Saturday, May 28, 2011

The District Track Meet: Rain, Wet, Cold. Totally Kick-Ass

Megan Sawyer is my next door neighbor. She is thirteen-years old. At a very early age she was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes. By the age of four she was giving herself her own shots. She asked to do this, and her parents, knowing how important it was to give her some ownership over her disease, allowed her to do so. Megan calls herself "a normal teen." She loves sports,  her friends, her cat, puppy, and family. She makes beautiful jewelry, and sometimes she helps organize walks to raise money for diabetes. She is smart, funny, kind, and beautiful in every sense of the word.

Megan being Beautiful

Her grandparents, Tony and Joy, have become my adopted grandparents. We met over a desperate stray cat named Leo (now living with the Sawyers... no longer desperate and quite a self-satisfied fatty). Last night I got an email from Tony asking me about Megan's Middle School District Track meet, which I was at on behalf of Route 16 and also because I knew there was going to be some major running drama and being a writer and a girl I love drama. Yup.

Last week, Megan and her mama Vanessa stopped by Route 16 to see if Boss Miguel had any running tips for Megan for the District Meet. Megan is a sprinter, and it turns out, a damn good one. But she'd never been able to beat a schoolmate of hers named Troye. Both of these two girls were poised to win the 100 meter sprint. Win, lose, or draw, it was going to be a close race. From behind the counter I watched Megan listening to Miguel. He talked to her about race-day preparation. Warming up. Nutrition. Adjusting the starting block. Power. Megan didn't say much. But you could tell she was taking in every word that he said. You could see the hunger in her eyes. The fire. In a lot of ways Miguel and Megan are kindred spirits. They both endured childhood hardships, Megan with her diabetes, and Miguel... well, we'll get to him in a later post but let me assure you right now his story is a great one with lots of agony, suffering, and hardship.

Race day arrived, cold and wet. There was nearly an hour delay before the first event. The kids shivered in their shorts and singlets, their muscles visibly tight and cold.

I saw Megan a couple of times before her race. I asked her to point out Troye. Now I'm sure Troye is a lovely girl (and I believe that she and Megan are good friends), but I couldn't help it, when no one was looking I narrowed my eyes at her, even though I am supposed to be a grown up who sets a good example for teens.

"Don't worry about winning," I told Megan. "You just worry about running your own best race. It's okay to feel nervous. You WANT to feel nervous. The adrenaline will help you run faster."

Megan nodded and smiled. Her face was pure excitement.

I was the nervous one.

I took my place at the sidelines to watch. Megan was practically bouncing up and down, so eager was she to be running. The starter fired his gun. The sprinters exploded off the blocks. I screamed as hard as I could, fully believing that my voice possessed a magical power that would somehow help Megan to run even faster.

And they're off!

It was a close race, with some serious see-sawing, and from where I was standing I couldn't see which girl actually crossed the finish line first. Then Megan turned towards the crowd and I caught her eye. I shrugged my shoulders in a question, and raised first two fingers, then one. Tentative. Hopeful.

She raised one finger. You could tell she was trying not to grin. Now it was my turn to jump up and down. She'd done it. She'd won the race. She'd won first place at Districts. She'd outrun a very worthy competitor. Most importantly, she'd beaten her expectations of herself.

I saw her mama afterwards and we debriefed the race, both of us stupid proud. Vanessa told me that Troye's time was a little slower than usual. Was this why Megan had won? she wondered. And was Troye okay? (being the kindhearted person that she is, Vanessa was worried about Megan's friend).

Here's what I think happened. It is my belief that when it comes to running, early suffering gives you a competitive advantage. You know how to endure. You already have experience with beating the odds. I know what I saw before the race even started. Megan listened to every word Miguel said. She prepared. Even before she took her place on the starting block, Megan was acting like she'd already won the race. The actual running of it was merely a detail. I think it was her confidence and excitement that psyched Troye out. Never doubt for a second that running is a mental game.

Proud Mama and Papa (talking to Tony and Joy after the finish)

Here's what Tony wrote in his letter to me:

"Maybe you can tell me something. Megan was obviously running at a higher level that day. Do you think that this was because she decided to open the throttle wider or was it in response to some coaching detail from Miguel or you?  I think it's interesting with people of this age to know 1. Did they listen? 2. Did they listen and understand and 3. Did they listen and apply?" 

Hope this answers your questions, Tony!

Here's one other thing I'd like to add. Obviously, winning is exciting (and not something I know a whole lot about). But the great thing about running is that even if you finish dead last in a race (which I have) you're way ahead of the game. You win by stepping over the starting line. The rest is gravy. 

Friday, May 20, 2011

Centerfold: A Muddy Man for Every Dirty Girl

Yes, Dirty Girls are all about "girl power" and such, but we recognize that not all boys have cooties all the time. Here are a few of our favorite "Muddy Men."

