|My "Glory Days" gang|
I have a running friend who used to declare: "You're only as good as your last race."
Granted, it was mostly in jest, but sometimes I actually used it against myself to support my claims of unworthiness - to bolster my my argument during the times I saw myself as a complete failure in my sport of triathlon. My claims are usually met by my husband Jim cursing the ground that said friend walked on, declaring that this was a complete fallacy, and: "Why do you even listen to him?!?" But I want to point out the following: according to this declaration, one can never hang his/her hat on the "Glory Days."
And yes, I mostly agreed with that sentiment... until yesterday.
Yesterday started out as an ordinary day. I got up, went to work, came home, started making dinner... and was just about to sit down to eat when my phone rang. It was buried somewhere, vibrating away. I would have let it go to voice mail, but Jim went digging for it. Before he handed it to me, he looked at the caller-ID, looked at me, and said: "Debbi Kilpatrick-Morris." I grabbed the phone immediately, afraid that I when I put it to my ear, Debbi wouldn't be there because she had been diverted away... to voicemail-land.
To my delight, she WAS there. Her first words: "I was expecting your voicemail." I don't know if that meant she wanted my voicemail or if it was just a statement of fact, like, "it rang so many times, surely the voicemail will pick up." She was obviously unaware of my frantic phone-grabbing-and-answering.
Why does this all matter?
I guess it starts with this: I don't have the opportunity to talk to Debbi much, but she is an integral part of my past.
And it goes back to the beginning: Debbi was my running inspiration from the day I first heard her name (this was well before I became a triathlete). At that time, all I knew - all I wanted to know - was running. In the late '80s and '90s, Debbi was one of the best runners in the U.S. She ran in three Olympic Marathon Trials, finishing 6th - an alternate to run in the Olympics - in 1996. That same year, she won the US Women's National Marathon Championship in Houston. And, perhaps most importantly, she was (is) a Northeast Ohio native - a local girl.
Being the hero-worshipper that I am, meeting Debbi was beyond anything I could imagine. RUNNING with her was, well, something I could never even dream about (or comprehend). But one day, in late 1997, when I started running on Saturday mornings with the Cleveland West Road Runners, I was invited to run with a group starting early from a different location. Debbi would be there. The scene that Saturday morning was chaos - a near-disaster in my as-yet-to-be-nicknamed-Disaster-Magnet existence. Strangely enough, I can't even recall the details. It involved my car - either not starting or not being able to navigate a snow-covered driveway hill. What I DO remember was frantically waking Jim up to help me. I remember panicking - and probably hysterically crying - I couldn't dare miss this. I may never get a second chance. "I'm running with Debbi Kilpatrick today! I have to get there!" Yeah, I made a big fat scene, man. At 6am.
But that's how I felt. And I made it just in time. And I never regretted it. Because knowing Debbi has been one of the great things that has happened to me in this life. Not because she was a great runner, but because she is a great person. She proved to me that it's ok to put people on pedestals - that they can and do live up it. She proved to me that injury is not the end - and showed me how to never stop trying. During the years we ran together, her career as a runner was in decline because of a chronic hamstring injury. Yes. That's right. A hamstring injury. Similar to what I'm currently dealing with.
I call those days - the days I ran with Debbi - my running "Glory Days." She inspired me to work harder. To train smart. To race smart. To rest hard before races. And to shoot for the Olympic Trials. And after I qualified, she even threw the send-off party (in 2000).
I remember stretching myself to my limits to hang with her on hill repeats and muddy bridal trails. I remember being in oxygen debt for all 20 miles of a 20-miler, wondering in who's universe is this "conversational pace"? I remember comparing where our legs got got muddy (she always had mud where her heels hit the inside of her legs). I remember sitting in freezing cold water in a wading pool to lessen the pain in our legs after those ridiculously-hard long runs. And I remember one of my fastest-ever 10K races with Debbi right on my shoulder, actually letting me set the pace, coaching me through the turns ("run the tangents"), and, of course, blowing me away in the final mile. I still loved her, even for that - it taught me the importance of having a finishing kick. And until yesterday, the biggest compliment I ever got was when one of her friends mistook me for her while I was running in one of our local hilly-workout locations.
