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Posts Tagged ‘sports’

heart neponset trail

Here’s one way I knew I was becoming a runner: I started buying Runner’s World occasionally at the airport.

I’m not much of a magazine buyer, except when I travel. But it’s fun to browse the airport newsstand and pick up something to flip through on the plane. (Man, I miss flying. Anyone else?) I remember buying the issue of Runner’s World with Shalane Flanagan on the cover. Inside those pages was a whole Technicolor world of performance running gear, advice for running in all seasons and weathers, odd terms like “splits” and “intervals” and “taper” and “shakeout run.” And most of the folks in those pages looked like me – but also they didn’t.

As a white woman who’s always been healthy and thin (genes + decent eating habits + a love of walking), you might think I’d see myself in runners like Flanagan or Deena Kastor or Amelia Boone. But I looked at those chiseled bodies and read about their workouts and thought, That’s not me. I saw myself far more easily in the stories about amateur runners: folks who run for fun and fitness and to push themselves, who haven’t made it a career.

A few months ago, I stumbled on the Instagram account @diversewerun, which features runners of all races, genders and body types, and highlights why they run. It’s joyful and fun, and it regularly reminds me of the huge variety of people who are runners.

I knew that running culture – like so many “elite” spaces in the U.S. – often looks very white, but that people of all ethnicities run, and they deserve to be seen. But the particular stories shared on that account (founded by Carolyn Su) are teaching me new things all the time. And it reminds me that this is one more place where we all need to do better.

If I felt intimidated by running culture – and I’m white and healthy and I can afford new running shoes – how much more intimidating might it be for people of color, folks with disabilities, those who see the price tags on running gear and think I can’t possibly afford that? Representation matters, as always, and I love seeing Carolyn and others highlight all kinds of running stories.

Running has the potential to be so democratic: anyone who can lace up their shoes and run can become a runner, no matter your age, weight, size, gender, ethnicity or fitness level. I am grateful to have found a home in this sport, and grateful to others who keep sharing their stories and reminding us that there’s room here for everyone.

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figure skating championships boston

(Photo from last month’s U.S. Figure Skating Championships here in Boston)

I love the Olympics. All of it.

The pageantry of the opening ceremonies, the bright colors of all the different countries’ flags, the hushed tension as we watch the competitions and the bursts of cheering at the end of a run, a race or a routine. I love the cheesy ads featuring the athletes, the clips of vintage Olympic triumphs, and Morgan Freeman’s voice. I love the mini-documentaries that tell bits of the athletes’ stories. I love Bob Costas’ commentary (and I’m so sad that his eye infection has taken him out of these Games). And oh my, do I love the Olympic theme music.

Every time the Olympics come around again, I remember the names and the glories of past Games. I remember watching Kristi Yamaguchi, Katarina Witt, Brian Boitano and other great skaters dazzle on the ice in the 1980s and 1990s. I remember being captivated by the love story, on and off the ice, of Ekaterina Gordeeva and Sergei Grinkov, and horrified by the Nancy Kerrigan/Tonya Harding scandal. I remember seeing Oksana Baiul, in a pink confection of a costume, wow the crowd at the 1994 Olympics in Lillehammer, and four years later, watching Tara Lipinski make the same kind of impression in Nagano.

We are deep into the Sochi Games over here, cheering for the snowboarding and the downhill skiing and every single event in the figure skating competition. J wants to know if we can get the slopestyle announcers to commentate the figure skating, because they keep saying things like “that was totally awesome” or “he laid down a smoker” after a really good run. The grace and power of the ice dancers nearly makes me weep. And I cringe when anyone falls – because I want them all to do well. I wish they all could win.

For two weeks every four years, J and I become obsessed with ski jumps and triple toe loops and the finer points of sports we never think about outside of the Olympics. We hold our breath and bite our nails and cheer at the top of our lungs, and I am guaranteed to get misty-eyed during the medal ceremonies. I love everything about the Games, but most of all, I love the stories. And for two weeks, I watch, starry-eyed and enthralled, soaking up as many of them as I can.

Are you watching the Sochi Olympics? What’s your favorite part?

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Winter Manifesto

snow harvard cambridge ma winter

I have a complicated relationship with winter. I love hot drinks, cozy scarves and curling up on the couch with a good book (preferably in the presence of twinkle lights, or a Christmas tree). But I struggle with the cold, short, dark days in this climate so far north from where I was raised. (And the blizzards, including the one we had last week.) I struggle to have a mind for winter.

