very long. Too many people were ducking and weaving and dodging. We got separated, and, even though I maintain that I totally could have kept up, she pulled out ahead.

The whole race was kind of exhilarating. This gun goes off and this big mass of people starts moving, looking like a bouncing sea of bodies all headed in the same direction, slowly sprawling out into a long, snaking line. I played little games in my head–picked people to keep up with and people to pass. I tried to keep my stride longer than the person next to me, or my breathing more even. Just trying to keep it interesting.

Volunteers were standing along the sides offering drinks and encouragement. “Gatorade first, water second!” “Keep it up, you’re doing good!” I felt like a runner. Like someone who runs 5Ks all the time. Until I grabbed a paper cup of water and spilled it all over myself trying to drink and run at the same time.

I felt good until I got about 2.7 miles in. It was at that moment that one of the volunteers cheered, “You’re doing good! Just up the hill!”

“Up the hill?!” I screamed at him.

“You’re doing good,” he said a little more quietly. And I staggered past him.

This was a killer hill. At the end of a 5K. I had not expected a hill and so had run a little harder in the middle of the race than maybe I ought to have. So I basically died. I hadn’t eaten enough breakfast, so my stomach was audibly growling, I still had my gloves on, so I was hot and sweating, and pretty much felt like passing out.

I gave myself a tiny break about 3/4 of the way up the hill and let myself walk for approximately 15-20 seconds. Just long enough to take my gloves off. Then I picked it up and ran a little faster to make up the time.

On the way down the hill, I felt great. I felt like I could keep going, do the whole loop again, maybe do a marathon while I was at it…

My mom was cheering for me as I came into the finish line. My dad was fumbling around with a camera trying to figure out how to take a picture. My sister had beaten me by a few minutes. But I made it.

My official time was 28 minutes and 51 seconds. I came in 41st place overall for the 5K, out of 168 5K runners. I came in 10th in the 20-29 women’s age group (out of 39). Some 11- and 12-year-olds beat me. So did a 58-year-old. But that’s okay.

I successfully completed my first 5K race. On to the next one!

Post-race

Post-race

Tales of a Swimmer, Attempting to Run

My whole life, I have never been a runner. I have skinny flat feet, weak ankles, knobby knees and sore hips. I succeeded as a swimmer because I failed at everything else. I couldn’t kick a soccer ball, or run the bases. I was afraid of the balance beam and lacked the grace to dance on stage. Even a game of tennis contained more running than I could manage. I accepted the fact that I would never be a runner. That was okay. I love to swim.

But today, I ran around my entire neighborhood–without stopping, without walking. Let me tell you one thing–my neighborhood is no joke. The route that I take is about three miles and there are ten hills, varying in difficulty (most of them hard). So my run today was an accomplishment for any non-runner, especially me.

The beginning of my running journey

When I stopped swimming competitively almost two years ago, I knew I had to stay in shape. I wanted to stay active and try new things. I thought, What better place to try new workouts and activities than a college campus? But I found that I didn’t have as much free time as I’d thought. The idea of going to fun workout classes drifted farther and farther from my mind as I got more involved with the student television network and took on a part-time job. I did join UD’s yoga club and went to classes when I could. I went to open swim a few times and to the gym to ride a stationary bike.

But I found that the easiest thing to do was to run. No time limit, no gym or equipment necessary, no experience needed. I downloaded a free app for my phone called CardioTrainer and hit the streets. It was fun to track how far I’d gone, how many steps I took and how many calories I’d burned. I could also compare all of my past workouts. Last summer, I bought new running shoes, convinced that having new shoes would motivate me to run even more.

And yet, running is hard. It’s hard to tell myself to run everyday when I’m tired or sore, but if I miss more than a week I feel like I am starting all over again. I refuse to run in the rain or the cold or the dark. I prefer to run in the morning, but not the early morning. I can’t run after I eat, but I can’t run on an empty stomach. I hate running in the extreme heat of summer. I want the conditions to be perfect, the hills not too steep. In other words, I’m a picky runner.

My running goals

I’m never going to be a Runner, with a capital R. That’s never going to be me, so I’m allowing myself to be picky. I set a few goals for myself to keep me getting out there, and I have a community center membership where I can run on a treadmill when the weather isn’t ideal.

