I’ve been labeled. I ducked, I dove, I danced around it, I swerved to avoid – but it hit me nonetheless. It’s funny, I often joke with my husband that when we run together he needs a bull’s-eye painted on his back. Firstly, he runs faster than me, and secondly his directions are terrible. Obediently running left on his suggestion would often lead me into a hedge or another runner. Not that I don’t appreciate the attempt – we have just not had the time to train together enough to learn the guide signals. That’s what happens when you are temporarily passing ships in the sea. But this label had it in for me. It was thrown, no bull’s-eye needed, shear determination was steering it my way. And so it hit me, square on the shoulders.
However, unlike most labels, which carry under wing the weight of responsibility, this label lifted me up. Someone dared to call me an athlete; they were even brave enough to say it to my face. Of course their courage may have stemmed from their ability to get away before I could find them. Just wait; tripping over a white cane can really hurt.
To look truth square in the face is not only frightening, but emotionally exhausting. The kind of exhaustion that is akin to trying to win an argument with a two year old. It’s a sort of endless, unproductive, futile exhaustion that any parent, teacher or caregiver can attest to.
So, when you stop and ponder what ‘athlete’ means, what characteristics do you think about?
I think of strength – so here I think of my husband, who after hours and hours of work goes to the gym bright eyed and bushy tailed.
I think of endurance – so here I think of my lead guide who has and will run amazing distances constantly testing his limits.
I think of determination – so here I think of my sister who is determined to put time on the tread mill at the end of a crazy day with my adorable niece.
I certainly do not think; stubborn (don’t ever tell me I can’t do something as it’s very time consuming for me to attempt to prove you wrong), time management fiend (I literally know how many seconds I need in the morning to tie my running shoes taking into account that the toddler probably put something gooey inside), obsessively organized (all the knives in my drawer face the same direction), disabled mother of three children (10 going on 30, 7 going on 5, and 18 months going on two), and student (studying muscles on the tread mill is a great way to pass the time). No, I do not link the term ‘athlete’ with myself at all.
Labels have a way of being narrowing, or constricting. This label carries itself on the winds of passion. It comes to me softly in the night before an early morning run, whispering offers of health, healing and of course the promise of coffee and chocolate upon my return. There is also the added advantage of missing the first diaper change of the day. This simple adjective is self consuming, and brings itself full circle around you and your life goals. It makes no assumption as to your workout or dietary plans for the day. It doesn’t deliver punishment for running 6km instead of 7km. It doesn’t care that your time was ten minutes slower than yesterday. It simply murmurs quietly ‘I’m here, I’m waiting’.
Running for me is about a journey. In my timid beginnings and initial contacts with my guides, I spoke that I’d like to begin such a ‘journey of the feet’, but was leery as to how to get there. It was simple, I was assured, you get there by starting, by putting one foot in front of the other. You don’t attempt a camping trip by booking a hotel; you pack your tent. You do not need to be specially equip to begin something, you simply need to begin. That in itself makes you special.
Of course in every beginning there are many questions and riddles that need answering. The path beneath my feet is not always level. Indeed that ground sometimes seems to disappear. Early morning runs have a way or a mannerism of inspiring an energetic day. Zipping up the running coat (my fourth layer these days), slipping into the yak tracks (hopping on one foot while trying desperately not to fall and make enough ruckus to wake the sleeping kids) and turning the handle of my door in just such a way so as to avoid the squeak that comes if done too fast – It’s all part of a routine that spreads comfort through my mind and an excited calm within my bones.
There are many steps on this trail that have given me joy. My energy level is higher, which gives me more room to enjoy the endless energy my children seem to have. It’s also improved my sense of humour. Something I’m sure my husband appreciates. It certainly helps me appreciate when my eldest son brings me home an award from school for always washing his clothes.
The morning once a week when I venture to the gym to run inside, my routine is different and it offers me very different things. Pack the bag with school books, pack the bag for the gym, time the bus, start the laundry, and organize the kitchen so the kids can get to their lunches. The very last thing I do on my way out the door is check to make sure I have $1.25 for my coffee post run. The other day, I could not find it. Then remembering that I had paid my husbands library fine the day before, I went to his wallet to look for a replacement. Now this wouldn’t be a normal activity for me – going through my husband’s wallet. However if one of us is more likely to carry cash, it’s him. The house was dark, my time was almost up, and the bus would be coming soon. I searched through the money pocket with one hand, my other hand lugging all the bags that needed to come with me, my left foot holding the door ajar willing it not to squeak. Balance is not my strong point. Grasping what I found, I removed my hand holding two things (neither money); an appointment card for the dentist, and a folded lined piece of paper.
Now I am my husband’s biggest fan, and am not the jealous type. I fully realised that this was a letter, a hand written letter no less and carried in his wallet. A letter I had no business reading or touching or discovering. I was intruding and had breached a privacy in the name of coffee money. It’s amazing how the change of routine can make the whole morning seem altered and confused. However much I knew this was none of my business; I also had the thing in my grasp, in my hands already. What would you have done?
I regret to say I opened it – and then grunted so loudly I almost woke the kids. It was a letter, a love letter no less…. I struggled to replace the paper quickly and leave the house running to catch the bus. The rest of the day I had no coffee, but the adrenaline from my experience carried me through. I put one foot in front of the other; continuing my ‘journey of the feet’, letting the winds of passion carry me. Because you see….
The letter was from me.