Self-surgery is the American thing to do

Flag Waiver.jpgNext Thursday afternoon, I’m going to cut into the skin of my left knee, insert a leftover bit of fiber optic cable from the TV downstairs and do arthroscopic surgery on my own knee.

I figure I can cut out the offending piece of torn meniscus in about a half hour and be on my way.

See, I’m getting into the spirit of people who think that depending on our health care system for actual health care is only for pussies and government leeches. That’s why I’m hopping on the “do-it-yourself” bandwagon.

So I’ve watched this creepy video of a meniscus surgery a few times and have learned how to perform meniscus repair surgery. If this geek can do it, so can I. Shouldn’t be a problem from here.

I’ve even got a half bottle of whiskey purchased on vacation to set me up good for surgery. I’ll pour some down my gullet and the other part over the knee to sterilize the area. Then I’ll dig in and fix this meniscus thing myself.

And if that goes well enough, I’ll do an ACL repair as well. See, I stored a chunk of tendon from the leg of lamb we had for Easter Dinner last Sunday. I put it in the freezer so it’s still fresh. And seeing that I’m already a little liberal lamb, there shouldn’t be a problem with tissue rejection.


Best of all, I’m going to use my iPhone to make a video of the procedure. Then I’ll send it to Speaker of the House Paul Ryan. He loves self-reliance, you see. There’s nothing more self-reliant than cutting into your own flesh with a dull kitchen knife to prove your devotion to God and Country.


Hopefully, the blood spurting from my veins and arteries won’t spatter the iPhone. I hear those devices don’t run too well if they’re covered in corpuscles and plasma. But don’t worry, I’ve heard Apple is testing a blood-proof smartphone by handing them out during school shootings. Talk about mass marketing.

So I think self-surgery is a bloody good idea! From all indications, it’s the American thing to do. Perhaps I’ll even bleed out Red, White and Blue.


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Infectious ideas

Back in the fall of 2013, I picked up a sliver in my middle finger while doing work in my back yard. It didn’t seem like anything to worry about in the moment. I’d had many slivers in my lifetime. All of them worked themselves out if I plucked them with tweezers.

But that sliver was different. It carried some nasty type of bacteria from the water in which the yard waste had been sitting. The resultant infection nearly sunk into the bone of my hand. Had I let it go, it might well have meant removal of the finger.

So I learned a lesson. The next time I had an infection, in 2016, it was cellulitis in my hand from a nip by our cat. This time it spread across my the back of my hand, but I was ready and went straight to the urgent care center and then a hand specialist.

But the resultant prescription of antibiotics killed off my good gut bacteria. That led to a scary condition with a bacterial gut infection caused by C.diff . Here’s how WebMD describes it:

You take antibiotics to knock out a bacterial infection. But for some people, these drugs can trigger a potentially life-threatening infection caused by a type of bacteria called clostridium difficile, or C. diff. It can cause colitis, a serious inflammation of the colon.

How Do You Get It?

C. diff bacteria actually exists all around us. It’s in the air, water, soil, and in the feces of humans and animals. Many people have the bacteria in their intestines and never have any symptoms.

The bacteria is often spread in health care facilities, like hospitals or nursing homes, where workers are more likely to come into contact with it, and then with patients or residents.

You can also become infected if you touch clothing, sheets, or other surfaces that have come in contact with feces and then touch your mouth or nose.


Image by Christopher Cudworth

It’s not a comfortable feeling at all knowing you’re “contagious” from anything. While listening to some sex talk radio the other day hosted by comedienne Nikki Glaser, one of her co-hosts shared what it was like to live with the herpes virus. One of his prospective girlfriends, upon learning of his condition, wryly noted, “Well, that’s not ideal.”

Nightmare bacteria

Whether viral or bacterial, infections can really bring you down. I once slid for a basketball on a gym floor and the resulting floor burn got infected. That spread to the lymph nodes near my crotch and it took antibiotics to knock it out.

But things are apparently getting much worse when it comes to the power of infections in the human body. Yet in an article about “nightmare bacteria” infections, a recent piece on Illinois Patch warns that things are getting much worse out there. Bacteria have evolved resistance to every known drug. That can spell death to those who contract it.

“The bacteria are known as carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae, or CRE, and can cause pneumonia as well as infections of the bloodstream and urinary tract. The CDC said an alarming 50 percent of those infected with CRE typically die.

Antibiotic-resistant infections are more widespread than just those attributed to CRE. About two million Americans get infections from antibiotic-resistant bacteria each year and 23,000 die, according to Dr. Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”

Prepping for surgery

I just had my pre-operational appointment at the doctor. He walked me through the things I should consider going into surgery. One, don’t get sick beforehand. Two, be sure to clear out your lungs after anesthesia and avoid pneumonia.

Having been knocked out a couple times for surgeries on my ACL and my clavicle, both the result of sports injuries, I still feel confident going into surgery for the meniscus tear that things will turn out fine. But I’ll be cautious in every respect.

No guarantees

Because there’s always a risk for blood clots after surgery too. A friend of mine died from a blood clot after hip replacement surgery. So nothing’s guaranteed.

I don’t tend to run around in fear about bacteria or dying. But I sure do respect the dangers. I’ve seen firsthand (pun intended) what infection can do to your body. My advice is never to take anything for granted. It is far better to be cautious and apply Neosporin and even get checked by a doctor if you have suspicions of any type of infection with your body.

That’s not being a hypochondriac. That’s being smart. As endurance athletes we can pick up all kinds of bumps, scrapes and skin rashes along the way. Saddle sores from cycling are no trifling thing. Nor are the afflictions of hemorrhoids or anal fissures. It’s these seemingly niggling problems that can cause us to flounder or worse, suffer conditions that even put our lives in danger.

It all gives new meaning to the term “infectious ideas.” Better safe than sorry.


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Rare opportunities in life

IMG_C8617720C3BA-1What rare birds can teach us about all of life’s opportunities

Yesterday through email I learned there was a sighting of a relatively rare bird, a Smith’s Longspur, in the vicinity of our house. We back up to a wetland, so there are plenty of birds around day-to-day. But this bird was on its way north to the far reaches of Canada for summer breeding. It would likely only stay a day or two and then be gone. IMG_863A1547B842-1

For those who don’t go birding it’s a bit difficult to describe why the bird is such a prize to see. Illinois is on the eastern edge of its migratory path. Typically to see this species, birders in Illinois drive into the flat plains of central Illinois where they like open ground. The draw might be leftover farm seed or simply the drifting remnants of last summer’s wild seed stock.