My first goal was to run around my neighborhood. For the past two years, I have tackled the hills of my neighborhood in various ways. I’ve tried running with the dog and without the dog. With my sister or my mom, and by myself. With my iPod, without my iPod. I’ve run the first part and walked the end, or vice versa. I’ve run up the hills and walked down them. I’ve run as far as I could then took a break. No matter how hard I’ve tried, the few roads that circle my house have defeated me every time.

Until today.

Another goal I’ve set more recently is to do a three-mile run once a week. It has usually been on the treadmill, since it’s gotten cold out, and I can easily keep track of the miles and speed. But there are no hills on a treadmill (none that I do) so today was a test. Run the three miles with hills. I didn’t think I would make it the whole way. I usually get about two miles in and slow to a walk. Today, however, I was feeling good. Today was a triumph.

My final goal is to run a 5K. Someday. A real 5K, where I get to register and get a little piece of paper with a three-digit number that I can pin to my shirt and a free T-shirt to show the world that I participated. You know, the whole shebang. And I want to not suck. So my efforts for now are to keep up my three-mile runs and continue running all the hills.

I thought that I hadn’t been getting any better. I couldn’t see any noticeable difference. But today I ran three miles with hills. Not bad for a swimmer. Like I said, today was a triumph.

(photo via)

Achieving Olympic Dreams: Running on Blades

Of all the inspirational stories that emerge from the coverage of the Olympics, the one that caught my eye a few days ago was that of Oscar Pistorius, of South Africa. He is called the Blade Runner, using prosthetics in place of both of his lower legs and feet. Oscar is quite literally a runner without legs. If that doesn’t inspire someone, what will?

He was born without fibulas and was not even a year old when his legs were amputated. Think about the kind of life he probably had, growing up. It’s hard enough to live in the hard world with all your limbs. And still he had Olympic dreams. He still knew that he could do more, even without his legs. And luckily, we do live in this hard world, because it enabled him to find a way around his “handicap.” Building him some prosthetic legs put him on the path to greatness. If only it could work like that for everyone with the Olympics in their sights.

Pistorius worked hard and has to have tons of natural talent in order to get where he is today. But he also has to be incredibly lucky. Not every double-amputee with or without prosthetic limbs ends up in the Olympics. He is lucky that he has the money to afford his state-of-the-art legs, and to replace them when necessary. He’s lucky that his case was reviewed and ruled in his favor to allow him to compete in this year’s Olympics. It can’t be easy for him. Why don’t you try running with no legs?

Yet there are still bitter critics saying that his artificial legs give him an unfair advantage; they give him spring in his step that other runners don’t have; they reduce his fatigue because there are no muscles there to use up oxygen and make him tired. But if he had such an advantage, wouldn’t there be more amputees running as fast as he is?

It might be easier for people to yell “unfair!” than to admit that their guy will get beat by a runner with no legs. We want everything to be equal and fair, but that’s not how the world is. It’s not even fair for the people who do have their legs. Some of those runners have had better coaching, or are in a geographically more agreeable country or city. Some athletes are better off financially and can concentrate on just running, while others are trying to hold a job and provide for a family. People aren’t going to come from the exact same circumstances, so can’t we call it unfair for everyone? Can we kick everyone out who we think is too old or too young, not allow someone to compete because they had more time to practice than we did?

His artificial blades were proven to not give him any extra spring. They are shock absorbing, like many running shoes claim to be, but they do not add extra power. I’m sure with today’s technology rapidly advancing, that power boost may  not be far behind. But of course, the Olympic committee would shoot down a competitor with a power boost in their feet, just as they would someone who takes performance enhancing drugs. There is obviously a line between artificial feet and rockets for legs.

It would not be easy to learn to walk on blades and certainly not easy to run fast enough to qualify in the Olympics. Whatever “advantages” this guy has, it is not his feet.  I salute him. I hope he runs the best he can and keeps up with the best of them. I hope he wins medals and proves to everyone that you can achieve dreams even with disadvantages like the loss of your legs. I hope he becomes an inspiration to other amputees in the world, and those who are trying to overcome major challenges in their lives. I do not, however, think that he should be able to compete in the Paralympics after the London Olympics. If he has the chance to prove how great he is now, he shouldn’t need to prove himself again, or against other amputees. He earned the right to compete in the Olympics and he deserves that. But no one else gets two tries. Now that is what is unfair.