The Route 16 Gang
They are fast and fun and can be spotted at Green/Gold Mountain and Route 16. Very difficult to catch.
James Varner, Director of Rainshadow Running (sporting a sports bra for fashion and fun)
Check out "It's Never Sane With James" in the June Trail Runner Magazine!

John Pearch, Director of the Capitol Peak Mega Fat Ass and 50K/50 Miler
John may be a little confusing sometimes (such as in the above picture) but he sure knows how to put on a great race... and after party. 
Herb Reeves, leader of the Oly Trail Runners
Herb is a stud in every sense. He is a survivor of open heart surgery and he's bounced his way back to running multiple 50k's, 50 milers, and even some 100 milers. Even better, he once won "Best Legs" in the highly coveted "Trail-y Awards."
Luis Galeana? Or the Pied Piper?
Yes Ladies, it's true: Luis Galeana is currently SINGLE! Now hurry and snatch him up before someone else beats ya to the punch!
Tony Seabolt, Dirty Girl Mascot and Leader of NarrowsBridge Running Club
Tony, a self-proclaimed "Billy Goat." If there are no trails he'll simply make you one. 
Miguel Galeana, the other Dirty Girl mascot and owner of Route 16 Running & Walking

Here is Boss Miguel Galeana, living the dream and loving every second of it! What Muddy Man wouldn't want to be surrounded on all sides by Dirty Girls?

Reason Number Bajillion and Ten to Run Trails

Reason Number Bajillion and Ten to Run Trails (spoken by our very own Dirty Girl Pamela Holt--she's the one in purple):

"I like training and running on trails because when I race on the road it feels like I'm on vacation."

I, for one, am all for vacation!

Pam is an extra special Dirty Girl, and if there was a word for "Most Improved" or "Miss Congeniality" she just might win. She thinks she's not fast enough. Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight. Today, as we crested the mountainous switchback, I gasped for breath and prayed that some of the Dirty Girls were taking their sweet time so that I could cough out a lung or two. Nope. And right behind me, like less than ten feet, was Pam.

She impresses me. She impresses all of us. And she's just so dang nice. She has this cool way of pulling you aside when she wants to tell you something, and she speaks to you in this low, serious voice, and no matter what she has to say (like maybe she's simply telling you that you need to tie your shoe) you feel like you're being told something extra special and important.

That's her gift. She makes everyone feel special and important.

I, for one, am grateful for Pamela Holt, Most Improved and Miss Congeniality, all rolled into one beautiful, talented, speedy Dirty Girl.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

I Have Something Shameful to Tell You

I have something shameful to tell you. In middle school and in high school I wanted to be a cheerleader. But I was kind of a goth. Or at least I think I was a goth. I went to tighty-whitey high school in Birmingham, Alabama and I'm not sure if we knew what goths actually were. We didn't know what a lot of things were... such as the real world, for example, and poverty. But I wore a lot of black and black eyeliner and kept my bangs over my eyes (possibly one of the reasons I was so awkward was that I couldn't actually see through my hair). I figured it was better to be weird than nerdy. I figured looking "deep" might make me "deep." I had a lot to learn.

My dear friend Louise Parsons (a Dirty Girl at heart but not a runner... at least not yet) recalls that "When you showed up to Mountain Brook High in the tenth grade you were the strangest thing we had ever seen." She kept a wide berth for a couple of years but by senior year we were best friends. She decided I was "interesting." For a long time "interesting" was all I had going for me.

Though I knew it would only make me look all the more pathetic, not once but THREE times I tried out for the cheerleading squad. I like to think I had one near miss (the year only thirteen girls tried out).

A few years ago I was watching "Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders: Making the Team,"and when I learned there was an age cut-off I was stricken with sadness. Because I realized that some dreams really do pass us by, and that I would never be a cheerleader (Dallas Cowboys or otherwise).

Recently (like this morning) I realized that I've finally made peace with the ghost of my cheerleading-that-never-came-to-pass past. Because now I am a Dirty Girl, and Dirty Girls... we kind of look like cheerleaders.

It's all about the skirt, now ain't it!!!

And in a way, I do kind of feel like a cheerleader... the cheerleader of the Dirty Girls. I'm not fast, and I have to work really hard to be a middle of the pack runner but if there's one thing I'm good at it's bringing other people together and getting them to love trail running (even on the days when I secretly hate it).

Now that's something to cheer about, no?

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Dirty Girls Do the Tacoma City Marathon Relay

My book came out a couple of weeks ago, and a lot of people asked me on release day how it felt to be a famous author. Being a famous author is cool and everything, though I am still broke and living with the folks for a bit, and also no one seems to realize that I'm famous.