But they like it in open country, and scrubby. It so happens the property that backs up to the wetland behind our house consists of plots prepared for new homes. Those patches of ground have been sitting dormant ever since the recession clobbered the real estate market eight years ago. The owner is a wealthy developer who must still be paying taxes on that land. Not fun for anyone.


In the meantime, the topsoil was removed and what remains is hardscrabble clay and a sandy surface. Weeds grow in profusion each summer, but they mow them down by city code to keep the place from looking too awful.

So the environment resembles the gravelly stretches of the far northern tundra. That’s where Smith’s longspurs are headed to breed.

IMG_47AC2982C215-1On a lark

Some astute birder spotted the longspur because last year an interesting bird also showed up on that area of land. That was a Lark sparrow, and they apparently hung around to breed last summer as well. That makes me feel like a dummy when it comes to birding. Here was a beautiful species of bird not 300 yards from my house and I never noticed it there.

A running encounter

I should know better. I run past that development perhaps once a week. It backs up to another subdivision that is already built out. Last night I decided to do a three mile loop and jog past the spot where the birder had identified the Smith’s longspur the day before. I have not run much the last week as my knee awaits surgery for a torn meniscus, but as long as I keep my toes pointed straight ahead the knee does not act up.

So I enjoyed my little run as twilight started to fade to darkness. Then I cut through the ‘undeveloped development’ while counting the plot numbers up from 18 to 26, which is the place where the bird was originally spotted.

Field marks

Stepping off the road, I walked onto the flat clay surface and sure enough, the bird lifted from the ground and flew a bit to the west. I could see the distinctive dark center tail feathers bordered by white. Even in half-darkness, the overall field marks were evident. After forty years of birding, one develops an innate sense of what to look for when a bird lifts off the ground. Where most people see a blur, a birder’s eyes instantly create a frame of reference around its size, relative shape, manner of flight and if possible, the colors that close the deal. It is these field marks that produce an “identification” of a bird.

Follow up

But having seen the longspur at twilight, I didn’t want to disturb it any further. So I trotted the rest of the way home and wrote an email back to the birder friend that had sent me the notice. “I found it. But I’ll check for the Smith’s in the morning,” I told him.

When Sue and I got back this morning from running at the indoor track, I pointed out to her a small line of cars visible across the field. I’d told her about the bird and the fact that I’d head over there after we got home from the workout. On my way to work, I stopped and rolled down the window to talk with one of the birders sitting inside her car. This is how we birders do business. We use our vehicles as portable blinds.

She admitted there was no sign of the bird, a fact I had already gathered because the cars were spread out around the drive circling the property. See, birders have telltale behaviors as well. Typically they cluster together when they find something good. But if it doesn’t show up, people drift apart in hopes of being the lucky one to find it again. This can be both good and bad for the birds being studied. But that’s a topic for a different day.

Better days, and a better place


Photo by Christopher Cudworth

It would have much nicer for me to have seen the Smith’s longspur in broad daylight. It’s a thrill to see a rarity like that, especially a bird that one has never seen before. That brings the mystery of the world just a bit closer in some way. A sense of wonder returns in that moment. It perhaps sounds pathetic to say, but the basic idea of saying “I’ve just seen something new” is enough to make the world seem a better place.


But it is just as joyous to see familiar things in a new way. Such was the case on the day that I took that photograph of a great blue heron fishing in the aftermath of a dam. Every feather on the bird seems alive, does it not?


The experience of seeing something new (whether common or rare in nature) is much like setting a PR in endurance sports. There’s the thrill of doing it. Then the joy of sharing it. It brings back your sense of wonder.

Sometimes we have to adjust our notions of what constitutes a “new” accomplishment. As we age, it is no longer possible to break or lifetime records. I could no more run a sub-31:00 10k at the age of 60 than I could expect to flap my arms and fly to the moon. It isn’t physically possible any more. My heart can’t pump the blood that fast. My muscles have changed. I’m heavier. All these factors make it impossible to perform like I once did.

But last spring I ran 6:50 pace for a 5K, and it was thrilling to feel that fitness level despite the fact that my PR is almost six minutes faster for that distance.

Rare opportunities

We all need to look at the opportunity to do something “new” as ‘rare opportunities.’ That is, we can rediscover ourselves through a will to find new ways to enjoy what we’re doing. Just as it is still a thrill to see an entirely new species of bird in the field, it is fun to add up the miles of training and go out to perform the best I can on a given day.

Because when you think about it, life itself is a rare opportunity. You only get one chance at it. Make it a new one every day.

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To equal or surpass the Art of Dying

Art of Dying.jpgThere’ll come a time when all of us must leave here
Then nothing Sister Mary can do
Will keep me here with you
As nothing in this life that I’ve been trying
Could equal or surpass the art of dying
Do you believe me? 

 The Art of Dying ––George Harrison

(To read this blog in its full glory, click through from the email to We Run and Ride.)

At the age of fifteen I’d sit with two big stereo speakers on either side of my head and listen to the epic album All Things Must Pass by George Harrison. By that time in his life, George was tired of being a Beatle and his double album served as a release from prison as a second-tier songwriter to Paul McCartney and John Lennon.

A few of the songs on that album had obviously been written while George was still a Beatle. But if the White Album split the group into factions, and Abbey Road served as a swan song for the studio era, the release of Let It Be made clear that the group was in the act of dying of its own inertia. The Beatles were becoming single-entities, discovering life on their own terms. The thing called The Beatles had to die for that to happen.

Breaking up

Beatles.jpegFew could believe that the light and life those guys had brought to the world could  collectively flicker and go out. From Beatlemania to the raucous joy of Hey Jude played live for the world, the Beatles broke all the rules.