As technology continues to improve and we become better able to make limbs for amputees, and give people the chances that they wouldn’t have otherwise had, we’re going to have to keep re-evaluating what is “fair” and who has the “advantage.” It is a continuous process, just as everything else dealing with rising technology is an ongoing process. With everything in a state of constant change, nothing is going to be cut and dry forever.

Oscar Pistorius proves that someone without legs can run in the Olympics. Hopefully this will open doors for others like him and we can continue to be supportive of all athletes who work hard and persevere through all the obstacles they are given.

And if he can run races in the Olympics, without legs, I can surely get off the couch and hit the gym once in awhile. Like I said, truly an inspiration…

 

image from usatoday.com

Olympic Dreams

 

This was the year I was supposed to go to the Olympics.

I started swimming competitively when I was nine years old. It was the only sport I could do well, with my flat feet and lack of running skills and hand-eye coordination. I became as dedicated as any swimmer could get. I was the first one in the pool, last one out, before school, after school, weight lifting. Never skipped a set or a lap. (Ok, rarely skipped.) I distinctly remember one of my old coaches sitting down with me to discuss my future in swimming. He asked what my goals were, whether it was getting a better time, beating a certain person, or going to the Olympics. I looked at him, all confused, and said, “Doesn’t every swimmer want to go to the Olympics?”

I calculated my age and the years that the summer Olympics were held and decided that I would probably be at my peak when I was 22 years old, for the 2012 Olympics. I figured I wasn’t going to be a Michael Phelps at age 15, but by 22, I should have it in the bag.

So, yes, this was the year I should have gone to the Olympics.

I would never have come close to the fast times that these Olympians are going. I would have been drowning in their wake as they swam circles around me. I was never, ever on track to swim that fast. I had the most drive and motivation a coach could ever want in an athlete, but you have to have more than that to be the absolute best. You have to have some kind of innate talent and ability that cannot be taught or learned. These Olympians are naturals to the point of having super powers. But children should have dreams. The goal of every young athlete should be to go to the Olympics. It’s what teaches them to work hard, never give up, shake off mistakes and learn to work even harder.

The Olympians, not just those competing in London right now, but all of the past and future Olympic athletes, are heroes and role models to so many people, especially children. I looked with awe and wonder at the massive shoulders of my heroes competing on television and I watched them break records and I wanted to be in their shoes someday. And that is where I learned my dedication and commitment and my drive.

I had posters of swimmers covering my bedroom walls when I was younger. I meticulously cut pictures out of magazines, even tiny pictures that were barely three inches wide. So many you could hardly see the wall. Pictures of Dara Torres, Aaron Piersol, Dana Munz, Misty Hyman, Natalie Coughlin, Brendan Hansen, Michael Phelps. When I took them down sometime in high school, I’m pretty sure I saved them, because I couldn’t bear to throw away my childhood idols. These athletes were the ones that kept me in the pool, made me go to practice, and helped me with my stroke. I imagined I was one of them when I practiced and raced. I watched videos about how Michael Phelps swims his butterfly, and I tried to emulate him. These athletes were and still are my heroes and convince me every day that great things can be achieved, with hard work and a dream.

Every kid in sports needs that. Every adult not in sports needs that. We need to be able to believe that impossible is possible, that dreams can come true. We can see it on the athletes’ faces– the smiles as they touch the wall, score the last point, finish the race– that this is the moment they prepared for all their lives, and we’re living that moment with them. Because those moments are our moments. Those were our dreams too and we might not be the ones competing in London, but that was our goal, that was supposed to be our Olympics. So we’re left to live vicariously through the ones who were lucky enough to be born with the natural talent that we didn’t get, the monstrous shoulders, the massive legs, the precise stroke, the better coaching and more pool time. It’s not difficult to see why we didn’t go, so we’ll settle. We’ll let them swim our races, let them win the medals. We’ll cheer with them and cry for them and our hearts will break for them, in their successes and failures. These are our heroes, representing the United States, representing all of the young athletes whose dream it is to get there, representing all the non-athletes who can still find joy in their triumph.

I will let them swim my races. Michael Phelps, Ryan Lochte, Dana Vollmer, Missy Franklin, Allison Schmitt, Cullen Jones…I guess they’re pretty good, they probably worked pretty hard. But by God, they better swim well. Because that was supposed to be me there.

 

(image from time.com)