Super balls and Red Ball Jets

Lancaster HouseI grew up in a four-square house south of Lancaster, Pennsylvania.  I loved that home for a million reasons, but mostly because our family was all together when I was 5-12 years old. Flawed as we were, there were many joyous days.

The period we lived in our Lancaster home was also a unique time in American history. We moved there in 1962 when I was five and lived there through 1970 when I was about to turn thirteen. The world changed right before our eyes. News that John F. Kennedy was shot came through when I was on the playground at Willow Street Elementary. The Vietnam War raged. Civil rights protests flared. Then Bobby Kennedy was shot. Martin Luther King, Jr. too.

All the while, the songs of the Beatles rang through our four-square home. It started with Love Me Do and rattled all the way through to Why Don’t We Do It in the Road on the White Album. I admittedly struggled at times to understand it all. Then the Beatles broke up I was twelve years old. That spring, my father announced that we’d be moving away from our Lancaster home to Illinois. It felt like my world was falling apart.

My 7th-grade friends held a going away party.  The presents included the Beatles single record Get Back on 45 RPM. I played that 45 with the Red Apple on it . The music sounded and felt so bittersweet. Get Back…get back…get back to where you once belonged…

But I couldn’t. Our family was moving away from Pennsylvania. All that love and innocence and coming-of-age experience from our Lancaster home was packed in yellow and green Mayflower moving boxes and stuffed in a big  truck that sat in our dour driveway with sadness written all over it. We got in the car and drove to Illinois, which was 750 miles away.

All good children go to heaven

That day, my brothers and I piled into the back of our 1965 Buick Wildcat as dad pulled the car into gear and we rolled down that long driveway the last time. We felt sad. We felt lost. We felt torn from our friendships and ripped from that house we loved.

But our father had found work out in Illinois and that meant we had to move. As we drove up Route 222 toward the Pennsylvania Turnpike, my oldest brother and I put our heads together and quietly sang the entire medley off the back of Abbey Road. The lyrics covered almost all of life and included things to come for both of us…out of college, money spent…and in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make. 

But what a childhood. No regrets there. And it’s funny what you retain from periods of great change and joy. Here are just a few.

Rat Finks

Rat FinkThe period of my elementary to junior high school days was a time of great change in children’s toys.

Technology was starting to deliver all kinds of wonders, including incredibly pliable plastics that enabled the creation infamous toys such as the Rat Fink line. These grossly detailed creatures captured the revolutionary snark of the 60s and the disdain of a New Generation toward authority and The Man.

Super Balls

super ball.jpegNew kinds of rubber were being developed from space research and material experimentation. These included the first amazing Super Balls that bounced so high and far it was easy to lose them in the weeds if you couldn’t catch up.

Super Balls were so superior to cheap red foam rubber balls that hardly bounced at all. You could slam those stupid red foam rubber balls on the ground and they’d still barely make it over your head. They were the height of mediocrity. There was a life lesson in that too.

Super Balls, by contrast, made us believe in the possibilities of a better world. The feel of that hard compressed rubber in your hand was like owning magical powers. The sensation of sending that ball so high in the air was a release of emotion as well as energy.

Red Ball Jets

Red ball jets.jpgTo go out and play, we all wore tennis shoes or “sneakers,” as we called them.

I ran around in a brand called Red Ball Jets. It always bummed me out when that little tab of rubber with the Red Ball would come off one of the shoes. And it always would.

Then I’d have to pull the other little Red Ball off the back because my childhood version of OCD would not allow me to leave one Red Ball on the back of my shoe and not have another.

But while those red dots lasted, I’d go running around the yard glancing back at how they looked as I ran in my Red Ball Jets. And yes, I once ran into a tree while doing that.

But I swore they made me faster. One of life’s other lessons is that what you believe about yourself is as important as the reality you face. Certainly that proved true in the world of sports.

Branding and self-perception

Thus I experienced, in some small way, the power of brand marketing and self-perception. It would come true again with the running shoes I’d wear years later in cross country and track. I was a high-school runner when Nike first emerged on the market. Then came college and along came Brooks. Etonic. New Balance. Reebok. Tiger. 

The list of new running shoe brands kept growing, and has never stopped. Runners keep trying and trying, in essence, to find their next pair of Red Ball Jets so they can go faster.

As the saying goes, you’re only young once, but you can be immature forever. 

And forever it shall likely be. Life is filled with both the joyous and the bittersweet. What never changes is our desire to find our way back home somehow. I cherish those childhood memories. But I also cherish the child that still remains within me.

And my belief in Red Ball Jets shall never wane.


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Nude selfies and other truth-telling

Don’t worry. You’ll find no nude selfies of me in today’s blog.

But let’s be honest here. We all take them once in a while. If not nude, then at least partially clothed to check on our bodies. How do we look?

Chris In White ShortsTaking photos of ourselves is a patent form of truth-telling or self-revelation. Way back in 1979 I snapped this photo of myself in a mirror with my Olympus OM-1 camera. I wore white cutoff jeans and a blue running tee shirt. My hair was blonde from the summer sun and my thighs tanned from hundreds of miles running in the short shorts of the era. I thought I looked pretty good. 6’1″, 140 lbs.

Those were fun times, and those shoes I’m wearing are Brooks Varus Wedge, one of first running shoes designed with an orthotic dimension inside. Our coach bought them for all of us during cross country season when we came down with achilles problems after a particularly hard interval workout done on a country road with a profound slant to the asphalt.