But as George pointed out with his album All Things Must Pass, there is nothing in this world that truly lasts forever. Lying there on the living room floor with that album flowing through my brain, I tried to absorb the meaning of those lyrics. Surely I understood the message of Isn’t It a Pity in both its fast and slow versions:

Isn’t it a pity
Isn’t it a shame
How we break each other’s hearts
And cause each other pain
How we take each other’s love
Without thinking anymore
Forgetting to give back
Isn’t it a pity

But even though it felt like it one could die from lost friendships and even lost loves, it did not equate to actual dying.

Feeling loss

Harrison.jpegWhile we all feel loss in our lives in one form or another, by the time my teenage years were in full swing, I was beginning to more clearly understood what it meant to win or lose.

After all, I was one of the most competitive kids to walk the earth. Whether this was out of fear or desire or insecurity I’ve not fully deciphered. But it was a fact of living that I could not stand to lose.

The ego-boosting desire to win rose like a fever in me while playing sports such as basketball, baseball, soccer, track and cross country.  I did my share of winning in all those sports. But the desire to conquer others didn’t stop out on the fields either. I strove to win in table tennis and foosball and whatever competitive endeavor I could find.

I now realize that all that desire to win was founded on a determined (and perhaps desperate) desire to live life to its fullest. I simply felt most alive when I was winning. And it was also done in defiance to all who doubted me. That is the chiaroscuro of competition. Lights and darks.

Shifting sands 

The desire to win or to avoid losing is interesting in the grand context of life. Because now that I’m old enough to have actually ‘lost’ several people near and important to me, the entire concept of loss has shifted dramatically.

To make the issue of dying even more interesting, I know many people who consider dying a sort of victory over life. They believe that eternal life awaits them after they pass from this one. Their Christian faith provides assurance their spirit will somehow carry on once their earthly body dies. Some even believe they will get an all-new body in heaven. If that is true, we all become recycled beings, renewed only by the process of giving up an earthly existence.

What dying looks like

I’ve sat by the bedside now with both my parents as they died. I’ve also experienced the death of a spouse, and also a father-in-law, and both grandparents on my late wife’s side. Thus death is no longer the grand mystery that it once was. I know what dying looks like.

Cud with Maravich skills

At the age of 13, spinning a basketball on my finger

Other than dying of old age, it seems we all lose someone to tragedy along the way. I had a college track teammate who died when he became severely dehydrated from a spike in temperature due to the effects of a cold and fever that got out of control. That was a tragic, sudden and inexplicable death.

It seems we all lose friends or classmates to events such as traffic accidents, cancer at a young age (or any age), drug use or freak accidents. At a tender age, you suddenly realize it could happen to you. So is life just a competition to avoid such fates? Is it all just about delaying our time of death? Or is it about denying that we die at all?

I knew a woman who lost her husband in her middle 40s. She immediately married the man’s twin brother. He moved into the house and started wearing his brother’s clothes. The entire experience freaked out her children. And for good reason. That was denial personified. There was no grieving. No real acceptance that a death had ever occurred.

And that’s not exactly natural. We should grieve our losses. It is the healthy and respectful way to consider the meaning of that person in our lives, and to renew our own spirits as well. The Art of Dying is not limited to the person who dies.

Not very artful

Sudden calamities are perhaps not considered an artful way to die. But the fact of the matter is that life can be an ugly business. Even the death of Jesus was a harrowing ordeal. Yet that event has been canonized and celebrated by the Christian faith as the most artful death of all.

Pre-determined. Destined to happen. Sacrificial in its nature. Redemptive in its significance.

The Christian faith says that Jesus conquered death and rose from the tomb to walk about the earth once again. The Bible maintains there were witnesses to this event, and proof enough that Christ broke physical laws to artfully demonstrate that having faith in the Lord will provide us all with eternal life.

What comes after

But not everyone is convinced of that reality.  In a cryptic way, the challenge of understanding death and what comes after is what George Harrison wrote about in his song The Art of Dying.

There’ll come a time when all your hopes are fading
When things that seemed so very plain
Become an awful pain
Searching for the truth among the lying
And answered when you’ve learned the art of dying

Serving as both witness and guide (to some extent) to the act of dying in so many people close to me has produced a strange and sometimes disturbing objectivity about death. There are times when I feel a sense of guilt about not being more ravaged by loss of those close to me. But a last breath is just that. It is final. And in that knowledge there is a sense of closure in something I could never understand at the age of 15, or 30, or even 45 years old. It can take a long time to understand the art of dying.

Come again

CantignyThen there are pliable notions of what death really signifies. George Harrison seems to suggest a belief in reincarnation. That is the idea that we live multiple lives or get to keep coming back for another try at improving this thing we call life.

It’s a tantalizing idea, and I don’t quite buy it. Yet it dwells so closely in space to the Christian concept of eternal life that I don’t reject the idea either.

There’ll come a time when most of us return here
Brought back by our desire to be
A perfect entity
Living through a million years of crying
Until you’ve realized the art of dying
Do you believe me? 

Let your light shine

After my wife died, one of my daughter’s friends visited our house a month later and experienced a mysterious appearance of three lights in the very living room where my late wife had passed away. Those orbs appeared at exactly the point where head was resting as she passed away.

There are many theories about spirit and energy and the existence of these aspects in dimensions of time and life itself. So I don’t reject that occurrence either. The young woman who saw the red, white and green orbs is an astronomer by training and a scientist with a cold eye for reality. She is not prone to making things up for effect.

What I’m saying here is that most of us begin with the notion that our existence is a form of competition to stay alive in this world. Yet somewhere along the way, it evolves into something else, a competition of sorts to understand reality itself. Victory comes not from conquering life, but from accepting it fully. That is the Art of Dying.

Temporal reality

Cottonwood leavesIn that “game of life,” the only losers are those who refuse to seek real awareness and give it a chance to sink in. Our notions of temporal reality may be the limiting factor in that pursuit. That’s when the refrain lyrics from the Art of Dying take on real meaning:

But you’re still with me
But if you want it
Then you must find it
But when you have it
There’ll be no need for it

Perhaps you don’t like to think about dying. Perhaps the idea frightens or depresses you. But that is the opposite of understanding. Living in denial gains you nothing. Living in curious wonder gains you everything. That is the art of living that you gain from learning about the Art of Dying.