I admired her so much and was so thankful for our friendship that I made sure I was involved in planning and throwing her first baby shower. I even personalized the invitations with a drawing I made just for her:
All of this only begins to explain why I didn't want Debbi to "go to voicemail." Its been many years - more than a decade since we ran together. One of the last times we ran together, I remember her son being fast alseep in the running stroller. Yeah, now he's in high school. When I do get to see her, it's usually a gathering of that "Glory Days" group of runners at someone's 50th or 60th (70th? 80th?) birthday party.
Then, a few months ago, out of the blue, she texted me about getting together - and brought her son, her daughter and a friend, and mother-in-law to my workplace - the Cleveland Museum of Art. We met for lunch and a stroll through some of the galleries. I would have liked to take the rest of the day off and spend it with them. I was very impressed with her son who is interested in everything and incredibly bright. I texted her afterwards to let her know she has a near-if-not-genius level kid on her hands and I loved her approach of exposing him to many different experiences, including art. I must have said more, because it was one of the reasons she called me yesterday.
So the conversation began with great advice about hamstring rehab (again, passing on her wealth of knowledge) and then an admittance of not being exactly why she called. She called to thank me for something I said at the museum that day.
I must have mentioned the lessons I learned during my own soul searching for a career - that in choosing a path, we need to consider our interests in addition to our skills. My parents and teachers did only the latter in pushing me into an engineering degree - because I was excellent at math and science and, of course, I'd could "make a living" as an engineer. I wanted to study astrophysics - a theoretical science - but in the end, terrified of disappointing everyone, it was easier to foreclose on what my parents wanted and pursue a skills-based career. The result? Seven years after landing a job as a wind-tunnel test engineer at NASA, I left in search of an art career.
Debbi was calling to thank me for that advice... that she should consider her son's interests in addition to his skills in helping him choose a path for higher education. Whether it was true or not, she felt she and her husband were "pushing" their son in a certain direction based on only half the information. She's changed that approach and wanted me to know how big an influence I was.
But there was more... the trigger to call me was a reaction to a Facebook post I made after a bad race. Something about being a failure. She wanted me to look at things differently - to realize I had succeeded in other, more important, realms. And then she said something many MANY people have said to me in the past, and for the first time in my life, I actually HEARD it. She said:
|Checking the bike in.. after getting the coveted Cervélo shirt|
I truly believed things would fall into place - both physically and mentally - when I tapered. And overall, my body did start to feel rested and I was less stressed (once we got to Hawaii - let's be real), but I had worrisome pain in my hamstring that worsened as I tapered more. I convinced myself it was normal. Athletic friends reassured me this was normal during a taper, so I ignored it. But something wasn't right, and even during the easy days of running, riding, and swimming in Kona, things were far from perfect. The hamstring pain just would not go away. But I refused to believe it would become an issue.
|Pre-race in the King Kamehameha hotel|
So race day came and there were many things about it that went well. Although I had trouble falling asleep, I still managed to get about three hours of shut-eye (that's three hours more than usual). I didn't panic when it took me about a half-hour to get through body-marking because of inefficiencies in the way they were doing it. I was able to get to the bathroom with time to spare and I was also able to get a wide-left spot on the swim start. But most of all, I was able to remain in good spirits throughout the morning and the day.
But I'm too mentally exhausted at the moment to write up a play-by-play of my race. If you've read anything about Ironman Kona this year, you already know that swim conditions were less than ideal (i.e. the swim was rougher than usual and therefore slow) and the cross-winds on the bike have been quoted as "the worst they've been in the last 15 years."
