Friday, July 27, 2012

Faster, Higher, Stronger

The London Olympics begin today.  Boy, do I love me the Olympics.  Really, is there any better competition?  Super Bowls, World Series, sorry, the Olympics trump you all.  The drama.  The stories.  The blood, the sweat, the tears.  It's the best. 

I've been a fan of the Olympics since I was a little kid.  I still can remember being in my basement jumping up and down screaming with my dad while watching the 1980 Miracle on Ice USA hockey team beat those pesky Russians.  I remember being a lifeguard during the 1984 Olympics with a t.v. hooked up to an extension cord aimed at the guard tower so we could keep an eye on the swimming action.  When a swimming event came on we kicked everyone out of the pool so we could watch the events.  
Olympic Gold Medalist Rowdy Gaines
Olympic Gold medalist Steve Lundquist

In high school I was lucky to see my dear friend, and former teammate, Susan,  try out for the 1984 Olympics.  She really had no chance of making the team.  However, it was SO exciting to see her make the attempt.  And, to see all the amazing other swimmers who would make the team.  Who would have thought they would make such an amazing impact on the 1984 L.A. Games? Swimming was the iconic sport of these games.  And, Rowdy Gaines and Steve Lundquist were two of the stars.  Two of the swimmers we were lucky to meet at the Trials. 

And, wouldn't you know,  who made the 1988 Olympic Team?  Susan.  Sitting in my teammate's living room watching her race at the Trials, jumping up and down, screaming, yelling, crying.  She.  Made.  It.  Wow.  All I can remember when she called me just after the race was saying, "Oh, my God, YOU ARE GOING TO THE OLYMPICS!!!!!!!" Holy shit. I was bursting at the seams with pride. 

Years later I was so very lucky enough to work for the U.S. Olympic Committee in Colorado Springs,  Colorado.  This was such an amazing experience.  Working, living, and hanging out at the U.S. Olympic Training Center was a thrill.  Having friends who just happened to be on the cusp of making Olympic teams was so fun.  I got to do some really cool things.  Meet some really cool people.  Have some really amazing memories. 

But, this would be nothing in comparison to when I was lucky to procure a sweet month long volunteer position with the 1996 Atlanta Olympics a few years later.  I was smart enough to know not to ask for an event position, which most everyone else asked for.  I knew there was a better place to be.  Accreditation.  Anybody and everybody - athlete, coach, media, staff, EVERYBODY associated with the games was required to get their credentials badge.   I really think I had the best job.  Every single person that came through my station was smiling the biggest smile I had ever seen.  They were at the friggin Olympics for crying out loud! 

I checked in volunteers.  I checked in media.  I checked in athletes.  One night I was working at the airport accreditation.  I was having such fun doing this I pulled a 24 hour shift.  I just didn't want the fun to end.   Why hello there men's Greek water polo team.  Welcome.  Please step forward.  Welcome to the Atlanta Olympic Games.  My name is Andrea.  And, what is your name....... ?  Seriously?  How did I get so damn lucky?!?! 

My boss loved me so much she sent me to the Athletes' Village to work a few days.  The work there was pretty minimal, so she told me to just go have fun.  Go to the athlete bars, nightclubs, whatever I wanted to do.  Enjoy.  Again, seriously? Who am I?  I don't deserve to be amongst these amazing athletes.  

Susan & me at 1996 Olympic Swimming
And, lucky me.  Guess who met up with me to see some swimming events?  Susan.  We had an absolute blast cheering on USA Swimming.  I rode her little wave and was in awe when famous swimmer after swimmer came up to say hi to her.   As her guest I went to an Olympic alumni cocktail party.  Well hello there Al Orter.  Carl Lewis.  Mary Lou Retton.  Little old lady from the 1932 L.A. Olympics wearing a medal around her neck.  Wow.  Just wow.  Sure we ended up in the EXACT spot the bomb went off that night.  As in the EXACT spot.  But, fate pulled us away from there 10 minutes before it went off.  10 minutes. 

Jess & Rowdy
Three years ago my sister, 7 year old niece and I went to the U.S. Team Swimming Trials (Olympic Trials in Olympic years).  We were back in Indianapolis.  Where I had been 25 years earlier to watch Susan.  Where I met Rowdy.  My niece was just starting her swimming career.  But, she already had the glimmer in her eye.  However, it was a tough call who was more thrilled by these few days, her or me.  I felt like a kid again.  And, lookie there.... who do I see again?  Rowdy.  He was just as nice and sweet as I remember twenty five years before.  And, he was especially sweet to Jessica.  Anytime we ran into him he high fived her and said, "Hi Jessica".  She thought he was the coolest.  He really is. 

We were lucky enough to have nice seats right next to Michael Phelps mother, Debbie.  Jessica was dying to talk to her.  To tell her how much she loved her son.  She got the nerve to go talk to her.  Jessica was SO nervous.  But, I was so proud of her.  She did it.  And, talked to Debbie for what seemed like forever.  Later she went up and had another conversation with her.  Debbie was SO sweet asking Jess about her swimming and giving her encouragement,  ending with a high five. It was fantastic. 