Christopher Cudworth is author of the book The Right Kind of Pride: A Chronicle of Character, Caregiving and Community. Available on 




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Will that be donuts or doughnuts for you?


To read this blog in all its glory on WeRunandRide, please click through from email. 

This morning I stopped by Dunkin’ Donuts to buy a dozen tasty treats in celebration of a work anniversary.

At the counter I was asked by the attendant whether I wanted to pick them out myself or let him choose a dozen for me. I was thinking about that even before he said it, and had already determined that asking him to pick out the donuts I chose was really kind of obnoxious. After all, they’re only donuts, not jewelry or a lifelong choice like a tattoo. One does not need to be that fussy about which donuts go into the box. That process has to drive the donut people crazy. He filled the box up with 12 donuts, and I was on my way.

One for the money

ChocodonutI suppose there are people in this world that hate donuts, and for all the right reasons. They’re high in all three bad categories of food: sugar and carbohydrates and fat. The trifecta of pudge.

Despite all these drawbacks, donuts really taste good. Some even offer a textural experience. Applesauce donuts come to mind.

At the office I opened up the box and pulled out a chocolate donut. The rest I left for people to scarf on during the day. My chocolate donut with the chocolate flecks let me nibble away in that fashion reserved only for something nasty good to eat. So I was satisfied.

Shaq says it all

This weekend we watched an episode of Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel. They interviewed Shaquille O’Neal, who shared that he’s a giant booster of Krispy Kreme donuts. He’s both a spokesperson for the company and an investor. Shaq said he only does testimonials for products in which he really believes. Then he shared, with a smile, “The Shaq brand is fun.”

When the interviewer teased Shaq about his penchant for donuts, the Big Man dared him to poke him in the mid-section. “It’s rock hard. Moderation in everything is key,” he replied.

Shaq is 7’1″ and 380 pounds. But it is his business acumen and smarts that seem to be the biggest part of the man’s persona. Yet he’s not afraid of a donut or two. In moderation.

Which is worse? 

DD DonutThe same could probably said for the rest of us. Many who run and ride like to do so because it affords us the luxury of the occasional donut (or doughnut, which somehow seems worse to say) along the way.

The new Trek cycling catalog for 2018 even features a double-page spread featuring a big wall painted with donut images and bikes leaned up against it. The point being: You can afford a donut if you go out and ride eighty miles beforehand.

Not on the daily menu

We all get that excess carbs and sugar clog create fat that clogs the arteries, puts plaque on the brain and can lead to heart disease. Donuts should not be on the daily menu, You know better.

I still laugh when recalling how one of my high school cross country teammates scarfed down a donut right before the race. He had a horrible run as a result, and threw up. Donuts are not ideal pre-race fare. No one is suggesting donuts or doughnuts are even good before a workout. Eat a Larabar instead. Those will digest at least.

But Donuts? Doughn’t go there. 


But go ahead and drool at the donuts in the photo above. I took that photo myself, and it amounts to a special occasion admission that I ate the one with the chocolate bits stuck to the chocolate frosting. And it was damned good.

Why not enjoy life a little? Or a lot.

Just know the next hill may feel a little harder when you climb it. That is how this all works. There’s a price to pay for every indulgence in this world.



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Frog legs

IMG_1503.jpgLast night the spring temperatures moderated here in Illinois. The air was calm and the collective voice of chorus frogs singing in the wetland behind our house could be heard inside even with the windows closed. So we grabbed our flashlights and waded into the wetland to see if we could find a frog and get a photo.

It shouldn’t be hard, but it is. In case you’re not familiar with the call of chorus frogs, when singing together they sound like a single high pitched note. Heard closer, each frog makes a noise like the sound of a finger clicking across the tines of a plastic comb. It has a creaking quality, and even a single frog is quite loud to the ears. It is equivalent to turning the sound up about halfway on your car stereo. These little frogs are loud.

montreal-sept-15-10-western-chorus-frog-for-extra-serie.jpgBut they’re not large. Chorus frogs are not much bigger than the length of your thumbnail. Yet their ability to fill their throat sacks with air and pump out noise is quite well developed. Amphibians have a long and colorful history in the evolution of the world. This wonderful description from gives just a snippet of why amphibians are so significant to understanding our own position in this scenario:

Here’s the strange thing about amphibian evolution: You wouldn’t know it from the small (and rapidly dwindling) population of frogs, toads and salamanders alive today, but for tens of millions of years spanning the late Carboniferous and early Permian periods amphibians were the dominant land animals on earth. Some of these ancient creatures achieved crocodile-like sizes (up to 15 feet long, which may not seem so big today but was positively huge 300 million years ago) and terrorized smaller animals as the “apex predators” of their swampy ecosystems.

Pecking orders

Now, chorus frogs aren’t about to chomp on your foot and suck you down into the watery abyss. But there is a pecking order in this world among all animals. And even chorus frogs have to eat. A site called shares: “Chorus frogs eat a variety of small invertebrates, including ants, flies, beetles, moths, caterpillars, leafhoppers, and spiders. Newly formed froglets feed on smaller prey, including mites, midges, and springtails. Tadpoles are herbivorous, foraging mostly on algae in the water.”

Chorus frog.jpegWhile singing, the last thing on any chorus frog’s mind is eating. They are basically a pack of horny males trying to get a chance to mate. The louder the call, one must suppose, the more inviting to the female. Such is the order of nature down to some of its smallest occupants.

Humans afoot

So we walked out into the wetland behind our house with our flashlights hoping to find  one boldly calling male whose ardor put him in view. Alas, we had no luck. Chorus frogs excel in camouflage (see their cryptic coloring?) despite their loud calls. You can be standing right above them listening to their calls and still it is hard as heck to see them.

I’ve actually had more luck during daylight than at night. A few years back during a Naturalist Certificate class, we paid an April visit to a preserve where chorus frogs were singing in the middle of the morning. They often sing all day and most of the night. And for some reason one of these little guys was perched right on top of a knob of wood singing his little guts out. The tiny throat sack below his froggy chin pulsed with each call. It was fascinating to see and hear.