Every year, I have to gird my loins to survive, much less enjoy, this difficult season. Hence, a manifesto – a few things to do, try and delight in while I’m waiting for spring.

  • Go to the U.S. Figure Skating Championships – my husband surprised me with tickets to the ladies’ free skate.
  • Get a massage, and go to the dentist. Self-care is important.
  • Continue with the yoga routine I’ve established (two or three times a week).
  • Go see the Celtics play at TD Garden, courtesy of a friend.
  • Watch the Olympics – I love the figure skating and the skiing.
  • Knit something cozy.
  • Tackle another hefty classic. (Recommendations, anyone? Last year’s was Les Mis.)
  • Indulge in a bit of color therapy.
  • Plan some springtime travel.

snow hood jacket

How do you survive – and/or enjoy – winter?

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I am not a golfer, unless you count the occasional round of miniature golf. I don’t have a patented swing, a pair of special shoes, a collection of polo shirts emblazoned with the names of famous golf courses. I don’t own a set of clubs.

But I spent hours this weekend, as I do every year, watching the Masters. (And cheering wildly at Adam Scott’s long birdie putt on the 18th hole, then holding my breath through the two-hole sudden-death playoff. What a finish!)

masters logo flowers

(Image from Wikimedia Commons)

I know that for most non-golfers, watching golf is a dull prospect. Even my sports-loving husband is no golf enthusiast, though he’ll happily watch hours of baseball on TV (which I find unbearably slow, though I like going to games). When we started dating, I bemoaned his indifference to the one sport my dad loves above all others. You can’t spend even a weekend at my parents’ house without a discussion about golf.

When I was growing up, I thought everyone’s dads kept a couple of putters in the corner of the living room, handy for a bit of practice while dinner was cooking. My dad, though he spent lots of weekend days playing with my sister and me, usually kissed us good-bye and headed to the course on Saturday morning or on Sunday after church, slathering on sunscreen or pulling on a windbreaker, depending on the season. He wore the same tattered green and white stocking cap for many winters, till I knit him a striped one in the colors of my high school. Polo shirts make up a significant part of his wardrobe, and you can always find a copy of Golf World on the kitchen counter.

When Dad wasn’t at the course on the weekends, he’d turn on the TV to catch the tournament du jour: the U.S. Open, the PGA Championship, the British Open, lots of smaller competitions. I learned the names of the greats early on, chief among them Jack Nicklaus (“the Golden Bear”) and Arnold Palmer (“the King”). I spent hours watching them swing their clubs against long stretches of velvety green, shading their eyes to follow those tiny white balls through the deep blue sky. Nick Faldo, Ben Crenshaw, Gary Player, Greg Norman: these men were the giants of my childhood. I still cheer for Fred Couples and Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson, because they are the players I know and love.

I never took to playing the game the way my sister did: Dad taught us both how, but only Betsy played competitively in high school. But Dad (who played in high school and college, and still boasts an impressive zero handicap) did instill in me his deep respect for the game. Having lived with a serious golfer for many years, I understand the skill and patience required for these men to play the way they do. I love that golf is a sport people can play for their entire lives. And I deeply admire many of the pros I grew up watching, who are good men as well as good golfers.

dad masters surprise

When my dad turned 50, my mom surprised him with tickets to the practice round at Augusta (above). They traveled to Georgia to walk the course, see the famous azaleas in bloom, watch the competitors prepare for the upcoming rounds of play. A framed yellow Masters flag now sits in my parents’ living room, next to the trophies Dad has won at various local tournaments.

Every year, around the beginning of April, Dad calls and says: Do you know what starts in a week or so? And I smile and lower my voice, and whisper reverently: The Masters.

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It would be a stretch to say I measure my life by the Olympics, since I’m not all that athletic and I don’t follow most of these sports in the intervening years. But my memories of certain Olympic Games are definitely tied to memories of what was going on in my life at that time. As we’ve watched the drama and glory unfold in London, I’ve been remembering other Olympic summers.