Broad narratives

It was a solution that worked for some of us because it helped us supinate (foot angled outward) rather than pronate (foot collapsing inward.) To tell the truth that was a broad-based attempt at curing injury. For some, it did not work at all. Yet that step toward achilles health enabled us to get through a tough period in training and go on to place second in the NCAA Division III National meet.

So much truth-telling is like that. We make up a narrative for ourselves that covers a given moment in time and that’s what we come to believe. It happens even in the present. Which is why nude selfies can be such a shock to the senses.

I really look like that? 

Over time we learn how to take pictures that are far more flattering. Every guy who takes a dick pic sooner or later learns how to use the camera to make his unit look huge. Women learn how to make their breasts or butts look inviting. Nude selfies are an art unto themselves.

Self Survival

We learn to flatter ourselves on many fronts. It’s a self-survival tactic. Craving feedback and compliments or a cure for loneliness, some take the nude selfie thing a bit further and willingly post their nude selfies on sites that draw millions upon millions of views. One could say that it’s a form of truth-telling. Certainly there’s no excuse for anyone growing up these days not to know what the human body really looks like.

Has it ruined our culture? Turned kids into absolute sex fiends? Probably no worse than forty, sixty or one-hundred years ago in the 1920s. The Roaring Twenties, remember? Ever seen the movie Chicago? Lust is evergreen, folks. Nudity and the perpetual tease is part of the human race going all the way back to bible times. Even Adam and Eve walked around naked, and King David lusted after Bathsheba,

and David sent someone to find out about her. The man said, “She is Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite.”

Spirit and soul

Nudity is ostensibly able to reveal the spirit and the soul. The human body is thus the subject of thousands of years of art. One of the most revelatory experiences I’ve ever had was to sit in a Life Drawing class six hours a day during a January Interim term. The class had live nude models, both male and female. Our instructor played classical music over the sound system and there were times when I’d completely lose myself in the process of studying the human figure while trying to balance line, shading and texture. There was nothing sexual about it.

And I remember a pose the model took in which she was curled almost like child pose in yoga. Her arms were tucked around her head. The slope of her back was so wonderful and clean. Her nude figure was pale and serene. The glimpse of her vagina from behind was both mysterious and so commonly real that it defied the notion of sexuality. It was just part of her. An honest part, for sure. But just part.

These days, with the Internet rife with billions of women and men in every pose imaginable, the honesty is almost too much at times. It can numb the senses to try to be creative in the face of all that.


Pastel drawing by Christopher L. Cudworth 2018 “Reddit World”

Yet art can lift us past the taboo into the realm where honesty and truth are far more engaging than the basic instincts of lurid attention or lust. Those have their purpose in this world. There is nothing wrong with sex. It depends on context and the focus of the moment. People who lose sight of that have problems engaging with the real world. That’s why some object so strongly to pornography.

But it’s still just the human body. I well recall drawing the shape of a man’s penis the first time in art class. The flaccid fall of the shaft. The round turn of the testicles. It was just that. The women in the class squirmed at first while facing the model and staring at the penis. Then it all became drawing what they saw rather than what they sought not to encounter. Penises are honestly sort of sad in some sense. But as Henry Miller once wrote, they can also look downright murderous.


Detail of pastel drawing “Reddit World” by Christopher L. Cudworth 2018

Years later I went back to my college campus and while there, visited the art studio of a student in the art program. My college art instructor was by then a personal friend who showed me around the new art building and the row of small houses converted for use by advanced students as personal workshops. We stepped into one of those studios to encounter large, colorful paintings featuring bold male nudes sporting huge erections. The works were actually executed quite well, so you could not miss the subject matter. We both kind of chuckled and realized how much times had changed.

Was it pornography..?  “the portrayal of sexual subject matter for the purpose of sexual arousal.”?  It didn’t matter. An artist has a right to portray what they like, or don’t like, about the human condition. Sometimes such imagery is used for the opposite purpose. There are passages in the bible that depict women lusting after men with genitals the size of donkeys. This is intended to convey a sense of depravity and lack of self-control.

Or was it just plain jealousy? There’s a hint of that in the passage too. The bible was written by men, after all. Many men are often intimidated by the virility of their perceived enemies or those they fear might steal their women.

Comparing ourselves

The inevitable instinct of all nude selfies and any such truth-telling is that we seek to compare ourselves with others, and with ourselves.

It’s all about how can we make ourselves look better to others, and to ourselves. Of course that’s a constant process. And just like craving junk food versus real food, sometimes we deceive ourselves.

Go ahead and take a surf through the Instagram app and you’ll find thousands of fitness buffs posing to show off their BEFORE and AFTER bodies. Some of the results really are impressive. Then the admiration gets tossed around, and it crosses all lines of sex and gender.

You go girl!” shouts one woman to another woman.

“Nice pecs bro!'”  says one admiring male to another.

Let’s stop pretending this isn’t all normal.

Manufactured truths

It’s all a form of truth-telling. Yet it’s also the truth we manufacture for ourselves that ultimate determines who we are. That’s the really hard thing to get past. To accept. To embrace. And to transcend.

Some say the camera doesn’t lie. But that’s not really true either. We can make  a camera do almost anything we want. The honesty to know and admit that fact is the truly rare commodity in this world.

To move past our vanity and find beauty in that honesty is the sexiest thing on earth. Try it sometime.

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Changes in latitude, changes in attitude

Evan in HelmetThat young man in the photo is my son, Evan Cudworth.

He lives in southern California.

When he moved there a year ago, he mentioned that he wanted a change in latitude.

