From the time that I started officially competing in athletics at the age of ten, when I tried out and made the Local 285 baseball roster, my mother and father supported my sports career in many ways. My father ultimately nudged me into running (quite wisely) when I was a freshman in high school. He didn’t want any of his sons mangled on the football field, so none of us played that sport despite our high degree of speed and agility.
From there, my running career progressed and I led teams at Kaneland and St. Charles High School and went on to captain the Luther College team that took second in the nation. During all those years and through so many meets, my parents were often there on the sidelines. I’m grateful for that.
Even after I graduated from college and took to road racing, my folks often showed up at races near their home to cheer me on. My father typically urged me to relax before the race while my mom stood there observing my state of mind. She always wanted a little hug before the gun went off. And I can still hear her voice to this day calling out, “Go, Chrissy, Go!”
Yes, she called me Chrissy. I once took grief from some competitors upon hearing her call out that pet name for me. It was embarrassing, but I knew that it meant love, so it always inspired me as well.
At some point in my mid-20s, while watching me win a race in Geneva (that I’ll document in the next installment,) she composed a poem titled RUNNER. The verse shows how observant she was about running and racing. I love this poem for many reasons, but also the emotional outcome of a race.
Here it is:
I watched you as you stretched and started
moving slowly, eyes inward, thoughts on self.
Sensing the morning’s chill
noting the wind, a muscle twitching here and there
(“Will it last?” he wonders, “Will it last?”)
Adjusting the suit, talking briefly
(Breakfast wasn’t much, you know–
too important, too important a race you see.)
A milling crowd arrived, some garrulous and greedy
for the prize, half-formed decisions, in their eyes.
Some there for fun, pure fun, no more
like children looking through a door.
But you were not these people (“Muscles are trained,” you told me)
there were these days and days of running
in the cold mornings––beard frosty, stocking cap pulled down
(“You can’t freeze your butt,”) you said
both humorously and morosely, a Captain of the sleet and snow.
In the Mid-Summer, smell of sweetness, grasses, ferns, upon the air.
Joyous birds alight at dawn and calling (“Saw a line of swallows on a wire”)
Heat of the sun, tempestuous burning
on the road, tar bubbles going SMACK SMACK
hot feet, sweat, burning lungs.
Now, cotton-mouthed you wait.
Lined up first, (“It’s by your times, you know,
five-minute milers are the first to go.”)
Crack of a gun startling the silence
and you’re off.
I did not see you for awhile
I sweated out that first slow mile
you finally breathed by me, easy
I didn’t feel so scared, so queasy.
(“Up the slope, a lot will die,”
you said, with twinkle in your eye.)
They did by droves with dirges
played inside the head
“We’re dead, we’re dead.”
I saw them panting up the hill
the untrained heart will not be still.
You were smoothing out when next you passed
you heard the timer and you gasped,
slowed down a little, evened out,
the crowd a-watching gave a shout.
“Look out behind you!
Someone’s passing you a runnin’!”
You let him go for you’d already
calculated, taken his measure, breath abated.
Down came a smaller torrent pouring
down to the finish, all adoring––
finish banners, crackling, flying
arms held high, but body sighing.
Then, THERE YOU WERE!
Your strong legs pumping
Eyes alight! my heart was thumping
“He’s got it still,” I heard one say,
“He’s got his win at last today.”
You did, You passed the man ahead
you stalked about, less said than anytime before.
Thumping of backs and hugs all sweaty
friends and drinks and world all ready.
But still you looked a little sad
you were back in the world
but were you glad?
You did not say,
silently, you jogged away.
And I, who did not run the race
it was something to watch
now in its place, dead paper cups
and empty space.