On the heels of publication of my writing and illustration in Runner’s World magazine, a race director in another state contacted me about donating work to their cause. It made sense. The race was a fundraiser for an arts center. So I produced a pair of running art paintings that were used as prizes for the race drawing.
That proved popular, so the race director asked me to contribute the next year as well. “We’ll fly you down this year and you can present to the winners,” he offered.
I decided to take things a step further and produce a race poster using the two illustrations. That poster earned a Cream of the Crop award for running posters from Runner’s World.
That honor resulted in a bit of a star treatment that year in the race festivities. Sitting in the expo that morning, I signed posters and fielded questions from happy participants.
During the hubbub, I noticed a female runner that had finished in the top ten that morning. As a writer back home in Illinois, I had covered the state meet where she actually led the race before placing in the top five. She was surprised that I’d recognized her the previous day. As she stood in line to have a poster signed, I looked up and smiled. She smiled back and gave a small wave.
She was a truly beautiful young woman, possessed of a bright smile and thick locks of curly black hair. She also fit her tights quite well.
After she purchased a poster and had it signed, she hung around watching the other runners. We talked casually about her career in cross country and track, and she offered assistance in organizing posters for me.
If I’d been a younger man at the time, and unmarried, the drive to connect with her would have been irresistible. It was difficult enough to resist thinking there was some sort of connection going on. I was only in my early 40s at the time, but there was definitely some sort of Lost In Translation moment going on.
On the road
Perhaps it was just the connection of a person from home that interested her so and kept her occupied in my assistance with the poster. She’d been on the road for months, she told me, racing in strange cities and hanging around with other national class runners on the circuit. She seemed lonely however, perhaps tired of the burdens of racing and training in an itinerant lifestyle. Perhaps she just needed a father figure at that moment.
Ironically, her level of athletic prowess and achievement was a lifestyle I’d tried to achieve, and could not. My abilities as a runner stopped short of national class. I won races at the regional level and was sponsored by a running store. I even traveled some to races out of state, but the facts were clear by the time I reached my middle 20s. I was never going to break through to a national level, much less anything approaching world class. I would never be sponsored by a running shoe company or travel around the country racing. I’d tried my best, but came to understand the limits of my natural ability.
How good you aren’t
There’s a certain liberty that comes with knowing how good you aren’t. Knowing you’ve tried your best is sufficient in the end.
But my new young friend was in the throes of those experiences. Her status as a top flight runner was affording her opportunities few get to experience. Despite the apparent joy of that potential, it can get old. Week after week of living on the road is not as glamorous or fun as it sounds.
Yet here she was, as fit and beautiful as anyone could imagine. And that juxtaposition, that when it came to the raw results of racing, her beauty did not help her, was likely an odd challenge for her. Perhaps she simply wanted to be loved.
Instead the world demands something else of so many comely young women. It’s an odd and somewhat unjust truth that women runners and athletes don’t have to be the best to benefit from their sport if they happen to be attractive. Women tennis players and golfers, volleyball players and lingerie football players all either learn or know this. All must field the vagaries of lustful attention as they engage in their respective sports. Some welcome that and turn it into endorsements. Others would prefer to be recognized for their ability, not their looks. Yet there are young women on sites like Reddit garnering 100,000 views a day while others leverage their looks in a thousand other ways. Is that a bad thing? Temptation is a two-way street.
It’s the urge to find the bad girl in the virginal image that drives all that, and it’s a familiar cycle in modern culture. Young women athletes and media stars are funneled through a cycle in which they are allowed to perform in athletics as a child to a certain age. Then it is almost demanded they show more skin and show off their “athletic body.” Tennis players such as Anna Kournikova and golfers like Natalie Gulbis play the game quite well. But it might be annoying in some respects.
As The Producers say, “If you got it, flaunt it”
Granted, any woman should have the right to use their body as they see fit. Consider the success of actress/singers such as Miley Cyrus, who started out as a child star and has turned the sexual game into a power move by almost disembodying her sexuality. At last count, her video Wrecking Ball has more than 812 million views. It’s no coincidence that Miley is getting rich off the temptations she throws right back in the faces of all those with prurient interests. That’s a power move if ever there was one. It shows fidelity to the notion that she owns her image, and her audience gets owned as a result. Call it the quirk of the twerk.
Guilty as charged
I fully acknowledge that in my case, the imagined flirtations with that young runner friend could well have been just that, imagined. I would not be the first male to engage in such wishful thinking.
Yet later that morning while headed back to the hotel room, I looked up at the second level to see that same young woman emerging from the room of another young male runner. Her hair was tousled and they exchanged a quick kiss as she was leaving. Quite obviously they’d spent a couple hours having some a most excellent liaison without commitment. Life on the road. The running circuit. Indeed, she’d hooked up with someone more her age, and single.
There’s a scene in the movie Fury in which the tank commander played by Brad Pitt leads a young soldier up to the apartment of two women trapped in the events of war. The Pitt character essentially assigns the young man to go to a room with the teenaged girl in the apartment and have sex.
It seems to be intended as a tender moment actually, and when the older woman protests the notion of wartime sex, the Brad Pitt character basically says, “Relax, they’re young. And alive.” But actually, it’s a form of rape. Such is the apparent ambiguity of all such temptations. At some level, there seems to be some justification for the arranged sex. Pitt organizing the tryst with one young soldier seems the far better option than the women being ravished by multiple men in the tanks below. But does that make it right?
So it was with a bit of wistful realization that morning that I watched the young woman leave the company of that young man. Both were finding solace and love in some sort of runaway world. It was not for me to judge. Perhaps they were lovers on the road all along. But perhaps not.
As for me, I was glad in the remaining fact of my own fidelity. We run into a lot of temptations in this world. It is our job to resist them, imagined or not, and stay true to who we are.
We all know someone that has engaged in an extramarital affair. As a result of these transgressions, their world often shrinks rather than expands. Guarding that secret takes all sorts of energy. Personalities turn into repeating loops. When (and if) the affair finally ends, the relief can be so great it feels as if one were floating again through life.
Some hit that temptation head on and emerge on the other side a changed or chastened person. Others never seem to learn the lesson, and many can’t seem to live without it. Serial sexual cheaters are just like corrupt investment bankers in the sense that the rush of triumph and new territory is just too powerful to resist. It then becomes the norm for that person. And corrupted by that power, they hunger for more.
We also know that a soldier returning home from war can find everyday life too mundane. The ethics of war and the practiced art of killing others is all so ambiguous. We saw that strain in the movie American Sniper. Chris Kyle’s attention and fidelity to his wife is tested by the draw of war and his sense of obligation to his fellow soldiers.
These are all external affairs of different types. They tempt us and make life challenging and complex.
This is no judgment on my part of those tempted by circumstance, only an observation that it is our obligation as human beings to understand the full perspective of our actions, and our beliefs. If we do fail, we had better ask forgiveness, because it is vital.
It’s an age-old story, after all. There’s a reason why the words “lead us not into temptation” is an integral part of the Lord’s Prayer. We run into temptations of all sorts, and all the time. The trick is running right past them, or at least don’t slow down enough to let them trip you up. Temptation is the ultimate tarsnake. Run over the tarsnakes.