If I recall correctly, he described it this way. “Everywhere I’ve been, even in Europe and China, I was on the same general latitude.”

That might not be exactly true. But you get the picture.

He wanted to make a profound change in his life. Perhaps it would be good to go somewhere warm. Maybe by the ocean. And how about Venice Beach, California? So he went.

He’d lived in New York City a few years and was living there in 2013 when we lost his mom to cancer. The grief from her passing proved a rough journey with depression always lurking in his soul. The party scene proved tempting. Like all 20-somethings, the experience proved a rite of passage in many ways.

Cleveland.RockHallHe tried moving to Cleveland after that, but despite the Cavaliers winning the NBA championship and finding a decent place to live in the Lakeland district, he still craved more from life.

I visited him during his time in Ohio and we went to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame together. We had a fun time, but how many suits worn by David Bowie and Michael Jackson can one really endure before wanting to move on in life?

Evan took his job with him out to California, but the startup for whom he’d been working a couple years was giving up after all. That meant a gap in time and employment to really think things through. He’s a strong kid, and works out doing CrossFit, but those of us that have been through periods of employment transition know that it’s tough getting up every day without that work foundation beneath you.

Like son, like father. I’ve been through all that too.


Many years ago I wrote a book titled Admissions about a college counselor working through life’s challenges. It centers around a fictitious college in Wisconsin called the University of Wisconsin-Dells that is funded by tourism. Many things that I predicted in that book composed in the early 1980s have come true in the present. In fact, my prescience almost frightens me. I plan to transcribe it from my old Mac computers into publishable form.

Life tectonics

Outside predictions about the futures, the philosophical point of the book (circa 1984) is that we all have to admit our flaws to really make progress life. I also wrote about a concept called Life Tectonics, in which the various aspects of our character (along with other people and events) crash together over time like continents on the surface of the earth. What ultimately emerges is the map of our being. I wrote about this concept a good twenty years before Dave Matthews recorded his song Crash…

Oh and you come crash
Into me, baby
And I come into you
Hike up your skirt a little more
And show the world to me

I often think about that concept of life tectonics while riding my bike. I’ve crashed a few times and each one has taught me valuable lessons about paying attention and dealing with surprise, fear and the consequences of ignoring all of the above.

Well as they say, so much of life is like father, like son. Recently my son Evan was riding his bike in Santa Monica and found himself bearing down on a car at full speed. I’ll let him tell the story as he shared it on Facebook:

Bike crusher back window.jpg“Had a pretty scary experience yesterday, and want to share what it gave (and took from) me.

Biking from work, I made a hard right turn in Santa Monica where there is a fairly steep incline down to the ocean, and there was a car pulling into a garage. I tried to break, but it was slightly wet and I slid at pretty much full-speed into the back of a Toyota. My shoulder and head destroyed the window, while my body and bike massively dented the car.

It could (should?) have been REALLY bad. Despite repeat warnings from smart friends, I wasn’t wearing a helmet. Yet I walked away completely unharmed. Although my jacket is shredded from the glass and the water bottle in my backpack cracked and I initially thought the gushing was blood LOL.

The man driving the car got out and was immediately concerned about my safety. He didn’t even look at his car. His English was decent, but he didn’t quite have the words to describe what he wanted so he just kept saying, “Go to doctor, buddy!”

After much reassurance, we exchanged information and I tried to go work out at Paradiso CrossFit Venice cause I felt FINE but my coaches smartly told me to just do a stretching WOD for an hour 😉

This man called me 4 more times last night “sure you ok buddy?” I kept asking him what he was going to do about his car. Technically, this WAS my fault. But his insurance wouldn’t cover. There are not clear rules on these kinds of bike accidents.

Car driverHe called to check up on me again today and I asked him again if he had a damage assessment. He was hesitant to say, but when he gave me the figure I gasped—it was almost exactly the same $ I won playing roulette in Vegas this week. I had planned to use those winnings to pay down some of my massive credit card debt, but hey. After talking a bit more, found out he was a line cook at a hotel bar I’ve frequented.

Karma only exists if we make it. So I biked over and met him on his shift. We hugged and I apologized for ruining his week. He said, “Buddy, you are still here! Week is good.”

Wear your helmet and do the right thing. Thankful and wishing you all a good week.”

This incident happened just last week. I called my son to discuss it a bit further and to make sure he wasn’t experiencing any side effects that he might be dismissing. People that haven’t been in a bike crash before often don’t realize how sore it can make your body for days, even weeks after.

“Seriously, I’m fine dad,” he assured me. “I don’t know why, but my body crushed the window but nothing hurts.”

I’ve had one crash like that. I’ve also had others that hurt like hell. I’m glad he’s experiencing the former, not the latter.

Chips he wonHe also explained to me how he won the money playing roulette in Las Vegas during an electronics show he attended for the company where he now works, Epidemic Sound.

I won’t give away the number he plays or the method he uses to win (more than $700!) but it has its benefits. Most of all, he knew to walk away when he was ahead. That’s a life lesson if you ever saw one.

To conclude the episode, this was definitely a Life Tectonics experience for my son. Some might say an angel was looking out for him. If so, well that’s nice.

Others might say he was damn lucky not to get seriously hurt, and perhaps a bit stupid for not wearing his helmet. He’s admitted that, and has now corrected that flaw with a helmet he now wears proudly while riding his bike around Venice and Santa Monica. Here’s what he wrote to his followers on Facebook:

Bike helmet galThanks for all the well wishes and I hope my bike crash story can bring some caution and compassion into the world this week. Helmets are sexy! — at WeWork Santa Monica.

