In fourth and fifth grade, I was heavy. I’m not sure exactly why. My parents always fed us healthy food. We had very few treats around the house. (Fig newtons were a cause for celebration.) I would ride my bike and walk to and from school – uphill both ways and all that. I think I just generally preferred to read and eat ice cream. Not much changes in 25 years, eh?
My parents never said a word about my weight. I wonder if this was a conscious decision. Maybe they thought that I would grow out of it with my next growth spurt (I did). Maybe they worried that harping on it would lead to bigger problems down the line. (I am thankful that I never had an eating disorder.) Whatever the reason, looking back I appreciate it; they never did anything to make my weight “a thing.”
What my dad did do, though, was get me running.
My dad was a marathon runner before it was cool. He was a marathoner back in the day when they didn’t make running sneakers. When running shirts were made of cotton, causing you to have to run around with two pounds of sweat attached to your chest. When cutting-edge running equipment was a brightly-colored sweatband. He finished Boston in under three hours. He made exercise a part of his daily life, and in turn, a part of ours.
My dad signed me up for a 5K the spring I turned ten. Although he never said anything, I’m guessing now this was a way to try to get my nose out of Gone with the Wind and into some actual wind. For our training runs, we would often run a lap around a nearby pond. The trails were well-maintained and clean. The air was fresh. The leaves had just sprung on the trees, creating an almost fluorescent lime-green newness to the world. I got to have my dad all to myself for an hour.
And I…. Well, I hated it. HATED it. I would dutifully lace up my Keds, put on a pair of jean shorts and head out there. But it was brutal. I was out of shape. I wanted to finish the chapter I was on. I didn’t understand the point of moving just for movement’s sake.
I was prone to bloody noses as a child, and I remember vividly running along the pond with my dad one time when my nose spontaneously started to bleed. “Hooray!” I thought to myself. “We can walk it home!” No such luck. My dad pulled out his omnipresent handkerchief, handed it to me, and we kept right on going.
The race that year ended up getting cancelled because of rain. (“Hooray! No race!”) So instead my dad measured out a 5K and we had our own personal road race. (No such luck.) My brother and my mom waited for us at the finish line. When we finished – me red-faced and panting, my dad like he just walked to the mailbox and back – he presented me with a medal that he won during one of his road races. I felt proud. I felt really, really out of breath. But I also felt proud. My dad pinned the medal to my shirt and told me he was proud too.
I still have that medal. It’s copper-toned with a red, white and blue ribbon. But my dad gave me much more than a medal that day. Against all odds, he planted in me a lifelong love of running. He taught me the importance of perseverance. He showed me that when the going gets tough, he would be there for me. And – not to be underestimated – he instilled in me the importance of always carrying a Kleenex.
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