Thursday, May 05, 2016

Broad Street "Swim" and not going gentle

Two poems are bouncing around in my mind as I reflect on a very rainy Broad Street Run this past Sunday (May 1):

"Do Not Go Gentle" by Dylan Thomas

"Infirm," by Gwendolyn Brooks

At 65, I'm among a growing group of runners and other athletes who continue to work out and compete because it's intrinsically worthwhile to do so, including a friend who aspires in his late sixties to run a 200 mile ultra-distance event, another who competes in swim meets in her 80s having survived pancreatic cancer, and still another who in her late 70s can leave me in the dust in road races.

In the Broad Street Run, May 1, 2016, 40something thousand people ran ten miles at varying speeds in the pouring rain. Many were my age and older. In my age group F65-69, there were 39 runners, with the first place finisher running 1:17:xx, a time I haven't achieved even at my fastest.

I won't claim to speak for others, but my own motivation, with all its various twists and turns, comes down to "because I can," taking in fear that one day I won't be able to, and not wanting that time to come just yet. In my mid-60s, hearing of deaths of people my age and younger, I can't take life for granted. I can't take longevity for granted. Yet I don't see myself as exactly "old," in the sense that although I have a senior pass on SEPTA, Philly's public trans system, I'm using it to go to such places as masters swim practice, track meets, road races, and other pursuits for able-bodied participants.

I don't want the curtain to go down, though. I worry more if some symptom pops up--how long will it last? I fear potholes and other potential hazards that could not only trip me up but put me into nursing care (yes, I have Medicare as well as my work health insurance, but still...). I am officially for the purposes of transit systems, movie theaters, and the like, an "old person." But my age only tells part of the story. My running speed has slowed, and it's harder to recover from injuries--but I still go to Dr. Johnny King Marino, my chiropractor not to fix some kink in my back from getting out of bed, but to perform killer massage on a sore shoulder or hamstring so I can run and swim. Yes, it "hurts so good."

But the fear lurks behind all this. How long can I keep this going? What am I running away from as well as running toward? I'm not ready to yield to the gravity of aging, even as its realities creep up on me. I'm running toward the things that always gave life--not only now but to my younger self--engaging mind and body... playing! This would have to include playing socially as well as in sports: downing beers with fellow runners, margaritas with fellow swimmers, chocolate just about any time with those who appreciate it. Letting it rain while I run, and sometimes even seeking out the puddles. Entering a 5.4 mile swim and planning on an 8 mile one.

And while I acknowledge the fear, I can't let it steal my life from me. Not yet. "Do not go gentle."

Then the question: what really IS a disability? What does it mean to "not go gentle"? Is this advice just for "seniors," a word I use with quotation marks?

During the Broad Street Run, I waited, waited, waited getting cold and wet with the thousands of others awaiting their wave start, thinking "this is the last time I'm going to run this race," yet knowing otherwise. John Kenny, my coach, reminded me that the race was in my mind, not just on that rainy street. So despite worrying I'd be getting tight and cramped, I kept in my mind the words "in your mind," and knew this too would pass and I'd be running--and I'd be once again shivering and cold later, but meanwhile, here was the start, here was my run.

Heading into South Philly, feeling the effort more than I wanted to, I noticed a man in front of me, very severely pigeon-toed, limping as much as running. And if he was persisting, so would I.

We all come to the race in some way "infirm," and I'm thinking here of the human race, but the man with the pigeon-toed run who kept at it, as well as the 100 year old woman who ran the 100 dash at the Penn Relays and the teen-age girl I wrote about several years ago who did wheelchair sports, including track--we come with infirmities (physical, emotional, maybe spiritual), and our goal is to dance, to play, to keep moving, to dance past those barriers erected by those who would put us in boxes marked "aged," "disabled," "transgender," "cancer victim" (just ask my friend Tonia, who ran a 100 mile ultra after completing pancreatic cancer treatment.

We can slide into the fear so easily, the fear that lurks under the surface--and once we do, it can swallow us. But we "do not go gentle." And, with Gwendolyn Brooks, we claim our beauty.


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