 As you can see from the photo here, one of his friends posted a photo of herself with a rad helmet and super cool shades. That shirt is super beautiful too. Cyclists in helmets don’t have to be nerds, that’s for sure.
Changes in latitude, changes in attitude. Nothing remains quite the same. 


Posted in aging, aging is not for the weak of heart, bike accidents, bike crash, bike wobble, blood on the highway, Christopher Cudworth, cycling, cycling the midwest, cycling threats, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

It isn’t rocket science

As kids, my brothers and I would make rockets by wrapping aluminum foil around pencils to create the fuselage, which we’d fill by cutting match heads off paper matches. These would fill the cylinder from front to back. Then we’d pinch the back end of the “rocket” into a dovetail point with one or two match heads sticking out the back. Then the rocket was ready to launch.

We’d put it on a slight incline in order to create a little lift. This enhanced the dramatic effect because it didn’t really amount to the same thrill when your rocket shot off the platform and fizzled to death in the grass.

Matches-with-PennyA really good rocket would shoot from five to ten feet through the air and then lie smoldering on the sidewalk or somewhere in the grass. It is a wonder we never caught anything else on fire. That didn’t happen because we were smart enough to know that any accident would mean a permanent end to our fun. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that.

These rocket-making endeavors might occupy a couple hours on a summer afternoon. Strangely enough, my parents would fund these endeavors with the purchase of boxes of “paper” matches. Or perhaps we simply raided the pantry on a whim and our mom just didn’t care as long as we were outside and keeping busy. Such were the 1960s.

Each pack contained probably 24 cardboard matches. These we’d cut off at the head, careful not to waste any of the precious “fuel” at the end by cutting them too close. Yet we also wanted to avoid leaving too much paper “waste” attached to the match heads. We learned, in other words, to respect our craft.

It’s interesting how the native instincts of a child operate on projects such as these. When given the opportunity to learn, most kids do quite well by trial and error. The same held true while learning to play basketball or baseball. Through constant repetition and experimentation, we learn to adapt our methods toward better results.

This continues all through life if we keep our childlike minds open to possibilities. During the peak training months of summer, I can often find my wife with her bike up on a stand while she hand-spins the pedals around testing the flow of the gears on the cassette. It’s a pleasing sound to hear the chain whirr and the gears shift. She says nothing for the most part while doing this exercise. Her attention is fully occupied on the task at hand. Literally.

Usually, she’ll come inside after a while and make some observation about how the drive train is operating. She’s not mechanical in terms of being Mrs. Fixit, but she sure has a sense when something is wrong. More than once she’s carted her bike into the shop for a tuneup and the mechanic confirms her suspicions.

I’m not mechanical at all. After fifteen years of cycling, I still can’t tune my derailleur or adjust the tension on the brake pads. That’s why I bring my bike to the shop for checkups. Without that, the thing would fall apart underneath me.

paper-matches-257x300.jpgThat doesn’t mean I’m benign to problems. I sense them well enough when things get loose or weak or the chain rattles. Parts wear out. Things get stretched. We depend on instincts in many cases. It isn’t rocket science.

Yet I think back to those early experiments with match rockets and realize that we were literally engaging in rocket science. We had to be cautious and smart with our materials. The balance in thickness of the aluminum foil we wrapped around the pencil to make the rocket had to be calculated against the total thrust and explosive power of the fuel load, which was matchheads.

My brothers were fond of engaging in such experiments. Once my brother and his friend Marty spent an hour constructing a Mega Rocket. They wrapped aluminum foil around a toilet paper roll instead of a pencil. It took almost an entire box of match packs to fill that damned rocket. It sat there on the launch pad all wrinkled and thick like a turgid penis. We all had a laugh at that.

Then Marty took a match and struck it against the black strip on the pack. It was launch time. The first match lit and sputtered at the back and then the real fire began. Inside the rocket the match heads exploded in a furious release of energy.

Then we had liftoff. It blew out the back of the rocket and blackened matchheads were left behind like the detritus of a volcanic eruption. The rocket lurched up the pad and blasted into pieces just beyond the first length of sidewalk.

We all cheered because it was a spectacular deal even if it was not an entirely successful flight. Years later when the Challenger space shuttle exploded after launch I would recall that attempt of ours to build a badass rocket. It’s not easy. These days the SpaceX crews send rockets into space with relative frequency. They have brilliant minds at work. Real rocket scientists sending hundreds of thousands of pounds of equipment out of earth’s gravity into space.

Earth View Four.jpgThe principles at work in all this are maddeningly consistent. It’s always a question of weight versus propulsion capacity. It’s true with our bikes. It’s true with our running. It’s true in the pool. It’s all weight versus propulsion.

The matchheads we place in our bodies are the food we eat, the drinks we consume and the energy bars we pack into our bodies hoping to sail through yet another workout or race.

It’s not rocket science. But it works like that. Weight versus propulsion. Think about it next time you’re on the road or in the pool. Go light a match. Or more.

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Cold, hard facts

IMG_2764We’ve been spending some good time on the indoor track, seeing results in our efforts. As a specific result, my wife Sue is learning the beauty of speed training and how it makes your base pace and even your race pace feel more achievable.

That’s why we all do speed training of any type. In the pool. On the bike. On the run. It raises our capacity while it diminishes our perceived effort. Pretty cool huh?

