Monday, January 30, 2012

Masters Track and Field

My husband Rich doesn't just write about sports, he's still a competitor. I know that's a good chunk of the reason why so many sports readers relate to the characters in his novels. He's been competing in track since middle school,through to state and national meets in university, and he hasn't stopped. (Now he competes in masters track.) So it was no surprise when I'd asked him what he wanted to do on his 55th birthday yesterday, and he'd said "to compete." But what was surprising for Rich, as it always seems to be, is why I'd be interested in coming along.

I've learned over the years from him that running is more than just going fast: it's about the process, the daily commitment and struggle, until finally, you triumph.(Which no longer means winning, I'm told, but accomplishing your personal best by surpassing your previous personal bests, and if that means winning the race, then okay.)

Masters racers compete against themselves, against the misconceptions about what they can accomplish--those thoughts of self doubt that needle the brain--often brought on by society, or even youth. I've seen them watch in horror sometimes, waiting for their high school meets to start up later in the day, mumbling, "How can anyone go that slow?" instead of being filled with admiration or amazement at what an 80-year-old athlete is trying to accomplish. And no, that old man isn't having a heart attack, he's 70 years older than you.

It's true that the clock is against masters track athletes from the start.
Maybe that's why the personal victories are so sweet. And, don't get me wrong, there are masters track and field record holders close to 70 who race faster than peers 20 years younger and keep shattering the world records. They defy what old men are thought to look like by being ripped and fast and younger-looking than many middle-aged men. But the majority of masters track athletes are not former Olympians,nor have they ever competed for their country in national events when they were young.A good chunk of them have torsos that resemble a turtle's more than an athlete's, but just as many train hard--like Rich--who gets up at 6 every morning to run.

There are also nights when Rich will say to me that he's going for a run, and I know it's also to work out a story-line, a character, or a conflict he's seeking an answer for. I suspect that other masters runners do the same, knowing those logged miles can be like an old friend or a new one(some masters athletes have taken up their sport at 60 or so), and something they can depend on, or hope to, for as long as possible.

So, after knowing all this, why wouldn't I want to see Rich race?

I know if you asked masters competitors, they'd say they do this because it's fun. But what I think they really mean is, they do this because it's a part of who they are, and if they didn't, they wouldn't feel quite the same. From all my years as an observer sitting in the bleachers looking out at the cluster of events and the competitors they attract, it's become evident to me that it's more about tapping into that feeling and challenging yourself to dig it up, than kicking butt.

Sometimes they do this in dusty track shoes instead of spikes, wearing their favorite t-shirt, circa 1965. And those heavily-crested track jackets from the 50's are surely a badge of honor and now, courage. Then there's the runners who've finished their heat but linger by the finish line to cheer the others on, signaling a mutual understanding of why they're all still doing this in the first place.

And when Rich raced across the finish line of his 200 meter heat in victory,(he's now the USA Masters Track & Field East Region Champion), it must have resurrected that old feeling from his university days. And yet, when he came up to the stands to give me a hug, he whispered, "This is why I do this. To feel what it's like to run fast. And to feel like I could keep going."

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Adopting Lucy from the Animal Shelter

When the British Columbia SPCA chose LITTLE JOE as its book pick last year, I went and gave Lucy a great big hug.
Lucy is our eleven-year-old shelter dog who, in the 10 years that she's been part of our family, has given me a daily joy that can't be measured.

Writing can be a lonely business and I spend about 8 hours a day on it.(Right now I'm faced with more blank pages since finishing my final draft of novel number two).

Lucy is there with me every step of the way. She's curled up like a fox eyeballing my progress, or jumping up and putting her paws on my desk to remind me it's time for play. And chasing her around the house with that tennis ball has been known to cure my writer's block. But what I love most about Lucy is that each morning she awakes like she'd just been born-- as if it's the first day of her life-- and she can't wait to get started.
Nothing seems repetitive to Lucy; no event too arduous, difficult or meaningless.I try to remember that during the day, or when I'm working on revisions and my story is way past fresh. Can I see it like Lucy? As if I'm not familiar with it? Can I approach life like Lucy?

Lucy came into our lives shortly after I married Rich and became the step-mom of two tween boys. We all thought it would be a good idea-- a bonding moment-- if we adopted a dog. I was also feeling terribly guilty about having to send their two cats away (I'm really allergic to cats), even though their new home was with a close friend.

Jeremy, in particular, was disgruntled with me and had been sulking for quite a while, so we all agreed that he could choose the dog, and that he and Rich would go up to our local shelter and look around, since it could take a few months until he'd find, "the perfect lap dog." And hopefully, one that didn't shed.

Now I would strongly suggest that unless you go to an animal shelter strictly to volunteer,if you go looking for a pet to bring home and love-- know that you will most certainly find one. One that keeps you up at night needling your brain, sniffing at your heart and causing your children to beg, nag, and make the most outlandish promises, until the 24 hours you've dedicated to thinking it over becomes so excruciating, you're forced to call the shelter number after hours, hoping that the answering machine will say they open before nine.

Jeremy had come home smiling the day before saying that he'd found Lucy. Sounded like a good name for a little lap dog, right? Only she wasn't so tiny. "I know I went in looking for a lap dog," Jeremy admitted, "but then I fell in love with Lucy."

Within 24-hours all I'd heard about was Lucy, so by the time 9 AM came around the next day, all that was left was for me to do was to get in the car.

Lucy had the run of the place. She promptly jumped up and put her paws on the desk when I walked in, sending pens and doggie treats airborne. She wasn't anything like the toy poodles I'd grown up with. Lucy was a rough and tumble dog. A mixture of all sorts of hounds and looking like Petey from the Little Rascals, minus the dark patch on the eye.

So that's how it was going to be.

How long had she'd been there?...
Two months. Maybe more.
How come?...
Because of her boundless energy and her need to roam. "But she's kind behind the eyes."
Kind behind the eyes... where had I heard that before? In an E.B. White story, perhaps? And what of her family history?...
Silence... looking up paperwork.... Lucy licking the paperwork, tail wagging. "All it says is that when the staff opened up one morning she was there... tied to the doorknob."

So you know she's going home with us at this very moment, right? Even though I hadn't even touched her, walked her, or let her lick my face.

I went out to the back field of the shelter, which was a sheet of ice, and let Lucy walk me.

That's how it was going to be.

"She'll need to be fixed before you take her home," the receptionist said.
How soon?
"She'll be ready on Valentine's Day."

On the phone that night my mother asked,"Did you find a lap dog?"
"We found the perfect dog."
"Well, at least she doesn't shed, right?"
"You know, I went into the shelter planning on finding one that didn't," I told my mother, "but then I fell in love with Lucy."