Friendships made through running and riding have a timeless quality. Though times and efforts may change and even the ability to run and ride at all may diminish with time, the common bond of shared time on the road, track or trail never goes away.
A new hello
Late last week during a slow run on a cold day, a pair of women appeared ahead of me on the street. One of them I recognized as a longtime acquaintance, though I was not sure she’d remember me. Her name is Elizabeth Khalil-Green. I know her from nearly 30 years ago from my part-time job as manager of the Norris Sports Complex, a multi-sport facility with an indoor track, basketball, volleyball and soccer venues.
She used to come to the facility to walk with her husband or friends once or twice a week. The track was 120 meters or so, and faster runners stayed to the inside while walkers used the outside lanes. I took pains to calculate the number of laps per mile and created a poster at the front of the facility so people could accurately track their nightly mileage no matter what lane they used to walk or run.
My own competitive running career was at its peak, and having won a share of local races I was reasonably well-known among runners in the area. So it was fun to enjoy a little local fame while giving back to the fitness community. My wife (then girlfriend) worked as an assistant at the front desk managing the steady flow of people coming in for their nightly workouts.
Each member of the Sports Complex had their own little orange card on which their visits were marked so that we could track their monthly fees. I can still remember the distinctive handwriting in which my acquaintance Elizabeth Khalil-Green signed her name. Perhaps it was the pleasant rhythm of her name (she is of Egyptian heritage) that made me remember her, or her distinctive style of walking with a brisk arm swing that made me recall her so well. Or maybe I am just weird and remember people in general, because people do matter.
At any rate, I’ve seen Elizabeth walking around town for years. She walks 5-6 days a week depending on the weather and cold temperatures. On really cold days she stays indoors to use the elliptical trainer, but it is not something she relishes. “I can only take it half and hour or so. After that, my mind goes numb.” On better weather days she walks an hour outdoors.
She and I now live 5 blocks apart. Her home is a beautifully dignified place along Route 31, one of two state highways following the Fox River north to south.
A career making people feel good about themselves
She has converted a portion of the home to incorporate her massage therapy and counseling practice. During the first phase of her career, Elizabeth served 30 years as a guidance counselor at Waubonsie Valley High School. She earned her undergraduate degree from Wheaton College and her Master’s in counseling from Northern Illinois University. She speaks with great fondness of working with thousands of high school students over the years.
She’s “retired” from that position but not retired as a practicing massage therapist. She got her start providing massage to the elderly at a retirement facility and later studied to become a licensed massage therapist. It is her great joy these days to work with people of all backgrounds and ages. When asked if people seek her services as both a counselor and massage therapist, perhaps talking about their lives as they relax on the massage table, Elizabeth observes: “Each person is different. Some may choose to talk when they are getting a massage. Others like the time to be quiet and not talk. I normally do not talk when giving massage.”
She laughs and says,”My job is also to provide the music people like when they are getting massage. Some like country. Some like opera. Personally I like classical. It is really a matter of taste. But it is also about respect for people. That is one of the most important aspects of my practice and my life. Showing other people respect.”
She likes to get to know people first before taking them on as clients. “Massage therapy is just as personal as counseling. There is confidentiality and privacy to consider. All are important to my practice. Again, it is about respect.”
Elizabeth also loves theater and taking care of her grandchildren who live in a nearby town. All this is deeply integrated with her personal faith in God, who as Elizabeth describes, “Gives me the values of sharing with others. One cannot diminish that.”
So perhaps our “chance” encounter was not so chance at all. As mentioned, I’ve seen Elizabeth for years on the trails and have even waved a few times, and she’d always wave back. But it wasn’t until I stopped on the road last week and introduced myself, explaining how I knew her from all those years ago, that her beautiful dark eyes flew open and that charming smile opened wide. “Oh my gosh!” she exclaimed. “How is that you remember me from so long ago?”
“I just do,” I chuckled. So we chatted and caught up, and it quickly became evident that we have a few things in common in terms of faith and life values, and strong belief in respect and social justice as well.
So this blog is shared with you as an illustration that you never know who you’re going to meet through running and riding. Some may turn out to be lifelong friends. Others you might rediscover years down the road when circumstance or providence add them to your life for enlightenment or fulfillment. Whatever the cause or purpose, that is the joy and purpose of life. To share and share alike.