Earning froggy credits

Way back in college, I enrolled in a field biology class where part of our spring project was to capture no less than six species of frogs. We’d release them after chronicling their ID in the classroom. But there was a very short window of time in which it was possible to even find all six frog species. There were spring peepers and cricket frogs. Leopard and green frogs. Bullfrogs and chorus frogs. And if one was really, really lucky, one might find a wood frog calling. But that was extra credit.

IMG_1498.jpgAt one point, my frog hunt involved wading out into a cold spring where the water was just above forty degrees. I was skinny as a rail back then and possessed of my own set of scrawny frog legs from all the running we were doing in spring track and field. We didn’t have wading boots so the task of entering the water was chilling to say the least. But I was struggling in field biology because the lab work was vexing to my art major brain. So I needed every ounce of credit I could gain. So the frog hunt was on.

Standing out in that cold spring was enlightening. After a bit, the cold wore off and it was just the dank pressure of water on my thighs. Feeling my way across the bottom with my feet, I proceeded slowly toward the sound of some frogs singing in the center of the pond. It wasn’t deep, but it was dark water and smelled vaguely of the history of the entire earth.

We are all formed from water. Descended from amphibians. Borne of the ages. And that afternoon after the frog hunt in the cold spring, I felt cold-blooded during the mile run in which I competed. I couldn’t warm up well no matter how much I tried. Lesson learned: warm-blooded creatures need fat to keep themselves warm. I had none at the time to apply to that purpose.

It took a while in that cold spring to catch a chorus frog. But eventually, I snagged a pale specimen and plopped him into the jar with the holes poked in the lid. I also captured a spring peeper that day. But getting one frog into the jar without allowing the other to hop out was quite a trick while standing hip-deep in water so cold I did not know if my testicles would ever return to normal size again.

Frog assembly

Back at the dorm I already had a small aquarium filled with the other frogs required for the assignment. I assembled partitions to keep them apart. But somehow the leopard frog that I captured earlier that day wriggled its way around its wooden partition and snapped up my chorus frog in its mouth. I quickly jammed a hand in there and picked them both up. The pale legs of the chorus frog were still protruding from the mouth of the leopard frog. So I gave the sides of his mouth a squeeze because I knew the bone structure from having dissected a few leopard frogs over the years. That made the frog release my other specimen and I made better preparations to keep them apart.

Forty years on

So it was with a bit of nostalgia that I crept around the wetland last night in hopes of seeing one of these little buggers singing. I’m grateful to live so close to a wetland like this. I could turn and look at our house where the lights were on and I knew it was warm inside.

IMG_1511.jpgEventually, my toes really started to feel numb. My daughter and her beau were also out looking, and one hopping frog was spotted. But no photos were captured. So we headed back inside and I took off my old running shoes and my soaked jeans in the garage, then threw the lot into the laundry.

Round two

I have not given up this year’s frog quest. There is still the opportunity to head out there in the daytime. The frogs are singing and won’t stop for at least a week or two, maybe more.

After all, there is breeding to be done and millions of years of evolution to continue, and that’s a challenge these days. The world is not the vast domain of amphibians anymore. The odds against them have increased in many ways. Between water pollution and holes in the ozone, busy roads and drained wetlands, amphibians are struggling to keep their toehold in this world.

Fate alone can be harsh. Last year our little wetland released a large hatch of green frogs that emigrated in all directions. Their smashed bodies were seen all over the road and frog legs were everywhere. An enterprising flock of gulls could have eaten like kings.

But mostly, such events amount to squander. That is the way of nature. It works hard to evolve something unique and useful such as frog legs and more often than not, tosses all that effort away to extinction. 99% of all the living things that ever existed are now extinct.

Some might argue that’s a good excuse to ignore the effects of human activity in this world. The extinction rate among plants and animals in this world is rising as the human population increases. The competition for food and space and resources is all-consuming. But it is possible that we can consume ourselves to death.

To feel the chill realization of your own frail humanity, I suggest wading into a cold spring wetland. And stand there a while. Listen to the call of frogs echoing to you through millions of years. And realize that all you’re really doing is standing on your own set of frog legs.


Posted in Christopher Cudworth, track and field, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

It’s all about revenge

beatrixkiddoFollowing a late meeting last night, it was hard to get to sleep when I got home. So I toggled back and forth between a pair of movies on cable. They were right next to each other on the channels, so it wasn’t hard to do.

The first flick was Kill Bill Vol. 1, a Quentin Tarantino saga that like most of his movies revolves around some form of revenge. In this case the movie starts with a horrific mass slaughter in which a bride named Beatrix Kiddo and her party are shot to death at a wedding in a small Texas church. Gun violence to get the heart of the tale going. It’s the American Way.

The assassination attempt is an act of jealousy executed by a mysterious character named Bill a former lover who is angry with the woman he loves because she has given up her life as a paid assassin to settle down and lead a normal life. So Bill sends a team of assassins to wipe out the entire wedding party.

Comatose and vulnerable

dBcAx_MNqdtlIn her recovery from the murder attempt, the erstwhile bride lies comatose. A chauvinistically sick male attendant sees opportunity in her condition, and uses her for sex. It all serves as coarse symbolism for the manner in which so many men choose to treat women as a sexual and dispensable object. (Stormy Daniels anyone?) But the serial rapist pushes his “luck” too far when he decides to rent the comatose body of his victim out for cash to another craven suitor.

Because that’s when Beatrix begins to emerge from her comatose state. She desperately grasps enough awareness to wake up and bite off the rapists lip and dispatch him in a pool of blood. Snatching a knife from his belt she lies in wait on the floor. Her own legs will not yet work. Get that wicked bit of satire? She can’t just walk away.

To take down her next enemy, she slits his Achilles with the knife and then repeatedly slams his head between a metal door and its frame until he dies. It’s all gruesome stuff, but you really can’t blame the girl. It was gut-level revenge, and they clearly had it coming.

Social networking

uu.jpegThe other movie I watched was The Social Network. That’s the story of Mark Zuckerberg and how he created Facebook. The stunning part of movie was that Facebook as a “thing” only emerged in 2003. It’s only been that long? Well, that was fifteen years ago. Time flies when you’re Friending people.