There is a challenge that comes with doing speed work that has nothing to do with how fast we perform “in the moment.” It’s great when we can exceed our expectations on the track, doing long pulls on the bike or nailing our pace-per-100 to the pool wall. Because when it comes to speed work, we still have to transfer that to our other training and race pace in open applications.

By that, we mean going fast when it counts in other places. It’s tricky when the wonderful, empiric world of the indoor track is so clean and neat. The environment and the distance are under relative control. There’s not even any wind!

IMG_9058Which is why I laughed in disgust yesterday after doing a 4.5 mile training run outside. It was cold, just under ten degrees, and a ten mph wind was coming from the west. But I traipsed along with a quick leg turnover to cover the miles. Granted, I ran much slower on the paths of a forest preserve during the run, so in essence that was a period of jogging.

Yet Strava delivered the hard, cold facts. According to the app, I’d only averaged 9:16 per mile. And I thought: “Bullshit. I know how I’m running faster than that.”

My wife had even pulled up next to me during the run. She was on her way to do some errands and at that point, I was trucking along pretty well. I told her it frustrated me that the run was only 9:00 pace. “That’s weird,” she said. “You were running way faster than that when I saw you.”

But according to Strava, I was only doing 8:45 pace at that point. Well, we’ve been running 8:00 pace and under on the indoor track on all our intervals together. On my solo workouts indoors, the pace drops to 6:20 on my 400s at some points. So I know how fast I’m going.

Trouble is, this trend toward as lapse in perceived performance versus real performance has a long history. In college we’d run fast indoor times and have massive trouble converting that speed into outdoor racing. My junior year in college I raced sub-4:20 on the indoor track. But when it came to the first outdoor race, I did not even break 4:30 for several meets. Part of that had to do with conditions as well. It would be cold or the track was wet. We raced home meets on cinders back then. Wind was a problem in April too. It would be late April at the Drake Relays before some of us would accomplish respectable outdoor times to match our speed indoors.

Usain grabbingWe all have this challenge of translating speed from the treadmill or indoor track or pool to the outside world. Open water swimming can be quite the vexation for those accustomed to doing laps in the pool. You have to swim straight, for starters. And you have to negotiate other people, on top of that. There might be waves to consider or even current. In the Louisville Ironman that Sue did last October, the swim starts upstream in a channel of the Ohio River. Then the swimmers get out into the main body of water and the current pushes swimmers out toward the middle of the water. Even the overall direction of the water doesn’t help if one goes with the wrong flow.

The cold, hard facts of the world outside our speedwork is the reality we must navigate. Take that into account when you go from controlled circumstances to the open road or water. It’s a reality we all must face, and it teaches a ton of lessons in the long run.

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Coyotes and poodles

Coyote licking.jpgOur home backs up to a wetland. There is a pack of coyotes that frequent the wilds back there. They feed on rabbits and other furry edibles. Recently, they also snatched a neighbor’s poodle.

I met the owners that morning, a distraught mother and daughter. They were half-walking, half-running down the trail when I approached them coming in from a run. The mother had that look in her eyes that all mothers do when they know something is seriously wrong. The daughter trotted 20 yards behind her, a wild and worried look in her eyes as well. She looked so vulnerable and alone the whole world seemed amiss.

They told me the dog’s name, and asked me to keep an eye out. Over the years during runs and rides, I’ve caught up with a few wandering dogs and used the number on their tags to called their owner on the phone. Glad when that happens.

Two days later at a neighborhood party, I learned the fateful truth. The lost dog, a small poodle, had been snatched by a pair of coyotes. A neighbor witnessed the event by sound and let the family know their dog would not be coming home.

Coyotes.jpgThere are plenty of ways to look at that event. It’s a dog-eat-dog world… is one of them. We all know the world can be a harsh and cruel place. Whenever I watch one of those World War II movies set in Poland or France, I think about the desperate people bombed from their homes and wandering the streets with nowhere to go. I think of the soldiers marching through with weapons raised, the untold mission or more mayhem in mind. In some circumstances, they can’t stop for anyone. Orders must be followed. People are left like poodles in the rain. Or worse.

Our own family dog was rescued off the streets of Chicago by my son and a friend eight years ago. Our pup is a schnoodle or something of that order. We don’t know the real mix and don’t care that much to know. He does have a bit of separation anxiety. You can imagine why. He was tiny, cold, and huddling in a paper bag covered in white paint when found. So the fact of those people from our neighborhood losing their dog to coyotes hits home. There are painful realities around every corner in this world.

Yet I’ll admit I find the sight of coyotes behind our house fascinating. Their calls and yips and cries are some of the wildest sounds you’d ever want to hear.

But when it comes to civilization and the American Dream, there is only so much wildness most people care to take. We love the sight of a coyote, but not the implications when our small dogs are at risk.

The problem with small dogs is that they often don’t know how small they really are. They may rush a coyote as an act of territoriality, but they don’t know what they’re getting into. Our dog barks wildly at certain dogs when he’s on the leash. It’s called leash aggression. We don’t understand the psychology of it fully. But it’s real.

I don’t think human beings are all that different from dogs in that respect. We’re all tugging at a leash of some sort in our lives. Sometimes we make mistakes and bark at the wrong dog or try to chase a squirrel into traffic. I’ve done it more than once in life, and sometimes it is our naivete, our poodle mentality that there is always protection waiting for us, that gets us into the worst trouble.