For the swim, I was about five minutes slower than expected. But, because of the rough water, you know I had a blast in the bay that morning. Right up until I climbed out of the water, I was actually expecting a time of about an hour. I was surprised and a little bit disappointed when I saw 1:05 on my watch as I ran to grab my transition bag.
|Starting the bike|
It was in the last two hours of the bike leg that I realized things were, indeed, NOT ok with my left hip and hamstring. I started feeling pain and weakness on my left side, and all I can attribute it to is having to fight the crosswinds. This was never an issue in Coeur d'Alene as the wind was either in our faces or at our backs and rarely from the side. My left hip joint still has some kind of mechanical problem that still fails in the presence of side-forces (as we assumed in 2012). And my biggest fear was that major damage had now been done.
- try to run (possibly limp) the whole marathon, potentially cause more damage, and/or have to drop out
- walk the marathon and secure the finish
|Starting the run|
When I got off the bike, the pain in my hamstring was excruciating and I could barely take a step forward. It started to work itself out during the long transition run - it was enough that I was able to get somewhat of a running gait going out of transition. But I was was having trouble taking normal steps with my left leg and when I saw my husband Jim, I let him know I was in pain.
Once the decision was made, everything got a little easier. And, surprisingly, everything got a little more fun. I now had nothing to prove. I made a conscious decision, one of self-preservation. Seriously, why risk my next season by being stubborn? And now I knew I would finish. It was up to me to make this thing whatever I wanted to make it.
Once it got dark, it was less fun, and it even got a little tedious, but I arrived at the finish line, smiling, well after 13 hours, with my worst time ever in an Ironman. But I finished. And I think (hope) I avoided a serious re-injury to my hamstring. And I learned something new: it's NOT EASY to walk a marathon. I have terrible chafing from my triathlon shorts and blisters on my feet in places I never had blisters before.
Here are some photos from our trip.
|There's a lighthouse on the flip-side of Diamondhead|
|Looking down the beaches from the Halona Blowhole|
|Morning shot - looking toward Diamondhead|
|Statue of Duke Kahanamoku|
|In front of the Royal Hawaiian|
A few weeks before the ITU World Champs in Edmonton, my concern turned to the fact that I had no long races coming up to test the waters after all the Ironman training I've been putting of my body. Having a recent 70.3 would be a good test - if only for the racing experience. My last one was great, but it was all the way back in May. But with no more vacation hours left in my work schedule, I knew it would have to be close to home and do-able in a weekend. I hoped I could find something reasonably competitive.
As they say, be careful what you wish for. The race that fit the bill was the Rev3 Cedar Point half in Sandusky, Ohio. At an hour-twenty-minute drive from my house, I declared my intentions, checked schedules with my husband Jim, and registered. I've always had this race in my sights because of its location, the quality of the brand, and the local support - and friends and teammates would be there. The problem was that it always fell on the same weekend as other races that I'd rather do. And, this year.. well, yeah, it was only six days after Edmonton - but I really expected I'd recover in time.
What I didn't expect was that I'd be less than pleased with my race in Edmonton and that I would punish myself with some blisteringly-long and hard workouts as soon as I walked off the plane. (Yes, I do that.) When I registered for Rev3, I was planning a reduced week of training leading into a good race experience. At the very least, I wanted a boost in my confidence and to know all this ridiculous training was working.
So... after beating myself up all week, I was dealing with extreme soreness in my quads that refused to subside by race morning. And to complicate things, my Saturday night Indians game commitment resulted in dinner at Denny's (I'm not proud, I ate eggs and cheese on toast with hash browns AND fries - don't judge me) and getting to sleep around 2 am (because I was second-guessing everything I did leading up to this race).
Jim and I rolled out of bed at 4:45 am, and, despite the lingering muscle soreness, I actually didn't feel bad enough to reconsider the whole thing (there was a distinct possibility that I would just go pick up my bike and slink away quietly with my tail between my legs). The weather made everything a lot nicer - it was a little windy, but skies were clear and air temperature was in the 60s, and it sure beat the hand- and feet-numbing 40s we had in Edmonton.