The first Olympics I remember were the ’92 Barcelona Games, not so much for the Dream Team (though I did watch them) as for the gymnastics. My sister is the one who took lessons, but my whole family watched in awe as Vitaly Scherbo dominated the men’s competition. The Berlin Wall hadn’t been down all that long, and there was a lot of confusion over where, exactly, all these countries from the former Soviet Union were located.

(Twelve years later, as a college student, I walked through Montjuic, the area of south Barcelona containing many of the Olympic venues. After nine days trekking through six Spanish cities and a near-miss when terrorists bombed the train station in Madrid, an afternoon in Montjuic, with its pools and parks, was balm to my soul.)

olympic pools montjuic barcelona spain

Olympic pools in Montjuic, Barcelona

I was 12, just old enough to be captivated, when the Magnificent Seven dominated the women’s gymnastics competition in the Atlanta ’96 games. I cut out newspaper clippings of Dominique Dawes, Shannon Miller and their teammates, to glue into a scrapbook streaked with red, blue and silver glitter. I remember Dominique Moceanu’s sassy floor routine to “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” and standing in the living room gasping and cheering as Kerri Strug completed her historic pair of vaults. Every time they show that clip on TV, I can hear my dad’s voice saying, “Girls, you’re watching history.” And we were.

The 2004 Athens Games began as I returned to Abilene to begin my junior year of college (after spending the spring in Oxford). The day after the Opening Ceremonies, my friend Cheryl was killed in a car wreck, leaving our Oxford group stunned and numb. Those Olympics are mostly a blur now, though I remember spending hours at the house we called House 9 (our group’s headquarters till we graduated from college), watching swimming and diving and gymnastics without really seeing them, trying to take in what had happened. The joy of the Games was a stark contrast to the first real tragedy I’d ever had to deal with.

When J and I got married in June 2008, we inherited an old, bulky TV from my parents – an unwieldy number, nearly as deep as it was wide. We had neither a cable subscription nor a sufficiently wide stand, so we set it in the corner of our living room (classy, I know). Between finishing a master’s thesis (me), working on graduate school assignments (Jeremiah) and unpacking our new home and settling into life together (both of us), we watched Shawn Johnson and Nastia Liukin wow the world in Beijing, and watched Michael Phelps rack up more and more and more medals, and flash that smile of his after every race.

This Olympics began for us in D.C., where we toasted the London opening ceremonies with tea and scones at Jaclyn’s house. We’ve had the TV on every night (unusual for us), watching the stories unfold. We particularly love the swimming (Michael Phelps! Missy Franklin! The entire U.S. team in relays!), the gymnastics (Gabby Douglas and the whole women’s squad), and women’s beach volleyball (Kerri and Misty!).

The Olympics are the only sporting event which excites both of us equally (I’ve been yelling at the TV even more than Jeremiah). We make fun of the commentators’ hyperbole, we beg for more coverage of  non-U.S. athletes, we roll our eyes at the hundreds of commercials. But we can’t tear our eyes away. We love the thrill, the glory, the drama, the stories. And I love that the Olympics, winter and summer, are now bound up with the story of our life together.

What do you love and remember about the Summer Olympics? I’d love to hear your memories.

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1. Qualifying – twice – for the National Spelling Bee.
2. Receiving poetry underlined in green – which means good things – from Al Haley, my creative writing professor.
3. Becoming a book reviewer for Shelf Awareness, after reading it and loving it for three years.
4. Seeing my name in print in Radiant and ACU Today (and online in various places). Thrills me every time.
5. Every single time I’ve been offered a job. Because it means they picked me.
6. Mastering the long list of regulars – and their drinks – at the Ground Floor, so I knew everyone’s name and order when they walked in the door.
7. Sinking a basket in a seventh-grade basketball game (the only one I made all season).
8. Finishing my master’s thesis.
9. Living abroad, by myself, for a year – I had a strong community around me, but that year tested me in important ways.
10. Living alone in my own apartment for a year (the year before I moved to Oxford).
11. Knitting a whole sweater – big, chunky, a little lopsided, but an actual sweater.
12. Moving across the country to Boston – nearly a year ago now – and beginning to make a home here.
13. Singing a solo at the coronation ceremony before my senior prom. (And surprising everyone who thought I was just a bookish flute player.)
14. Giving the salutatorian’s speech at my high school graduation.

What are some of your triumphs? I’d love to hear them. I think we all deserve a cheer sometimes.

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