It’s also true that some people adopt a coyote mentality because they’re the ones that feel wronged. Something has hurt them in some way, and from then on, every dog they can find is a target. Some pump that anger into sports such as dog-fighting. Others troll the Internet looking for people to harm, to criticize, to penalize for their own pain. It’s one giant pissing match out there, with everyone raising their legs on the feed or wall of another.

Harsh world, it is. Some fold up their fences and simply stay indoors. They’d rather be a poodle that’s alive than try to fake being a coyote, or a troll.


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Miles of asking why…

IMG_2764.jpgThis morning’s run was conducted in deep fog. The sub-zero siege that had hold of the American Midwest has let up long enough to allow a surge of warmer air to flow over Illinois. The snow on the ground and the warming air produced morning fog thick enough to bring a mysterious feel to the most mundane scenes.

Somehow I preferred to go on a quiet run in these circumstances rather deal with the four-mile loop I’d planned to run toward the shopping centers and car dealers down Orchard Road. Instead I turned north to run up Hickory Lane, the unincorporated stretch of road that bears little traffic at 5:30 in the morning.

Once I got under the big trees along Hickory Lane, their shapes were outlined in black, profound and simple. As I stared at them, the structure of each tree made sense in a new way. So many times I’ve drawn or painted trees and gotten them all wrong. Either the branches look clumped and out of order or else the trunk is too thick or thin in relation to the branches.

But this morning all that fell away because I saw the reason why trees and branches grow as they do.

That sounds so simple, yet the profundity of “why” branches grow as they do is both pragmatic and evolutionary. Each branch has a role to play in the life of a tree. Yet that specific role is in many respects defined by external forces. The direction and position of each branch on every tree on earth is determined by the ongoing interaction of available light and the ‘competitive collaboration’ in relation to other branches on the same tree and other trees as well. It is, in many respects, a long and difficult dance for existence.

Trees in Fob.jpgLooking at trees this way makes sense of the “why” , in which a given tree exhibits a certain shape. It’s a dance of sorts between the limbs of the tree and any other source of change that comes along. When trees grow together in a forest, they both exploit and respond to this constantly shifting feedback of light and shade, moisture and wind. And that’s only what we see above ground. But when people speak of being “grounded,” they refer to this idea that for all the things going on around us, we still know how to find our place.

As athletes, we are just as moldable as trees. Each of us is “shaped” by external forces and the internal responses they engender. Our training takes us out into all kinds of conditions. We breathe air moist and dry and clamber through temperatures cold to hot. We swim in water than can be bone-chilling or warm and overwhelming.

All these influences force us into the “why” mode of our bodies and how we are able to respond. Thus we learn how to dress for any occasion. We also learn how to keep our digits warm and our private parts too. In turn our bodies are shaped and shorn by all this training.

Trees on the move

Ultimately, we look in the mirror and can see evidence of the “why” resulting from our training and racing experiences. Like ambulatory trees, we start to carry ourselves a bit differently when we’re fit and strong. Each of our limbs has more purpose and finds its way to its respective mission.

And when I was done standing there looking up at the tree silhouetted against the pale morning sky, I started running again and felt composure in the moment. Grounded, as it were, in a sense of wonder. That only comes about in having stopped to think about the “why” of some place or thing in this world. Then I realized I’d had three miles of asking myself “why” this morning and was grateful for that curiosity about the world. It can disappear you know. People can stop caring about the “why” and barely only focus on the “what.” They grow numb.

Which is why thinking about the why is much more important than stopping at the what. IMG_9454

If you get the difference, you are truly on the journey to a more enlightened life. Asking “why” is the path to both a spiritual and a practical awakening.

“Why” is the question so many two-year-olds ask about everything they want to know in this world. It can be annoying. But those who continue to ask why are the people revealing the most mysteries about the world.

The photo that appears above shows the main building at Fermi Lab, the research center that for the last 50 years has conducted experiments on matter to determine not just the “what” but the “why” of how the world works. It is both scientific and spiritual work, if you think about it. Those scientists want to know the “why” of the universe, and are now shooting neutrinos through the earth from Batavia, Illinois to a lab in South Dakota to find out why our universe works like it does.

And that’s beautiful thing.

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“At least I’m not as fat as that person…”

What you’re about to read may not be perceived as kind. But rest assured, the intention is self-directed in some sense. If we can’t reveal some of what goes on inside our heads on a daily basis, then the world is truly sealed off from us. There is no engagement. No interaction. No change to be gained from the things we learn and see.

So let’s talk about the dangers of self-perception and how we deceive ourselves into the wrong type of forgiveness for our bad habits.

We’ll begin this little exercise by talking about fat. And getting fat. And getting used to being fat. From letting fat define us. And refusing to change. 


Honey Buns are a wicked temptation. 

This is not to say that having some fat on bodies is not good for us. It’s healthy in the off season to put on a little weight and let up on the training to a degree. In the past I’ve done the 24/7/365 training thing and had body fat as low as 3%. I was fit but not necessarily healthy, or strong. I was always getting colds, and worse.

That’s the low extreme of fatness. The high end is whatever point we reach that feels intolerable. Several people I know have gone on social media this past week to say, “That’s it! I’m done with my current state of fatness.” One is a swimmer who added an indoor cycling workout to his mix. Another is considering a juice cleanse. Anything to start the process of pushing toxins, grease and too much sugar out of our bodies. It might take a bulldozer.

Just know, that whatever our personal state of existence, there are reasons why we all get fat. More calories going in than are going out. The rest are stored as fat. 


These are breakfast cereals. Seriously?

There’s a reason why calorie intake is so hard to control. The American food industry is obsessed with getting us to eat products that kick our food sensors into high gear every day. We lay there in wait like a lizard salivating for the daily cricket dump.