One of the best lines in the movie actually helps explains much about how Facebook recently got in trouble and is being questioned about its loose policies on data scraping. All of this is still a fairly new phenomena. Social networks over the Internet didn’t even exist twenty years ago. The scene shows Zuckerberg’s partner Eduardo Saverin asking for permission to sell advertising on the platform. Mark Zuckerberg isn’t ready for that yet. He tells Saverin:

“We don’t even know what it is yet. We don’t know what it is, we don’t know what it can be, we don’t know what it will be. We know that it’s cool, that is a priceless asset I’m not giving it up. We don’t even know what we have .”

Tales of revenge

large.hXAOowSO1FXWG9t2raPX2GE1cE1xW_OgZoAMaXcxTh0The fascinating thing about these two seemingly unrelated movies is that they both begin and end as tales of revenge. Beatrix Kiddo wants to kill the people who tried to assassinate her. Mark Zuckerberg wants to “kill” anyone who gets in his way. The Winklevoss twins want financial revenge against Zuckerberg for ostensibly stealing their idea from them. Eduardo Saverin wants revenge for being cut out of the deal as Facebook grew into a giant company.

So this all revenge-seeking begs the question in all of us: Have you ever sought revenge in your life? If so, what were your motives?

Running into revenge

I know that I wanted to seek revenge at one stage in my life. As a competitive kid, I never liked to lose. As a sensitive kid whose feelings were easily hurt, I also didn’t like how the world treated me on a number of fronts.

And I’d been psychologically bullied starting in grade school. Some kids were always tormenting others. I remember one kid kicking my band instruments in front of the bus just as it was pulling up to the stop. By the time I reached sixth grade, I started getting into fights to prove how tough I was.

Some of that ‘fighting the whole world’ stuff likely emanated from a cycle of anger within my family. My father thumped all us brothers and was prone to fits of anger. Together all these circumstances led to something like a desire for revenge.

So we all poured energy into sports. It was a great release for energy and also for anger. If we sought revenge on anyone, it was through winning. That’s a most healthy response for the most part. So we played basketball and baseball and soccer. All of us excelled in our way. But for me, it all eventually came down to running. Revenge is sweet when you do it with your own two feet.

Pounding the pillow

Through fifteen years of hard competition starting in middle school and extending through my late twenties, running was the mode I used to dissipate anger and deal with the depression and anxiety that slots into my genetics.

Moon Eclipse TwoYet after all those years, I still woke up in the middle of the night at age 29 pounding the pillow for some unknown reason. So I thought deeply about it, and came to the realization that in my past there was a single moment of fear and anger that drove my desire for revenge on the world. Much of it stemmed from an incident at the tender ago of seven when something in me broke inside at the sight of my brothers being thrashed by my dad for some act sort of insubordination.

Once that realization surfaced, real healing could begin. It certainly did not happen overnight. Getting rid of anger and the desire for revenge against evil forces in this world takes time. Thus the journey of Beatrix Kiddo from a near death experience to exacting sweet revenge and liberation feels familiar in some respects.

Revenge all around

For other people the journey of revenge and proving themselves gets funneled into business, or making money. At least those are largely constructive endeavors. But not always. We’re all witnesses to the antics and rage of a man who wants revenge against anyone that wrongs him. But I’ll admit that I get that. I get the motivation. The inner rage. The sense of being wronged.

But along the way, healthy people ultimately recognize that revenge is not what life is really about. Or at least it shouldn’t be.

The opposite of revenge

For one thing, there is love, which is the opposite of revenge. And forgiveness, the opposite of payback. Most of all there is loving creation and the call to grace.

But sometimes you also have to fight for love in this world. To keep it alive. To foster it  and help it stand up against the forces of evil. These include jealousy, revenge, fear, prejudice and distrust.  Each of these drives so many actions and responses in this world.

And when all else fails, or you’re just too tired to fight any more, it pays just to go to bed and sleep it off. That’s what I did last night after a tough meeting that had my head spinning and kept me awake for a while. I let Beatrix do her thing and watched Zuckerberg snark his way through discussion with the lawyers. And I realized, “Perhaps I can’t solve all this in the moment.”

And the best revenge of all can be going to sleep.

Posted in Christopher Cudworth, competition, mental health, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Walking wounded

Fit DotsLast fall I should have listened to my instincts and gone ahead with surgery on the torn meniscus in my left knee. It had been popping out some last summer, but when it stopped acting weird going into winter I thought perhaps that surgery wasn’t necessary. When I met with the doctors, they fairly warned me it was a “significant tear.’

So I was wrong not to get it fixed last December. Now I’m walking around wounded and making plans to have the surgery done as quick as possible. The minute I started back into cycling late this winter, the knee started getting funky.

What caused it? 

The MRI last fall showed the damage. I caused it by hurdling a street cone on a snowy road at the Sno-Fun-Run back in 2015 or so. At the time, I did not know the meniscus was harmed. It felt like a hyperextension of the knee, and that much was true.

But it’s gotten worse by the year, and the meniscus actually sticks out from the knee on some occasions during a run. Then last summer it sort of slid out of place and I spent a day hobbling around. So I kept deceiving myself that I could get along.

Torn about it

GASP 3That’s how it is with injuries. I wasn’t necessarily trying to hide from the fact that I was a member of the Walking Wounded. I’ve been through two (count ’em, two) torn ACL incidents. The first was profound during an indoor soccer match. It was traumatic, sudden and horribly life-changing.

But I had surgery on that knee and replaced the ACL with a cadaver part I called Jake. Two years later I tore it again. Jake died all over again.

From then on, I’ve gotten along fine without an ACL in the left knee. I just don’t play ballistic sports. Running, riding and swimming are all fine and dandy.

Then I had to go get fancy (and stupid) a couple years ago by jumping over that street cone. Now the consequences of that faux-youthful indiscretion have got me by the meniscus. I have run with a knee strap to keep the thing in place, and that works while I’m not out riding 2-3 hours at a time. I had a bike fit last fall to make sure my alignment was good. But some things are just part of the deal.

Bring it on. Maybe not. 

The meniscus is a pad of tissue that cushions the inside of the knee. It’s there to keep bone from rubbing on bone. So I hope that cutting a chunk out won’t turn into arthritis on the inside knobs of my knee. It’s hard enough getting older without bringing things on yourself.

