I can’t remember how old I was at the time, but I was young. A group of us decided to have a race at recess. I didn’t win, but placed better than most of the others over the short course. One particular kid not happy with his placement, responded by telling the people who finished in front of him that we all ran like girls.
As a kid, I remember watching my mom run. Her long legs flying and her arms pumping, she left my dad in the dust whenever she wanted to. So, while I could beat my dad in a footrace at a younger age, I didn’t realize I might have a bit of speed in my legs until I finally managed to best my mom in one.
Growing up, my mom didn’t have the chance to run track or cross country. I still say to this day that she would have been a terror in both disciplines, and I often say that I believe I inherited a good bit of my distance running ability from her.
Thinking back, I’m not sure my mom missed a single cross country or track meet of mine. No matter the time or day or location, I could always count on her being there and cheering. As luck would have it, during my senior year a cross country meet fell on her 40th birthday. I had been running well all season and realized going into the meet that I had a solid chance to do place among the leaders.
When the race started, I sprinted to the front and never looked back, leading the race for its entirety and crossing the finish line with my first overall meet win. And in typical fashion, my mom stood cheering at the finish line with a beaming smile about the size of Texas.
Later that year, my Uncle Chuck, my mom’s younger brother who had won a few state track and cross country titles in his heyday, put together a training program for me to follow. It involved running countless quarters, or one lap for those uninitiated distance runners out there, a couple of times a week.
Crazily enough on each lap my mom stood at the 200-meter mark with a stopwatch to yell my time at me and then sprinted across the grass at Barron Stadium to be near the finish line when I crossed it to record my time there.
Honestly it’s kind of nuts, but that’s my mom. When our scholar’s bowl coach couldn’t take us to a tournament one weekend, she volunteered and drove us and watched over us, serving as a de facto coach. Of course, the biggest task for our coach was trying to keep us in line.
Other times she would come to my debate tournaments and sit through five rounds of debate. I love debate as much as the next person, but that’s a lot for anyone to have to sit through. But she did, always wearing the smile on her face.
I can’t remember exactly how it all came together, but when my mom was in her early 50s, she began running more competitively. I talked to her about her training and she did quite well. I did a bit of research and found a local road race that was happening the same weekend my parents were visiting us in Florida.
I pitched the idea to her, and she was down.
Our time didn’t set the world on fire, and she failed to place in her age group. But over the four-mile course I was treated to a display of strength and courage. No doubt, I pushed out a bit too fast. And while the course was flat and fast, it also featured the renowned Southwest Florida heat and humidity which borders on brutal, especially while traversing asphalt for four miles.
A few coaches and runners I recognized from local high schools passed by us as we were finishing the race, and I made sure to tell them all it was my mom’s first road race. They all cheered her on. A few even reached out to me later, asking me how she did. When we crossed the finish line and hugged, I can tell you my smile had to mimic the one my mom had on her 40th birthday.
My mom’s running days are in the past now, but it doesn’t mean she can’t come see me run. A few years back while my mom and dad were visiting us in Rome, I signed up for a 5K race. Much like the time I won the cross country race, I realized upon seeing the field that Saturday morning that I had a solid shot at winning.
I didn’t grab the lead from the start. Instead, I waited to make sure I had more than enough to win. When I did surge about midway through the race, I realized I had it. And when I came around the corner to the finish line, my mom’s cheers were without a doubt the loudest around.
Mom turns 70 this month. Most likely I won’t be winning a race on her birthday, but that doesn’t really matter. I know she’s proud of me anyway. And if for some reason one day someone decides to tell me I run like a girl. I’ll just smile and thank them for the compliment.