Yes, I'm a little goofy for the Olympics.  But, there's something about it.  About people pushing themselves.  To be their best.  To be THE best.  I've seen first hand sacrifices athletes make to get there.    To see moments like this.  A world record.  The feeling is so intense.  To share in that moment.  It's not my moment.  But, to cheer for that athlete is really a remarkable feeling.  The joy is contagious.   (Yes, I was a screaming lunatic)

Aaaron Peirsol breaking the 100 back world record. 

So, excuse me for the next 17 days. I might be a bit preoccupied.  I might be a bit emotional.  I might lose my voice.  I'll surely get a bit patriotic.  However, it's not all about USA, USA, USA for me.  Yes, go red, white, and blue.  However, go underdog.  Go athlete who's seems to fail when it matters most.  May this be your time.  To the parents that gave their everything, may your child make you proud no matter what.  To the human spirit.  To the volunteers.  To the city of London.  To the paralympians.  To the athlete that finishes last.  

At age ten Jessica has turned into quite the swimmer.  This weekend she'll be in the State meet.  Qualifying and competing in the maximum amount of events.  Next weekend she'll represent the state in a multi state meet.  A pretty big deal.  When I told her how very proud of her that she made this meet she replied, "Well, someday I'll be in the Olympic Trials."  I smiled.  I did not even have to humor her.  Because, I truly believe that she will in fact be there.  And, surely you know who will be up in those stands screaming her head off.  Because, really, there is no place I'd rather be.  Well, other than the Olympics.  And, who knows, I may have a really good reason to go to another one sometime soon.  

Oh, yes.... tonight's gonna be a good night......

Monday, July 16, 2012

On This Day

Two years ago today I lost the woman who mattered most to me in the world.  The woman who inadvertently got me running fierce. My grandmother.  My kick ass 102.5 year old grandma.  And, yes, that half year matters.  Just like when you are five.  When you hit 100 you start doing half years again.  I think it's surely earned.  And, dammit, she earned it.   Honestly, I had no doubt she'd make 103.  So close.  She tried so hard to make it to.  

It's mid morning already.  And, I have yet to decide it this will be a hard day or not.  I still cannot believe she's gone.  Two years already and I still feel like she's with me. She was with me for SO much of my life.  It's just strange not to have her there.  She was always there.  And, now she's not. 

She lived a very healthy 102 years.  In her own home.  With my grandfather, until his death in 1986.  She lived next door to my family.  For my entire life.  So, she was very present.   It was only her last few months that her health started to fail her.  I was in denial.  I was sure she would live forever.  This could not be so.  

I was already running a bit.  Here and there. 5.5 miles on my running trail was my long run.  But, I was consistent.  It was easy. 

When she got sick, and sicker.  I needed and outlet.  For my emotions.  For my fears.  Running was there for me.  

I was grandma's main caregiver.  I prepared her meals.  I bathed her.  When you find yourself bathing a parent, or grandparent, or other close relative you normally don't bathe it's an odd feeling.  It's a very intimate and intense thing.  By, this, I mean that the look in their eyes as you do this is intense.  Embarrassment goes out the door.  Instead, deep gratitude is what I felt.  When you get to this moment of caregiving there's no turning back.  They know.  You know.  Each and every time I did this I got an extremely strong, and somewhat sad looking, "thank you".  And, each time, I would give back a "Absolutely.  You're very welcome."  Then a shared smile.  

I tucked her in bed each night.  I was the one who picked her up off the floor when I found that she had fallen.  I was the one deciding when things were beyond me and we had to go to the hospital.  

She was in the hospital for days on end.  Then she moved to a nursing home.  I visited before work and had breakfast with her.  I went straight from work to have dinner with her.  I stayed until it was bedtime and then I tucked her in and said goodnight.  He smile the last thing I saw as I left.

I then went home headed outside, and ran.  I was physically and emotionally exhausted.  9pm.  10 pm.  11 pm.  Whatever.  I think one run had me finish after midnight.   

I needed the run.  I was the one holding my family together. But, nobody was holding me together. I had no one to talk to.  No one to listen to me.  No one to cry to.  Running was all those things to me.  

Running saved me when I felt like I was dying with grandma. 

As you know, my running is iffy at best these days.  Constant injuries are plaguing me.  I know some people question my motivation.  I sometimes question my motivation.  But, I know, if my body would allow I would be out there as often as I could.  Because I know what it did for me when I needed it most.  I know what it can do for me.  

I had zero time for anything when grandma was sick.  Yet, I found time for running.  I had to.  Life is busy for me these days.  But, surely nothing can ever overtake me as much as that time with grandma.  

Lisa and I have talked about how weird it is sometimes that even though life is busy, nothing is as overwhelming as when a loved one is dying.  Yet, we both were running our best during these times.  She running fast and furious as her mother was dying.  Me, with grandma.  It's a weird feeling and so hard to explain.  If you have never lost someone very close to you, it may be hard to understand.  And, honestly, I hope you never have to understand.  