But the truth is, on release day (May 3, 2011) I was still basking in the glow of one of the greatest running days of my life, the Tacoma City Marathon Relay, a race I really, quite frankly, didn't want to run. But my dear friend Wenche (pronounced Vaanka... she is Norwegian) has a way of twisting my arm, and also she promised to give me the easiest/most scenic leg.

Also she said she'd pay.

Take note folks: apparently I can be bought. 

The Dirty Bakers Dozen
Here we are pre-run, a pretty pink force, two Dirty Girl Relay Teams... and then some!

Where the Girls Are
 Here we are at the finish wearing the cool sunglasses that Dirty Girl Beth Glander was kind enough to provide. We are professionals after all and must look the part.
Big Mama
 This is Wenche, the viking goddess who twisted my arm into running this race. She is starting a program at a local homeless shelter to get the homeless running and racing. Let me know if you're interested in helping out and I'll send you her way.
Dirty Girl Mascots? Or Dirty Girl Wannabes?
 What can I say? Everyone wants to hang out with the Dirty Girls, including the winner of the half-marathon, Miguel Galeana (who is also my boss), and the second place winner of the Marathon, Edwin Vega (who is not my boss), who would have won the race, if a little puking episode hadn't held him up at mile 24.

Big Mama the Viking Hauls It In
 Wenche ran the final leg. She caught and passed the competition with viking flair. She is a killer. To her left (the super-model) is Kris Tebb, also a Dirty Girl.
We Won. Did you hear me? WE WON!!! (no I'm not competitive)
 There was drama at the finish line. A team of upstarts initially "won" first place for the all womens relay. But they weren't Dirty Girls, and after a very serious investigation, we emerged triumphant. Okay, I should mention here that I have NEVER EVER won anything for running before, and I am not in any way a competitive runner but damn...I ain't gonna lie.... It felt good to be in first place!

What's on your left there, Leah?
 We had a couple of Dirty Girl Mobiles to help with the logistics...
"Are the cops coming?"
Here's where I'll be cute and clever: you want to know how it feels to finally have a book come out after, oh, I dunno, seven long years? See the picture below? Nuff said.

Crossing the Finish Line Together

Sunday, May 15, 2011

My Very First Dirty Girls Post

Tonight I talked to DJ, who lives way too far away to bear. Dj is a little hurt by me right now because I didn't give her enough attention in the acknowledgements of my book. She got a mention (good, right?) but felt like she was deserving of "full-paragraph status." (My brother David, my friend Louise, and my Uncle Harry all got paragraphs). I explained to DJ that she very much was and is a full-paragraph status friend (she was actually there for the very first plotting session of my book) and to make up for the neglect I'm writing my very first blog post ever about her.

Note to my readers: I use the words "very" and "really" shamelessly.

DJ and I met at at bank. We both worked at the bank. We were both bank misfits in that we are creative types, and banks really aren't creative places (though I do believe that having money allows for creativity as it allows you to buy things like computers and paper, and in the case of DJ, yarn by the crate). I knew the moment we met that we were destined to be best friends. DJ remembers seeing me for the first time and thinking I was a "very pretty girl with a very unladylike walk."

DJ is one of the smallest and most adorable people you will ever meet.

She has bright blue eyes that twinkle with an impish gleam. Yes, I really just said that. She likes to say things like "If you can't say anything nice come sit by me." When she gets mad or upset she gets so physically hot that she emanates heat like one of those fake logs (though she is neither fake nor a log). Sometimes she sticks her foot in her mouth, like the time when I was crying and on the verge of divorce and she suggested that I might feel less self absorbed if I would just get out and volunteer. I was really pissed at her for this. But she was also right.

She knits and bakes and has a baby. She climbs mountains and cooks collard greens.

And she's one of the most beautiful runners you will ever meet. She makes it look effortless. She trained for about a month and ran her first 50K... and finished in the top fourth of the pack. Running with DJ makes you feel like you're a kid. She is pure joy when she runs. She reminds you that running is play. She reminds you that you're very out of shape because it's so dang hard to keep up with her.

I was so jealous after she ran her first 50K. I told her so.

"Why?" she asked.

"Because I could never do that," I said.

"Yes you can," she retorted. "Yes you can."

Several months later we misread a map and our fourteen-mile trail run became a twenty-four miler. It was a long painful day. It was one of the best days of my life. Because of that day I entered and ran the Baker Lake 50K. Because of DJ I did something I never believed I could do.

DJ lives in California now. Often when I'm running I get a sharp pang of missing her. I miss her cherry almond biscotti as well. She's the essence of a Dirty Girl, tough yet feminine, passionate and playful. You'd want her by your side in a fight.

Let's raise our glasses to DJ.