Feet pounding the tarmac, I ran quickly in those days. P.F. Flyers tied loosely on my feet and wearing old cut-off jeans and a cotton tee shirt, I flew down a road that intersected College Avenue. I looped around a leafy neighborhood rife with flowering dogwoods and azaleas. I felt powerful, immortal, invincible. I caught on to the high of running early on, and often saw the gaping jaws of neighbors driving by, shaking their heads, certain I was crazy. Endorphins became a needed part of my day, and barring blizzards or torrential rains, I would lace up, and go “jogging.”
It was 1975, and Frank Shorter transformed the landscape of fitness in America. I was inspired by his words, and his dedication to this new sport, this concept of being “healthy.” I would learn to eat larger salads, using greens other than iceberg lettuce. I would shun meats, and discover legumes, beans and yummy goat cheeses that were still outlawed in the United States. I would cut down on alcohol, and switched from drinking a nightly scotch, to imbibing a glass of red wine only on weekends, or with friends. It took some time for the wine fad to catch on in the ’70’s. How I remember the boxed Almaden wine that my parent’s bought. It was a big deal to brag that one was now drinking “wine,” with dinner, and Almaden, at that! How awful that stuff was. It took some time for my taste buds to discern a good bottle of red or white from swill, but it happened. Cheese was also a big discovery. I was shocked to learn that there were varieties other than American and Cheddar cheeses! In fact, I became so enamored of cheese, that I eschewed the dinners served at my college dorm, and purchased slices of exotic cheeses, to enjoy with crackers and condiments, for dinner.
My love of running continued through stints in Corporate Banking in New York City and a graduate program at Columbia University. I ran around the reservoir, and probably passed Jackie Kennedy, but did not realize it. Some days, I biked five miles around the park instead, letting the wind rush past me, feeling the power of pedaling around my favorite city, watching the distinct skyline of Central Park West as I flew.
As many do, I eventually left city life behind for suburbia, when my first child was born. I continued to jog and bike ride in those days. I was told by an OB/GYN that running could injure my uterus, and that the sport was not appropriate for women. Bystanders would gape as I ran in 10K races and hugged my daughter at the finish line. “You mean she is a mother?” they would exclaim. I loved exercise, and kept on pounding the pavement, and pushing myself. I swam, biked and ran, but the popularity of Triathlons was still a number of years away. In the meantime, I caught onto the Jane Fonda craze and was spurred on by a movie called “FLASHDANCE.” Thong leotards fit tightly over colored tights and leg warmers completed the ensemble. It was well into the 1980’s, and suddenly, the “feel the burn” movement had taken over, as I pounded on cement floors, wearing hightop Reebok sneakers.
A thought may have crossed your mind at this point of my first blog. And guess what? You are on the right track. All of this was wreaking havoc on my joints, even as I was staying aerobically fit. Cartilage was silently disappearing from my knees, my spine and my hips. My future was being mapped out, unbeknownst to me. It all collapsed on a fateful winter vacation, as I slipped down a small slope in Park City, determined to learn a sport I had never tried, while growing up. I heard a “pop,” could not get myself up, and was whirled down the slopes by a snowmobile, my` daughter, resolutely by my side. The doctor laid it all out for me: I had a severe ACL tear in my knee, but my knee had already been badly damaged through years of abuse.
“Abuse.” I thought. This was new. This was not good. What the hell had I done? I had gone down the garden path, with no sense of what damage I was doing to myself. Doctor’s and health experts seem to know what is best at the time, bemoaning the errors of our past and extolling the latest in lifestyle.
Now, I swim laps with older women in lanes next to me, “walking” in the water with weights on their legs. Am I an older woman? I guess so. When did this happen? Is this what I should be doing? Should I chuck my Speedo, high legged suit for a “moderate cut” model, and find a bathing cap with a chip strap? Not yet. I am swimming lap after lap, with my Garmin watch that keeps track of my stroke length and lap numbers. The less strokes per lap, the better. I am trying not to gulp in the chlorinated water, convinced that someday, the doctors will wag their fingers at me for ingesting poisons. Now, I am wary. Now, I know that danger lurks in every move I make. And yet, I visit my physicians, who urge me to continue to exercise, to watch my weight. The pain of my earlier forays into exercise follows me now. My knee hurts, my back aches, and the laps seem endless and boring. I watch runners with envy, but wonder if I should chase them, yelling at them, warning them of their inevitable demise. I want to tell them “I was once like you. I might look old, but in my heart, I am just like you still. Do not judge me for my moderate cut swimwear. Do not judge me for my high waisted jeans and bathing cap!” But judged I am, I am sure. But wait, my old attitude is still there! One that does not care what others think. Whether running, when others are driving, or swimming ponderously, lap after lap, I am trying, like an old soldier, to keep up. A cool footnote: Amazon sells waterproofed Apple shuffles with earplugs made for swimming underwater! It is a marvelous feeling to glide in the water, listening music I love. Note to self–please delete the Christmas music until next December!