In the meantime, I walk around with a touch of a limp. It usually loosens up during the day, but several times over the last couple years, the knee has buckled a bit and it hurts then. So I try to be smart in all my movements. Life becomes a ginger dance, and I’m not talking about being a redhead.

Present in the moment

Walking gingerly means being present in the moment so that you don’t make things worse by stepping off a curb the wrong way. Some of the worst exaggerations of injuries happen in the most benign of circumstances.

There’s a little pressure on me going into all this. Come late May, my wife and I are going to be in North Carolina at a triathlon camp. We’ll be riding 200+ miles in the hills and that means I need to get some fitness together before then. But having been through injuries before, I believe that after a couple days on crutches, it will actually be good to get out and pedal the knee and the rest of me into shape. Perhaps there will be some physical therapy involved. That would be a good thing.

This afternoon if the weather holds up like it says, I’ll be getting out for a two-hour ride toward twilight. It’s funny how the knee doesn’t hurt while I’m riding, but running the next day is more than tricky. It hurt like hell last Sunday morning. Pain is always trying to tell you something. We just have to learn to listen.

And if we don’t, we get to wander around like the Walking Wounded.


Posted in cycling, cycling the midwest, healthy aging, running, swimming, tri-bikes, triathlete, triathlon, triathlons | Leave a comment

We all shine on

Summer family.jpg

Linda (second from left) during a graduation party with neighbor Heather Cunningham, her brother Paul, father Mel and mother Joan Mues.

It has been five years to the day since the woman to whom I was married for 28 years passed away. On March 26, 2013 she died quietly in the living room of our home where over the last couple weeks our friends and family had gathered to share in the waning moments of her life.

Yesterday afternoon we held a celebration of that life by inviting folks to a restaurant where we shared wine and stories. My daughter Emily brought lots of photos and many people were moved to relate moments or experiences that represented their relationship with Linda Cudworth

Like a phoenix

Chris and LindaThose stories were met with smiles and laughter. And there were serious discussions as well. How she’d been so strong through eight long years of cancer treatments. “She battled back from every round, her best friend shared, “Like a phoenix!”

As a firsthand witness to those challenges, I can relate the fear we both felt in that first round of chemotherapy. How she writhed on the couch wishing only to be free from those feelings. The stinging chemicals poured into the human body during chemotherapy mess with your systems and senses. She endured all that to stay alive through multiple treatments and years of trepidation on whether the cancer would return. And it did, unfortunately. Time and again we pushed it back, with a year or so of relative peace between.

She did it to be there for her kids through life’s landmarks of family events and graduations and more. But also to be alive in the moment, and to get back to her joy in gardening and to teach the preschool children she loved. Those were her personal missions of God.


Emily to collegeThose of us who run and ride can appreciate some aspects of dealing with pain to get to a point of joy.

We know what it’s like to live with pain in the moment. We can even understand how its effects and the fatigue that come from hard effort can linger.

But imagine dealing with those difficulties when you don’t choose them. When they are forced on you by whatever odd algorithm the universe allows to introduce cancer in one person and not in the next. It can certainly feel unfair. And that’s the tough part. How to participate in a race where it feels like the only goal is to keep on running. It reminds me of the cycling axiom: “It never gets easier you just go harder.” 

Parallel lives

My freshman college roommate and cross country teammate also lost his wife to ovarian cancer. The likelihood of that has always struck me as odd. His wife was a sweet and lovely woman named Kristi. She had a soft voice and big brown eyes. She was an excellent runner who broke 40:00 for 10k.

When cancer came to her, she went through all those treatments as well. On a couple occasions during visits to Luther College over the years, the two women had quiet conversations about the cancer they both were trying to overcome.

When Kristi lost her brown hair during one of those treatments, it came back curly and gray. But it came back. That is symbolic of how the struggle of cancer can change you. She looked different, but she also looked lovely.

Changes all around

Evan from collegeCancer changes the people around those who are going through the struggle as well. My children kept close tabs on their mom, of course. They wanted to know how she was doing and trusted me to tell them. Yet she was resolute about what she was willing to share when things got tough at times.

When our kids were busy with college or starting out their lives in other ways, she parsed out what she felt they needed to know. “I am doing well,” she’d make me promise to say.

This was true despite all the changes it wrought in her body and mind. The neuropathy in her feet from chemo made it tough for her to walk through the garden. Her numb hands and fingers were just as bad, and one type of chemo drug made the skin of her hands peel away. Yet’s she’d still put on gloves and get out there and dig. When she’d lost her hair the third or fourth time, it refused to come back. Yet she’d be out there in the garden sweating right through the scarf covering her bald head. She was a gamer, you might say.

Racing hearts

That’s how she was from the get-go. She was more of a walker than a runner by habit. But the one time she ran a road race with me, she chose a 10K and trained a few weeks to get in shape. On that base she ran a solid 59:00. Her whole family has a high oxygen uptake. Her brother Paul raced bikes at a CAT 3 level and rode 40K in one hour to help us win a team duathlon at one point. That’s a 24 mph average.

His sister was a goof about the whole ‘take exercise seriously thing.’ I recall one of the first times we ran together. We were trotting along and her long blonde hair was flying behind her. She mentioned that her stomach felt a bit full, and then revealed that she and some friends had just imbibed in quite a bit of wine. My jaw dropped and I laughed at the thought of it.

Golden Leg Syndrome

Linda and ChrisSee, Linda often teased me about what she called Golden Leg Syndrome. On the night before races I would seldom agree to go out and party or anything like it. I didn’t want my legs to feel dead from standing around some kitchen for three hours. I’d worked too hard to get into shape to waste it on some social occasion. And that’s the other thing I would not do; drink the night before an important race.

For the most part, she understood all that. She also came to watch me race many times, and more than once I was fortunate enough to win.

Yet the hierarchy of race prizes always bugged her. “They give all these nice things away in the raffle and you win the race and don’t get shit,” she laughed. Which made it even funnier after I won a big race and received Marathon Santa Christmas ornament as the prize. The race was held in August.

Lessons in humility and life

To this day I don’t know if that prize was a mistake or not. But the point was moot. It was a lesson in humility and the fact that life is more about what you’re doing than it is about what you get in return. From that perspective, we evolved a motto during the cancer treatment that was simple and practical: “It is what it is.”