So, today I think about grandma.  And, remember how much I love her and miss her.  I also think about how, even though she never knew it, she got me to get my run on.  Even after she was gone, she had a hand on my shoulder.  Well, okay, maybe not my shoulder.  She was 4'8"ish and I'm 5'10".  Giggle.  We were an odd pair.  But, that's what was so great.  

I wish you all could have met her.  She was a cute little bugger.  She was so very kind.  She was so very sweet.  She was funny.  She had a hidden hard edge side. She loved taking care of people.   She made me giggle.  

She was my grandma.  I still miss her so.  

But, I promise, some day I will be injury free and will run those runs just like I used to.   For grandma.  But, more importantly.  For me. 

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

I Belong With You

Oh, ho, hey. Can we all just jump in a van?  And hang out.  You can drive next to me while I run.  You can run with me.  We will stop.  We will giggle.  We will drink beers.  We move on.  We will run again.

When we see an amazing swimming hole you'll let me get my swim on. 

Is it too much to ask? For you all to just hang out with me.  Like all the time.  

Yes, I dropped off for a few weeks from running.  Not completely.  But, mostly.  But, more importatnly, I dropped off from you. 

I was trying.  To get my run on.  To quietly start my Chicago Marathon training.  Even though I was clearly way behind everyone else.  Not sure why I need to feel like I need to keep up with people who clearly are out of my running league.  But, I want to at least stay in the same running planet as them.

I made the mistake of trying too hard when the heat was just unbearable.  And, it was.  It broke my spirit.  You see, the heat is not my friend.  

Hey, I love the sun. The warmth.  The beach.  The ocean.  In fact I plan on running away with someone one day to live such the life.  But, running in the heat is not for me.  Seriously.  I get exercise induced asthma that literally brings me to my knees if I try to run in oppressive heat and humidity.  I don't know how you people run in that crap.  15, 20 mile runs?  Huh?  Amazing.  I just physically cannot do it. 

Weather is rarely a good enough excuse for me not to run.  Hey, I'm the girl that ran 4 miles, in a truck tire track, in 22 inches of snow, in shorts, after 2011 Chicago Blizzardpalooza.   I've been on two runs when tornado sirens have gone off.   I've run in below zero temperatures, with a smile on my face. In shorts.  I run in downpours.  Cold downpours.  In shorts. So, I'm not one to use weather as an excuse too often.  But, heat?  It wins.  Hands down.  Winning. 

But, I tried.  I had a some people on me.  And, by ON me I mean they kind of harassed me in the kindest of ways (and maybe a bit not so kind) to make sure I was not quitting.  Some were close running friends.  Some were people I don't interact with that often.  But, each and every one of them impacted me.  Mattered to me.  I cannot tell you how nice it was to have people care about me.  To give me a hand if I needed it.  To kick my ass if I needed it.  

Others sent me messages.  Again, some from people I care about deeply and consider close friends.  Others were from people I barely know.  Who, just peeked it to tell me they missed me.  Or to tell me that they were thinking about me.  To tell me they hoped I was ok.  To offer to meet me and go running. Whoa.  Seriously?  Whoa.  

Sometimes I feel as though I can just quietly walk away and life will go on just fine without me.  And, it does.  But, then.... quietly, one by one, people poke me.  Wake me from my slumber.  Pull me up.  Kick my ass.  Give me a hug.  And, some, just make me giggle.  And, on some days, that's more than enough.

So, I was away for a bit.  I swam as much as I could. Some of you have told me to just forget this stupid marathon crap and just be a kick ass swimmer. But, swimming is easy for me.  Yes, I could get faster (I'm still gunning for Nathan ).  But, running is way more of a challenge for me. WAY more. Swimming isn't scary for me.  Running is terrifying for me.  I love to face my fears.  And win. Besides, swimming  may make me happy.  But, running makes me healthy.

I did run a little.  Well, until my butt broke again.  I blame Bart Yasso.  And, by blaming Bart Yasso I don't mean I was doing Yasso 800's and got hurt. I mean I was running with Bart Yasso when I got hurt.  
So, then I did not not run for a bit.  To try to heal.  But, then the weather broke last weekend.  Dropped 25 degrees from the heat index we had for the past few days.  I no longer could use heat as an excuse.  And, my friend Suzi was heading out for a 15k race the next day.  I was trying to convince her she could do this.  Untrained.  Because she could push herself further than she thought.  However, how could I tell her this while I wasn't living my own words.  So.... I headed out for a run.  To run as far as my body and mind would allow.    I made seven miles , my longest run since I broke 11 months ago. 

It wasn't so bad.  It wasn't easy either.  But, I put zero pressure on how fast or how far I would go.  My mind and body just went.   I had asked for some friends to pray for me as I headed out. Midway in my run I ran across some road chalk, from a local teen running club I see running on this path on my way to work in the mornings.  "Living on a prayer".  Ahhh, just what I needed.  Thanks guys! 

Two nights ago I was on another run.  This one was five miles.  But, it was harder, mentally, and physically.  But, I got it done.  Somehow.  Again, I saw road chalk again.  This time it was, "We've got each other and that's a lot"  

It made me think that yes, I got you. And, it's a lot.

Thanks for being there when I need it.   It matters more than you'll ever know.