Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Stranger in the Park

There's a man in my local park who's an inspiration to me. I don't know his name and he doesn't know mine. He doesn't know he inspires me. How many other men and women are out there, unaware of their influence on another's life?

The stranger in the park is a tall walker in his late 60s or 70s. I first saw him last summer when I resumed running after an illness. I started to notice that we were often in the park on Saturdays and Sundays at about the same time, in the middle of the afternoon. I was running clockwise and he was walking the other way. The park's loop is 4.3 miles (6.9 km) and I would meet him at least twice. As I got better and extended my run to two loops, I would see him more.

On days when we would see each other multiple times, we would acknowledge each other with a nod and a smile at the first encounter, a ``hello!'' the second time, and a ``hello again'' or ``here we go again!'' the third. Sometimes, he didn't see me, especially on nice days, when the park was crowded with other runners, walkers and cyclists. I wondered if he didn't recognize me. I assume that sometimes I didn't see him.
I wonder who he is, what his life is like, whether he's married or alone, why he walks, how much time he spends in the park, what's driving him.

One day in autumn, under heavy rain, I met just a few people in the park. He was one of them. I saw him coming towards me. By now, I could recognize his way of walking from afar. We were both drenched and we nodded.

After Thanksgiving, I started running with a local club, the Delco Road Runners Club. Their Saturday run in the park is in the morning and the Sunday run is in another town.

(Ridley Creek State Park on Feb. 7, 2010, after a a snowstorm.)

A few weeks ago, I was running in the park with three or four club members at about 9 in the morning. There was snow and ice on the ground after record snowstorms. It was bitter cold for the season. I saw the stranger again. He was walking alone, as usual. I tried to make eye contact but I don't think he saw me. Is he walking all day in the park?

Two weeks ago, the sun was back. The snow had partially melted. We were a group of six runners on Saturday morning, shortly after 9 a.m., when I saw the walker. After we passed by him, I told my group about this man, who seemed to be spending all day in the park. ``He probably thinks the same of you,'' said Steve, one of my fellow runner.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Kara Crush

Don't tell my husband. I have a crush on someone else.
It's a romance à la Hollywood. At first, I found the object of my crush annoying. Overtime, my admiration for that person grew. Then came the moment that made me feel close. In the denouement, I let my feelings known. The (happy) End.

My crush is Kara Goucher, the top-ranked American runner, who finished third in her first attempt at a marathon in New York City in 2008. I watched her on television, running right behind the world's champions in a distance that was new to her and being cheered by a public that welcomed back home the Queens-born athlete. On TV, Kara was keeping up with the U.K. champion Paula Radcliffe on the Queensboro Bridge. That image got stuck in my memory, partly because I was there a year earlier, on that same bridge, about to come up First Avenue, where my then boyfriend -- now husband -- and my father were waiting to cheer me. Now there was Kara with her black necklace and black sleeves, looking beautiful after running 16 miles (26 km) at a grueling pace. My husband, like all men who've laid eyes on the good-looking athlete, was smitten. I was annoyed.

 (Kara Goucher at the 2009 Boston Marathon. Author: Stewart Dawson.)

Six months later, Kara was under a lot of pressure at the start of the Boston Marathon. She had graduated from being a surprise third in her New York debut to a favorite in Boston. An entire nation -- or at least its runners -- dreamed of an American victory on Patriot's Day. The last American female winner in Boston was Lisa Larsen Weidenback in 1985, when Kara was 7. When Kara came third, she cried. She was disappointed. But she had started her career on 1,500 meters, 5,000 meters and 10,000 meters, and that day she proved she wasn't a one-time marathon wonder. I was in awe.

I became infatuated after reading the cover story in the March 2010 issue of Runner's World magazine. In it, Kara Goucher candidly talks about her crises of confidence and setbacks, including being beaten by her sister -- who's about four years younger -- at a high-school race and having to walk during her first 10k race. I could relate to her fears and her insecurity. She didn't sound fake in a way a Hollywood actress might say in an interview she's insecure about her body (yeah, right). ``Everyone has their weakness,'' she said in the article. ``Mine is confidence.'' The fact that she has to overcome mental demons makes her an even greater champion. According to the article, she's now taking some time off to start a family. Whenever she comes back, I'll be a fan.

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