Take a stroll through the grocery store…and you might as well be walking through a murderous gauntlet built around temptations to get fat. Or fatter. Fatty fat fat fat. 

It feels almost like a conspiracy at times. While walking through the deli and bakery section at the Jewel store yesterday I noticed a counter display that had fat, sugary desserts perched above 12-packs of 312 beer. Desserts and alcohol may be the two worst dietary habits in the universe. Which means that display isn’t just clever marketing. It is enabling food addicts.


I’ve hit my limit I know. The degree of fat on my body is simply not acceptable. But when you get to a certain point there is a risk of accepting where you are because it is so hard to change. There is a temptation to look around at all the people (male or female) that are fatter than you and say to yourself,

“Well, at least I’m not as fat as that person…”

And that, my friends, is when you really know you need to change. America possibly ranks among the TOP 10 Fattest Countries in the World, but who’s really counting? Our President is obese and dines mostly on fast food because he’s personally afraid that someone will try to poison him. Yet there are many who consider the foods we consume from fast food restaurants and the center aisles of the grocery store real poison. So our President is deceiving himself.

Trump Fat.jpg

Make America Fat Again. Donald Trump is eating the heart of America. 

My motivation right now, and I mean this sincerely, is to lose weight in direct opposition to the fat fuck “president” of ours. Here’s a guy who rides golf carts on the greens because he thinks walking (or any exercise) is bad for him. He drinks 12 Diet Cokes a day and swears that the body only has so much energy and working out could shorten his life. What in that litany of fucked up beliefs and habits is there to admire about the man/

This obese bastard got elected to President by rhetorically promising people financial donuts carved from the fat of the land. Coal subsidies versus acid rain? Bring ’em back! Oil drilling versus offshore catastrophes like Deepwater Horizon? Trump just proposed opening 92% of the Continental shelf to drilling. What bad could happen?

And this tax reform farce is nothing more than offering bribery to the masses along with rewards to the rich for sponsoring his Twitter account. That’s what it amounts to.  The tax cuts will run up another trillion in national debt, about which the GOP savaged Obama. Now they’re raving how economic growth will replace all that. How’d that work out for Bush & Co? Not so well. The “have your cake and eat it too” philosophy of trickle down economics never works.

It basically led to the giant “sugar crash” of 2007. Speculators high on the chocolate cake of “free money” stumbled and fell over their own fat feet. As a result, millions of Americans were thrown permanently off the work rolls in the 2007 recession. Nice work, fatheads. And we’re supposed to trust you with another chocolate cake in 2018?

Fuck. You.

IMG_9397But like all fatties in denial, they’re figuring out ways to “trim” vital programs such as Medicare and Social Security to get to a more “lean” budget. Anyone catch the irony here? The solution to America’s bloated government isn’t cutting the waste (or waist) of military spending or corporate welfare. Instead, Trump and the GOP are planning to liposuction out some vital organs by pretending they’re the “fat” about which we all have to be concerned. These would include medical care for the elderly and the long term savings plan of Social Security from which the government stole funds that were never repaid.

But instead of admit that bit of medical malpractice, the GOP wants to kill the patient in order to save the reputation of the merciless physicians of market philosophy. To quote Monty Python’s the Meaning of Life: “We’ve come for your liver.”

Never mind that blood on the floor. It’s the cost of doing business, you know.

Trump got elected because he appeals to a massive audience of fat, stupid, lazy Americans who don’t like to be challenged over their ignorantly racist beliefs, selfish notions of patriotism and penchant for moral donuts like banning abortion and throwing more minorities in jail. Convincing them otherwise is like trying to push a terminally obese patient from the smorgasbord at the community hospital. “I can always go back upstairs if I have a stroke! Donald won’t let me die!”

It’s an impossible task convincing the Fat Fucks they’re killing themselves with their own greed and suspicion toward basic healthcare. But we all have to start somewhere trying to change the world. Thus I’m starting my personal protest against the Fat Fuck Mentality of America by cutting carbs and continuing to read newspapers that report the truth.

We could all use a diet like that.


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You know you’re married to a triathlete when…

Sue 52You know you’re married to a triathlete when…

The alarm goes off at 5:00 and you realize your partner has already been up training for half an hour…

The laundry basket is a colorful yet highly fragrant core sample of their stinky athletic gear and your stinky athletic gear…

There are so many black straps consisting of heart rate monitors, water belts, bib number holders and knee braces that the top of one of your dressers looks like a snake pit…

The pile of new-looking old running shoes in the closet always resembles the day the Christmas ornaments come down…

Wall decorations in several rooms consist mostly of finisher medals and inspirational posters…

There is at least one worn out treadmill lurking in your basement…

The collection of bike parts around the house and garage exceeds the actual number of bikes owned in the household…

Actually, that’s not true. There are at least three fully functional bikes available to ride for each triathlete in the house, plus four more bikes that don’t get ridden, but still hang on hooks in the garage…and that’s not counting the mountain bikes. 

Yes, you know you’re married to a triathlete when…

There are always shreds of Larabar wrappers somewhere in both of your vehicles…

Water bottles are a plentiful yet still-valuable commodity in one of your cupboards, but that does not mean the bottles that actually have caps that fit them. Those are a rare thing indeed…

The annual Christmas stocking always has “nutrition” in it consisting of Bonk Breakers, gummy chews and Power Gels…

You never know when the urge to “do a race” might suddenly break out…

You really really know you’re married to a triathlete when…

It’s not considered bad form to give them a kiss while they’re sitting on the toilet in the morning because, you know, there’s only so much time in the day…

Lovemaking usually incorporates some sort of IT band massage, shoulder relaxation or deep tissue foot rubs…

Everyone in your life, including your own children, basically ignores the first 20% and last 20% of your day, since the training at those hours seems so insane to regular, normal people.