At Cedar Point, Rev3 hosts both a half and a full iron-distance race the same day. The full distance athletes had already started their swim at 7 am. The half started at 8:30, and my wave (women 40+ and relays) were at 8:50.
|My wave - we're faster than you think.|
I set up transition, then met up with Jim to walk down the beach to the start. Strangely, my normal pre-race jitters where nowhere to be found. Which was odd, because local races usually produce severe performance anxiety knowing friends and colleagues will be "watching." I ran into two of my teammates on the way to the swim start, and we went for a quick warm-up in the water (or "surf" as it was).
The water was quite rough that morning. It reminded me of the Atlantic Ocean along my beloved New England coast on a good beach day. The 1.2-mile swim course was trapezoidal - with swimmers going out against the current, then turning parallel to the shoreline, and finishing with the waves.
We started in waist-deep water, and it took me a minute or two to get a breathing rhythm going, but after that, the only problems I had were in spotting buoys between the swells. I had to stop a few times, but the course was well marked with huge yellow and orange buoys, so they were quick to spot once I stopped. People were mostly swimming alone because of the conditions - we got kinda scattered in the surf.
The rough water made all the swim times slow, but what I CAN say about the first leg of Rev3 Cedar Point was this: in all my years of triathlon racing, this was THE most fun I've ever had in a swim. It was a blast. It wasn't so choppy that I was afraid, and it was just challenging enough to feel like I had to be a good swimmer in order to navigate it. After the race, someone on Facebook posted that 60 swimmers either bailed or had to be pulled out for safety. That surprised me, but volunteers and officials on the swim course were very vigilant, and they certainly had some work to do that day.
The slowest part of the swim for me was plodding out of the water on a long sandbar. But the run to transition was short and sweet, and I was on my bike in a little over a minute. My watch recorded 32 minutes and change for my swim time.
|Bike finish through Cedar Point parking lot.|
The 56-mile bike course started out along the causeway to Cedar Point and continued along the Lake Erie shoreline for several miles before turning south and going through a slightly-rolling rural countryside. I rode mostly alone with a small group of leap-froggers. The wind slowed me down a bit, but I maintained a steady hard effort that put my speed around 20-22 mph. At 2:38, my bike time was slower than I would have liked on what seemed like a fast course.
Coming off the bike, I had no idea where I was in the grand scheme of the women's race, but when I came out of the swim, Jim let me know I was the first woman in my wave. Two women younger than me passed me on the bike, so there was a good chance I was leading the age group going into the run. All I wanted at that point was to have a solid, even-paced run.
What I didn't know was that I came off the bike within 9 minutes of the overall women's leader. (Had I known that, I still may not have changed my strategy of a steady-split half-marathon.)
The Cedar Point 13.1-mile run course was mostly flat, without shade, and with a lot of turns. The only "hill" came in mile 2 and 12. During the run, temperatures warmed up into the high 70s-low 80s. By mile 2, I was dumping ice down my top.
I went out in a surprisingly-comfortable 7-minute pace. In the first four miles, I caught one of the women who passed me and was catching the second one. By mile 6, she and I were running together hanging on to a 7-7:15 pace. It was actually nice to have someone to chit-chat with. Her name was Erin, she was from Chicago, and she was coming back from an injury. We ran together, pushing each other to go faster than I suspect either one of us would have done alone.
Around mile 9, my pace was slowing more than I wanted it to, and I needed to pick it up a bit. I surged and Erin hung back. I worried it was too soon and I would eventually die hard, but it was only four miles to go. Besides, all the women I passed had started in the wave five minutes ahead of me, so I had to die really hard to lose my place (believe me, I'm not stupid, I realize this was not beyond the realm of possibility). If I made a mistake, at least I would learn something, and I wasn't making it in my most important race.
A few moments after I picked up the pace, a woman running in the other direction yelled to me that the leader was four minutes ahead. It seemed very precise, and I wasn't sure whether to trust her time measurement or not - or even if it was the "leader" she was referring to. But if she was right, I had a shot at winning this thing. I tried to push that thought out of my mind. I may have just made the mistake of my life by surging too soon. I may have blown out anything left in my legs. And NOW you tell me I can win this thing?!