We didn’t ask for more than we should expect, and tried not to complain. Linda’s sole  gripe was that she hated having to be the center of so much attention at times. There was a caregiving group of 80 people that grew up around us to help with rides and meals and other needs. It was all coordinated by one of her best friends and the director of the preschool where she worked. Her name was also Linda, and I joked that during those eight years she acted a second wife to our family. But it wasn’t really a joke. It was true. That woman looked after us like an angel from God.

Celebration of life

Sue with flowers

My wife Sue prepares flowers for the event.

Because the true pain of all this was its impact on our children. Yesterday’s celebration of life for their mother was wonderful. And while it doesn’t change the fact that their mom is gone, it does point out that she is present with them through all her friends and even through the woman to whom I am now married.

Everyone gets it. We are family in ways that we don’t even understand sometimes. That was a keen value in my late wife, a love of family. And the fact that that exists in so many ways is a great testament to her influence on so many of us.

And we all shine on.

Posted in Christopher Cudworth, competition, cross country, it never gets easier you just go faster, we run and ride | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Cold comfort

IMG_2553Starting a ride at 5:00 pm on a March evening when the temperature is just 48 degrees is a guarantee of one thing. It will get colder as you go. And sure enough, by the time I finished my ride in 1:45, the air had chilled to just 42 degrees and the wind had shifted slightly to the north.

That wasn’t cold enough to generate any real threat to well-being. I had dressed well for the weather with my relatively windproof Proviz360 jacket underpinned by a long sleeve base later and a cycling jersey over that. But toward the end, my arms got cold and my toes too. Fortunately by then I was a mere three miles from home.

Cold comfort and direction

It was sunny and clear throughout the ride. But as the sun sank lower in the sky I was headed directly west on a straight road, and that bright sun became a problem. Vehicles approaching from behind could probably not see me very well on the bike. Even my rear blinking light was little assurance of warning to drivers.

Sure enough, one of them buzzed within inches of me as it blew past. The disturbing thing about that incident is that I was already six inches OFF the actual road riding outside the white line. The driver still nearly struck me. Whoever it was, broke the law.

Three near strikes

That’s the third time this year in fact. Each time I’ve wondered if it was something I’d done to put myself at risk. The lighting conditions were bad yesterday. Yet even in good light one day, a lone driver on a massively open semi-gravel nearly mowed me down.

I do think these close calls were accidental. If they were intentional they are evidence of a truly savage mind behind the wheel. That’s possible of course, but I’m going with the benefit of the doubt that in these instances the drivers just cannot see me.

that means I’ve got to ramp up my visibility game. Or else die.

Mr. Silhouette

The Proviz360 jacket works in any condition other than being silhouetted by the sun. Even the merest glimmer of light makes the jacket light up. But when the sun turns me into a silhouette on the road, I’m at complete risk.

So I can’t ask for sympathy if I’m not doing enough to protect myself. That would be cold comfort indeed, defined as: “quite limited sympathy, consolation, or encouragement.”

No sympathy, and that’s cold comfort

We already know there are many drivers that have very little sympathy for any types of bikes on the road. Some seem ignorant that cycling is not only legal, but there are laws requiring vehicles to give cyclists three feet of clearance in all conditions while passing. Of course, that sometimes means cars would have to slow down and separate hazards while trying to pass with oncoming traffic involved. Some people don’t like to do that. They actually speed up and just try to blow past as quick as possible. Which doubles the danger to all involved.

“The laws don’t apply to me”

It is also clear that many people hate the idea they have to accommodate the laws protecting cyclists. The attitude seems to be that those laws don’t really apply to them. Either they’re in a big hurry to get somewhere or they view the road as their personal property. Thus a cyclist is essentially a ‘trespasser’ on their road.

This seems to hold true across every spectrum of road. From urban streets where cyclists attempt to navigate through a maze of trucks, buses, cars and taxis to suburban thoroughfares and boulevards where everyone is either late or afraid they’re going to be late, cyclists are seen as an infraction against the car culture.

Animated road kill

TurtleOut on country roads, cyclists are regarded with disdain by many drivers, who seem to look at cyclists as an animated form of road kill, one of those necessary evils of driving on public roads. The attitude of road ownership is even more pronounced in semi-rural areas where the farming community faces its share of discrimination as suburban housing reaches into the fields. It all becomes a competitive battle for use of the roads.

It’s never funny when cultural consideration gets flattened by selfish expectations. But then, America is a country that once thought it was fine to keep slaves. it wasn’t that long ago in our nation’s history that was true. Do we really expect that one or two generations is really going to fix that brand of prejudicial ignorance? Or that it doesn’t somehow get pushed into other areas like toothpaste out of a tube?

We’re daily witnesses to the political wishes of those who consider their own aims and fears far more important than the general welfare of the populace. The real Concealed Carry in this country is selfishness. It is the most dangerous weapon in the universe.


So I got home last night with two realizations.

One, I have to light my bike up like a Christmas tree if I really want to be safe. One simply can’t assume that between bad lighting, busy roads, people texting while driving and the general distractions of life that any single driver gives a rats ass about you.

I accept that. It’s cold comfort when you’ve nearly been struck several times. But you can either work to manage that problem, which I plan to do, or die without trying.

Cold comfort realities

It is also true what my buddy told me yesterday about exercising in the cold. He’s a track coach and has produced many state champions. He shared that he keeps in touch with Division 1 track coaches across the country. And one of them told him something that is immensely interesting.

See, track times among athletes in the south and west are generally faster than athletes in the northern states. That’s especially true with sprinters, but it really applies to tracksters of many types. The cold spring weather reduces the ability to produce fast times because athletes can’t perform as well in the cold as they can in warmer temps.

Recruiters of track athletes actually keep tables that adjust the times of runners up north to compare with those who compete in warmer, more southern climes.

Wait till June

Which is cold comfort when you get home after a ride in cold spring temps because you’re pedaling like mad and just not going as fast as you would in June or August.

But there’s a reason for it. The statistics of big time athletes bear it out. And it’s always nice to have excuses for not killing it out there. But it’s even better to have a plan to not get killed out there.

That’s called convergent evolution. It’s life in real time.

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