And there you have it.  A fun little list of things that make you know you’re married to a triathlete. Free free to share any more you might conceive in the comments area below. 








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How our national symbol ran out of trouble and what it means to you

Bald Eagle Flight.png

Photo by Christopher Cudworth

Forty years ago in our area, the sight of a bald eagle was a rare thing indeed. How rare were bald eagles then? One was lucky to see one of the birds once a year. I specifically recall watching a bald eagle emerge from the thick veil of a December snowstorm. It flew above a woods past me in falling snow that was so thick you could hear it hitting the ground. The bird coursed through the wall of snowflakes as I struggled to keep the bird in sight with my binoculars. Then it faded into the distance. That was the only eagle I’d seen that year. Or any of the previous years. In thirty years of birding, it was probably only the 30th eagle I’d ever seen.

But that bird perhaps signaled that the species was not done yet. Eagle populations had plummeted in the late 1960s and early 70s. Chemical pollution from the pesticide DDT accumulated in eagles at the top of the food chain. In a manmade reversal of evolutionary impact, those chemicals undercut the breeding viability of the species by thinning their eggshells to the point where the simple act of brooding them would break the shells.

The same thing happened to other birds of prey such as peregrine falcons, a species that teetered on extinction in the lower 48 states. Raptor restoration projects kept these species going, and when the government finally banned the use of DDT, it took time for the effects to thin out. As decades passed, breeding populations of bald eagles and peregrine falcons slowly rebounded. DDT had to filter out of the environment so that it would cease moving up the food chain where bigger creatures collected it in their systems.

Herring Gull Flipping Fish.png

Photo of Herring gull by Christopher Cudworth

Now both species are doing much better. Environmental laws have also cleaned up rivers where eagles fish and where peregrines chase down ducks, shorebirds and other prey species. The protection of these birds is never finished, and the current administration is gutting environmental laws right and left, so we’ll have to see what transpires for the bird that serves as our national symbol.

But right now, there are healthy, vibrant populations of bald eagles breeding in Illinois and other states. That’s the sign of hard work by the environmental movement to keep shortsighted, selfish politicians from handing over the environment and yes, human health to profit-minded polluters of all kinds. That’s not a biased political opinion. That’s a fact-based statement based on real, demonstrated results from policies instituted to protect the environment and our national symbol, the bald eagle.

As a lifelong birder, it has been interesting to see populations of these birds grow and hear such enthusiasm from people seeing eagles again. Some are struck by the size of the birds. Others find the white tail and head mesmerizing. Still others wonder why young eagles are all dark, and when do they get a white head and tail?

Bald Eagle Flight Two.png

Photo of bald eagle by Christopher Cudworth

I more than happily explain that it takes bald eagles four full years to go through stages of moult that lead to adult plumage. Then they’re sexually mature and set up breeding. Both male and female birds have white heads and tail.

Now when I’m running along the Fox River on the system of bike trails that used to be railroad beds, it is quite common to look out over the river and see an eagle flying past. One morning in April a few years back, I was crossing the island at Fabyan Forest Preserve when I looked up to see five adult bald eagles perched in a dead tree. They startled as I came into view, and the sound of their wings as they unfurled into flight resembled the shaking of a giant bedsheet. Their reflections over the river were bright and clear.

We’ve come some distance in knowing what really harms the world in which we live. Yet there are something like 80,000 chemicals at work in industry, agriculture and other uses. Only a small percentage of them are effectively monitored and regulated. Some of that makes it into the human food chain. We don’t really know how that affects us.

According to the New York Times: Unlike pharmaceuticals or pesticides, industrial chemicals do not have to be tested before they are put on the market. Under the law regulating chemicals, producers are only rarely required to provide the federal government with the information necessary to assess safety.

Cancer rates are certainly a concern to everyone, and disturbances in our systems from chemicals or heavy metals can collect in our bodies just like the DDT once undercut the health of bald eagles.

Of course, we also poison ourselves with so much sugar and processed foods, alcohol, tobacco and heavy fats. We’ve become psychosomatic eaters to come degree. All the stress of living in this world makes us crave foods that kick our chemical responses into high gear. It’s a wicked cycle. No one is safe from the reach of these cycles. That bright look in our eye can fade in a blink when cancer or some other affliction hits us.


Photo of goldeneye ducks by Christopher Cudworth 2018

So perhaps we need to learn a few things from the story of bald eagles in America. Perhaps we need to focus a bit less on the supposedly glorious aspects of what has made them a great population again and focus a bit more on the practical aspects of what poisoned them in the first place. There are more than one kind of toxic elements in this world. Some are chemical. Others are cultural. Social. Political. Religious.

We can’t just ban these like we once banned DDT. But we can learn to recognize where they come from, and how they operate. Racism and prejudice are toxic elements in our society. So is discrimination based on fear that leads to violence and the massive proliferation of guns. It’s a wicked cycle, and fear moves up the emotional food chain till it reaches the top, our politicians. And the cycle starts all over again.

Yes, our national symbol the bald eagle has much to teach us about ourselves. We just need to get past the jingoism to learn a damned thing about ourselves.

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