Oh, for cryin' out loud! I mentally regrouped... at this point in my life, I know how rare these chances are. And I could not leave it up to chance timing. I now had to exercise mind over matter because my already-sore legs were really starting to burn and my energy was waning. Somehow, I pushed through the last three miles while slowing and feeling increasingly worse. I even had to walk the second-to-last aid station. With about a mile to go, a relay guy said: "She's gaining on you" (and pointed behind me to Erin - who was catching back up). I told him I had a five-minute lead on her.
Then it hit me - that was NOT the attitude to take into the last half-mile of a race. I imagined I was on Ali'i Drive. I had to defend my lead - my surge - or die trying. I focused my brain, and headed for the finish line. When I turned toward the finish chute and saw Jim, he looked at his watch and said definitively, "You won!"
There was no fanfare or name-announcing... because I was actually the "second woman to cross the finish line." I forgot to hit the stop button on my watch and looked up at Jim in concern. Are you sure? I congratulated Heidi Benson - the young woman who crossed three minutes in front of me (unfortunately, the Rev3 announcer mistakenly assumed she won the race), and then we waited.
About ten minutes later, the announcement came: assuming no penalties, I had won the women's race - and finished tenth overall. Jim had me at 4:51, but the official time was 4:50:54.
With this unexpected turn, we definitely stuck around for the podium and the swag (which blows away anything I ever got from Ironman podiums). We celebrated with the overall men's winner, local standout and super nice guy Nick Glavac, and my SSSMST teammates Mike Schaefer (5th AG 40-44) and Brian Stern (5th overall an 1st AG 45-49).
|SSSMST teamies: Mike Schaefer (center), Brian Stern (right)|
I was never so glad I entered a race. It may have been just the pick-me-up I needed to get through the final month of Kona training.
It's a proverbial bucket-list location for me. A dream more than 40 years in the making. There was a photograph I had cut out of a calendar, framed, and hung on my wall when I was a little kid. It was the most beautiful place I had ever seen. There was an emerald-colored lake, evergreen trees, and a mountain in the background with diagonal stripes of snow. And I dreamed big. I declared to everyone that I would one day find this place and take my own photo of it. If it really existed. Seriously. Corny? Yep. It was sort of my Shangri-La, paradise on earth.
which spills over an almost 1000-foot cliff.
|This photo shows Cavell Glacier and Cavell Pond.
In 2012, the trail to the pond was completely washed away
by a mini-tsunami caused by the fall of a glacier above this one.
Jim's words to me? "I'm sorry sweetie, but this might be the. best. we. can. do."
|Mt. Edith Cavell is behind the fog.|
My heart sank. I begged him to wait a half hour, even though it was almost 6 pm and the sun was on its way down.
|This is what it's supposed to look like except the summit is missing.|
|Proof that I made it there.|
|Taking the iPhone version.|
|And later it really cleared up and you could
see the summit from the town of Jasper as the light was fading.
|More from the Canadian Rockies once the sky cleared up
in the waning daylight.
Midnight was approaching and I looked out Jim's car window to the north. I knew what I was looking for because our airplane pilot had pointed it out two days earlier on our flight in: the green glowing sheets of the Northern Lights. They once again appeared in the northern sky - an extremely rare sight in summer. And I caught it just in time, before light pollution would have snuffed it out. I immediately urged Jim to stop the car. We took a quick detour off the highway, pulled over to the side of a dark road, and scrambled to get the camera out. Jim played around with the shutter speed and managed to capture the final amazing event from this miracle of days:
|The Northern Lights (aurora borealis), 30 August 2014|
The next day would be a difficult one. We got to bed at 1:30 am but would need to take a train and a shuttle down to the race site - Hawrelek Park - at 9 am to check in my bike. I did final race prepping, and that evening, we visited the West Edmonton Mall - a huge indoor wonderland that contains a hockey rink, a water park (wave pool and zip lines included), and an amusement park with a full-size roller coaster:
|The Mindbender coaster in Galaxyland inside the
West Edmonton Mall. The ride is much longer than you think
with three loops and many spiral turns.
