Some items that survive the years of our existence say so much about us. I just found a letter home to my parents and brother during my college years that captures a specific moment in time.
The letter was written seven weeks into my senior year in college, the season in which our cross country team would go on to place second in the NCAA Division III championships.
But I’d just come off a scary bit of Achilles tendon soreness that afflicted our entire team. The workout that injured us was a set of intervals run on a cambered rural road. The next day, my Achilles was immediately stiff and sore. That led to a debacle with a campus doctor who overprescribed a powerful steroid that doctors at the Mayo Clinic immediately halted when the entire team drove up for treatment.
I recovered well enough to run as our first man in a dual meet the next week. Following that, we were headed to an invitational at Carthage College in Kenosha on October 21, where I placed 15th overall.
So life had its challenges, but things were going relatively well when I wrote this letter home. I was also in love with a girl I’d met at an RA retreat that fall. It was love at first sight for me, and we were inseparable that fall. We spent time on a Sunday afternoon hiking with some friends in the glorious fall hills around Luther College in Decorah, Iowa. The letter home was indeed a bit random, but purposeful in describing a hectic life…
The letter reads:
“It is Sunday night and I am too tired to do much–the best time for a random thought letter. It was Homecoming here––my sleeping hours were rather odd.
Thank you for the letter Greg, it sparked me to hear you’re doing well. Special messages for Greg are that I positively (from 15 yards) identified a Townsend’s Solitaire. Thought it was a mockingbird. Then a shrike. It was with a pile of robins, that threw me too. It had no facial pattern, just an eye ring around a dark eye, and yellow-sienna wing patches. It sat almost upright. I have also spied several good pairs of pileateds.
It is just now the time of season when the scenery shifts from brilliant to raw, from exciting to somber. Our trees have managed perfunctory flashes of color but cannot get their sequence down from maple to oak to elm. Jenny, Bob and Kirsten and I went for a long hike into the recesses of Decorah’s southern bluff country. Jenny was so pretty, dark hair aganst the warm autumn colors. Bob and Kirsten enjoyed our company. I ooohed them watching hawks, chasing deer and picking out owls. We all sat on a bluff so high that we could see the towers on campus and beyond (4 miles away).
It was grey and overcast but the day was pleasingly cool.
I was tired on Sunday night because we were running more than 80 miles per week all season. Two weeks earlier I’d totaled 99 miles, but didn’t want to go out and run that extra mile just to say I’d done 100.
The date was October 15 when I wrote that letter home.
In truth I’d tried to break up with Jenny the day before. She was pushing me for commitments far greater than I understood at the time, and frankly playing me against other guys that she knew.
My focus was entirely on running the best I could during that one time in life when the opportunity presented itself. It was hard enough staying healthy during those intense weeks of training and racing. That’s what scared me about the Achilles injury. I’d been running second man all season after being fifth-to-seventh man the first three years of college. My time had come. I didn’t want to blow it. The second page of my letter communicated that concern.
My Achilles is somewhat, actually much better now. The shoes* have been a life saver Another 80+ mile week. I have to get rest to remain healthy. I’m being cautious. By the way, we’ll see you next weekend for the run! The other boys are returning to health also.
My parents were coming up to watch us race in Carthage.
I concluded the letter writing about a project that symbolizes much of my other commitments in life.
I designed a letterhead to be used on a letter for the National Wildlife Federation from my Anthro professor who is working to preserve the acreage adjacent to Effigy Mounds National Monument. It has been recently purchased by an asshole landowner who will clearcut it if not stopped. The land maintains the only two extant nests of the red-shouldered hawk in the northeast part of Iowa. That out to help save it!
I’m too tired to write much more! Pooee! Love to you all. Christopher
I’m grateful for those experiences. All of them. While that girlfriend and I went separate ways a year or so after college, that was all for the better. All relationships go into building a life. Twenty-five years later I learned that the daughter of my friends Bob and Kirsten became buddies with a girl at Norwegian camp in Minnesota that turned out to be the daughter of Jennifer, my college girlfriend. Small world.
Those friends Bob and Kirsten from college have remained two of the closest friends I have in my life. After college, my late wife and I shared many experiences with them from camping trips to getting married, having and raising kids, exchanging godchildren, going through my wife’s cancer, and figuring out what it means to age as gracefully as we can.
They’re close friends with my wife Sue and I now. We all Zoom together during the pandemic, getting together with other friends on Friday nights. The laughs and joys, challenges and concerns continue. They still think (and know) that I’m nuts.
Life is a long letter being written one day at a time.
This blog is part of a book I’m composing titled COMPETITION’S SON, a biography of life’s experiences and the impact of competition on all facets of our existence.
*Brooks Varus Wedge. They were one of the first models of running shoes designed to compensate for pronation.