While running the other day, I was thinking about Thanksgiving and all of the things for which I am grateful — health and family, of course, but also it occurred to me how thankful I am for the running partners I’ve had over the years.
When I was 13, I strapped on some running shoes and joined my dad — who was not a runner, but for some reason had decided to go for a jog. Afterward, he encouraged me to try out for my junior high track team, and so I did. I came home from each practice upset and frustrated because, quite frankly, I wasn’t very good. But my dad encouraged me to stick with it, and so I did.
I did not make the first team. However, on the day of the first meet, the girl who was to run the quarter-mile was sick, and they asked me to take her place. Much to everyone’s surprise, including my own, I won that race. I had earned a spot on the first team after all.
From my dad, I learned perseverance, and that hard work and dedication does indeed pay off.
I continued to run competitively through high school and college, with a host of teammates and friends who gave me moral support, camaraderie and, in some cases, a life-long bond.
After college, my mom rode her bike alongside me, as she did not want her young daughter running alone. Later, my hockey-player husband joined me. Both he and my mom showed me that sometimes, instead of doing things for yourself, it’s nice to do them for those you love.
Somewhere in the mix, a co-worker taught me the discipline of running in the early morning before the rest of the day could interfere; and a roommate taught me it was OK to miss a day now and again.
But despite these running companions and all that they gave me, I struggled with the transition from running competitively to running recreationally. It was not until I ran with my kids that I was able to come to peace with it.
On my very first Mother’s Day, my husband bought me a jog stroller. I pushed each of my kids in it until their feet were nearly dragging on the ground. I packed books and snacks and incorporated playgrounds into my courses to make it fun for them, but I soon realized it wasn’t necessary. We were exploring the world!
I was not only teaching my kids the importance of exercise, but I was helping them discover the great outdoors. We would stop and make wishes on dandelions gone to seed, marvel at perfect spider webs, collect different color leaves and feel the difference in the barks of varying trees. We examined cattails, watched turtles and frogs cross our path, contemplated cloud shapes and sometimes packed bread to feed the ducks.
I could finally see the big picture. I was not training for a race or trying to better my time — I was just running for the pure joy of running. That was the precious gift my kids gave me.
When they grew out of the stroller, I ran with other moms who gave me a social outlet, but mostly I ran by myself.
Now, don’t get me wrong — I cherished this “me” time when I was actually alone with my thoughts, but after awhile I started to miss having a companion, which leads to my current partner — my dog.
Some may say, "What in the world could you possibly get out of running with a dog?" Well, I say plenty. It is my dog who gives me the motivation to run no matter what the weather. She exemplifies determination, as I know she truly believes that one day she will catch that squirrel.
And leave it to a dog to remind us humans about the simple joys in life. When she runs freely, her ears flying back, her eyes wide with excitement and tail curled so happily it bounces off her back, it always makes me smile — and I find myself embracing the wind in my face and fresh air in my lungs. Her happiness makes me happy, and what a great gift that is.
So, thank you Dad, Mom, all of my teammates and friends, to my co-worker, roommate and fellow runner-moms. Thank you to my husband and to my kids — and yes, even my dog. For what I’ve learned from all of you has shaped my life.
And while my running path continues, it has indeed come full circle. Not long ago my 13-year-old daughter strapped on some running shoes and joined me for a run. I wonder with great anticipation where her path will lead, and what she will gratefully learn along the way.
— By Tribune community columnist Kelly Kalis