The only thing left to do was race the next morning. AND, be ok with the fact that I had probably used up all our miracles. I thought it would be easy, but it turned out to be the hardest part of the entire trip.
|Hurry and start this thing before we freeze.|
My swim was the one thing that did go well. I felt strong - no back pain, no problems staying on course. Going into the second loop, I was able to drop the two women flanking me for most of the first lap (usually not the case). I think many made the mistake of going out too hard.
|Coming around for the second loop.
At least I had my homemade custom Toothless helmet.
Thus, when I saw the time as I pulled into transition, I started to mentally unravel. Then things went really wrong. After racking my bike, I couldn't get my helmet strap unclipped because my hands had gotten so cold my fingers didn't work. They were frozen. I struggled and struggled with it and then tried to pull my helmet off while it was still strapped. In retrospect, it must have looked quite hilarious. But then I started to panic as other women came in and start the run while I was still struggling to get my helmet off. I finally yelled for help and an ITU official came over, but right before she got to me, I actually managed to unclip the strap myself. I took off running as fast as I could.
|First loop of the run.|
The 10K course was two loops, partially on a gravel trail. The second time I saw Jim, he told me to back off and not hurt myself. I was probably hurting myself more mentally than physically at that point. By the time it was over, the only positive thing I could glean from my run was that I actually started to feel good around mile 5 or 6. Unfortunately, I had no speed, and that was when the race was just about over.
Writing this has helped me put the whole thing in perspective. Sometimes I need to stop and smell the flowers and appreciate the journey. I guess that's why I keep writing - to step out of the momentary and consider the enduring. And perhaps tell a race story that might save someone else's race. And add things to that "bucket list." While I can. Because there is no Shangri-La. It just looks that way in pictures.
I just read a good article on the USA Triathlon website called "What Makes a Good Coach?" and it brought to mind my own internal struggles on the subject and all that I've heard from others in their experiences. My fear of the high cost and of trusting someone with my race season has basically "ended up" in me self-coaching - for better or (many times) worse - throughout more than 20 years of marathoning and triathloning. I think the main issues are: (1) I have extremely high standards and (2) I am very stubborn (which, I admit, usually leads to overtraining).
But.. you see, in high school, I had the best coach an athlete could ask for. His name was John Klarman and he was my track coach. He had also been a football coach in the 60s and 70s. And he taught geometry at O.H. Platt High School in Meriden, CT.
In the USAT article, the author says "Coaches wear many hats. They're leaders, motivators, teachers, psychologists, and cheerleaders." If this is true, then Mr. Klarman was the quintessential coach. In two years, he led a bunch of nobodies - girls who had never run, never thrown a shot-put, never jumped over a bar - to a 10-0 win record. And can you imagine what he had to cope with while doing this? Yes. High. School. Girls. Ages 14-18. They scream. They cry. They have "boy-problems." He had to be a dad, a teacher, a counselor, a conflict-manager, a psycher-upper, a meet organizer. And yes, sometimes even a running partner. All while managing a math classroom as well.
And I owe him pretty much full credit for who I am as an athlete today.
Thus, every time I think of hiring a coach.. this is what they have to measure up to. A man who was able to singularly motivate every girl on that team to achieve greatness - both individually AND as a team. For me personally, he did it with logic. He removed the emotion from my running and put things in perspective - which was not an easy task. If you read this blog you probably already know that I have some major anxiety issues when it comes to competing.
Mr. Klarman wasn't a "yay-rah-rah" type either. He was always calm, collected, and on top of things. One year, we won three meets on our performance in the final event - the 4x400m relay (talk about stress - should I mention I ran the anchor leg of this relay?). At a different track meet that year, the other coach wanted to run the relay before the finish of the high jump. From what I remember, his team had a great high-jumper, and, he wanted the score to be dependent on the event they'd win. Reluctantly, we gave in. But to the other team's dismay, not only did we win the relay, we also won the high-jump - and thus, the meet. It wasn't because we had better jumpers. It was because we were able to rise to the occasion under an amazing coach.
|Low-techie in my non-tri-related
|There were almost 4000 bikes in transition.|
I had nothing even resembling a taper, but I took the day before easy(ier) with a shorter swim and run, and I tried to get two good nights of sleep leading into race morning (although Expedia did everything to thwart that by allowing us to book a hotel with no vacancy two nights before the race, making us scramble around Racine at midnight on Thursday looking for a place to stay). Even though my legs were fatigued, I attempted to come up with a race plan - just to have one.
The water was calm and the women in my age group weren't overly aggressive - in fact, everyone was courteous in the water when any contact was made. I felt strong the whole time, visibility was good, and I came out of the 1500-meter swim in the top ten in my age group (time: 22:18). It was a long run to the bikes, and my overall transition was slower than I would have liked, but I was happy to finally win the struggle getting my wetsuit off over my heels.
My speed was pretty steady, but after the turnaround, five or six women in my age group passed me before we pulled into transition. To my dismay, my bike time - 1:09:37 - was only about one minute faster than last year. I had another slow transition struggling to both rack my bike AND get into my running shoes. Once I was running, things started to look up.
|I've felt better at finish lines.|
With less than a quarter mile to run, I dragged my uncooperative body to the finish while praying that I wouldn't get passed in the last few seconds (and thus die of embarrassment). It was good for sixth in my age group - by a hair. My run time was 43:28 - about three minutes faster than last year - and my total time was 2:19:41 (about four minutes faster).
Now I can see clearer and be satisfied with it and look forward. There's always next year. In Chicago. In a new age group.
There's a great quote in a novella by a famous author that was once made into a pretty awesome movie. The quote is: "I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was 12." The author is Stephen King. In the novella, The Body, the next sentence is: "Jesus, did you?" But in the movie, Stand By Me, the next sentence was: "Jesus, does anyone?"
The movie version of that quote hit me smack in the face this weekend. Because… I think I realized... It's true.
Which brings me to the story of the tall tale.
I had one of those friends when I was 12. Her name was Suzanne. We met at age 11 in middle school - sixth grade. It was a new school for both of us, and we met because her last name started with "A" and mine with "C" and because of the alphabet, we ended up in the same homeroom next to each other. I was fortunate to have intimately connected with her before RE-connecting with friends from my elementary school.
The next few years were, as with most kids, the happiest I can remember. It was before I became an insecure, stressed out, depressed teen and started hating myself in high school. In fact, my attitude was likely responsible for our slowly falling out of touch with one another.
But yesterday and today, I don't remember any of the negative stuff, or arguments, or when the last day was that I saw her. I only remember the great stuff. I remember late nights lying on the floor listening to music with her, especially Boston and the Electric Light Orchestra. I remember thinking she was the sister I always wanted and how her parents treated me like one of their own. I remember how her mother bought me my first pair of swimming goggles because my parents weren't coughing up cash for something they never believed I would stick with. And I remember The Lake.
The Lake was the place where legends were made. Her parents owned a house on a lake in northern Connecticut, near the Massachusetts border. They invited me to spend a week there every year. And every year, Suzanne and I spent most of that week's waking hours on the lake in their little Sunfish sailboat. We sailed every inch of that lake. When the wind was strong, we acted like it was a catamaran and hung on for dear life. And on hot days, sometimes we purposely capsized it just to go swimming or to get wet. One of us always "acted" like it was accidental. It was never scary, except for the time she got tangled in the rope as the sail caught the wind and dragged her in the water away from me while I screamed "don't leave me!" (You know, because there are sea monsters. and sharks. and Jason Voorhees.)
And then there was the The Storm. Now THAT actually was scary. It was the stuff of legends, and as far as I was concerned, it had grown into a tall tale. My husband Jim has heard one too many times. I'm sure he thinks I made it up. And for all I know, it gets wilder with each telling, even though I never set out to embellish the details. Because the story was legendary enough without having to do that. But before I tell the story of The Storm on The Lake, let me tell you a little more about Suzanne.
Suzanne was one of those people that had a number of fantastical things happen to her. Call them tall tales, call them legends, but they happened. And she didn't make them up either. I have first-hand knowledge. Because I was THERE for some of them.
There was that time when we were picking blueberries in a field near The Lake and it was raining everywhere - we could hear the rain hitting all the leaves around us - except it wasn't raining on us. It was like there was a hole in the clouds right above us wherever we went.
There was that time our swim coach gave her an All American award for scoring team points in the 500 yard freestyle by finishing only 450 yards. Or was it 400? Who knows, really? It was too far to begin with. And, she got the points!
There was that time she became the first person I ever knew to be hospitalized. We were all jealous because not only did she get to miss school for a week (!), she also managed to lose weight without dieting and come back to school looking like a model (note, this happened in the years we girls had become obsessed with how we looked). She also had an IV - seriously, who even knew what an IV was? It was legendary.
And then there was The Storm.
Suzanne and I were on the boat in the middle of the Lake when we heard it approaching. The sky was black as night in one direction, so we decided to head for the beach. Just as we turned the boat toward the shoreline, something magically horrific happened. The wind went dead calm and the water turned to glass. It was the day I learned the true meaning behind "the calm before the storm." It was the eeriest experience of my entire life.
As the thunder got louder, we looked at each other, aghast - we were sitting on a boat in the middle of "flat" water with a metal post sticking straight up in the air, the highest point in the landscape. There was only one thing to do, take down the sail and paddle like madmen.
No, we didn't have oars. We got down on our bellies, her on one side of the boat, me on the other, and used our hands. I'm sure we were laughing - probably more like hysterics. It would have been hilarious if we weren't so scared. We inched along, and it seemed there was no way we would make it before the full fury of the storm hit.
Moments later, we looked up in the direction of the storm and saw what appeared to be a wall of water slowly making its way across the lake. Yep, to a 12-year-old (to anyone?), this was terrifying. Seriously, to this day, I have never seen anything like it. It was rain, but it looked more like a tidal wave. Who made the tidal wave in a tiny lake?
It must have been adrenaline, but Suzanne and I managed to paddle that little boat all the way to the beach before getting drenched. We grounded it and sprinted for dear life. To the house. To shelter.
And I've been telling people that story ever since - for more than thirty years. I had no idea if she continued to tell the story. Or if she remembered it the same as I did. Or if I embellished it. But every time I told it, I kept us in that moment. Young. Totally dependent on a best friend in a crisis - in which the only way to survive was together. We had outwitted the devil.
This past Sunday, thanks to the miracle of Facebook, Suzanne stopped at my house while driving cross-country to Connecticut after visiting family in Washington and Idaho (it's bizarrely coincidental that she was also in Coeur d'Alene last weekend - the same time we were - but we failed to connect). She wasn't able to stay for long, but it didn't matter. Seeing her was like having all the happiest memories of my childhood materialize right in front of me.
And one of the greatest moments of the day was when we brought up "The Storm," and my husband realized who this was sitting at the table. I think his words were "oh, YOU'RE the one!" -- like.. ok, ok, let's get the REAL story behind what happened that day. And I let her tell it. And our stories are identical. Embellished? I don't think so, but who really knows? The most important thing was that we embellished it the same. Even after all these years. I guess that's the power of a tall tale. It's the memory that something actually did happen that bound us to this particular legend. Our legend.
And this year, we'll be spending Thanksgiving together. Hopefully to create more legends of our own. And I'll get to tell her, while I'm able to, how much I treasure our friendship past and future.
Thus, it's indeed true - you never DO have friends like the ones you had when you were 12. Or, in this case, 49.
|Jim, me, Suzanne in Cleveland|
There's a great quote in a novella by a famous author that was once made into a pretty awesome movie. The quote is: "I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was 12." The author is Stephen King.
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