I Run, Therefore I Am
Updated: Oct 9, 2020
Running defined my life for decades. When I was a young kid, nothing felt better than running far into the desert on the Navajo Indian Reservation and chasing rabbits and roadrunners. I floated over sand, rocks, and snakes, unleashing restless energy and allowing my imagination to run wild.
My legs flew me away from my mentally ill mother and violent father. When I reentered the house, a sense of calm and peace came over me despite the tumult inside.
By the age of 10, I was running everywhere. Without knowing it, I was filling my body with endorphins that pushed away the sadness at home. Some days I had trouble moving my legs, battered as they were from my dad’s belt buckle. But still I ran because it offered the only peace in my life.
When I started high school, I ran endless laps on the track after delivering newspapers, imagining that wild throngs of crazed fans were screaming for me to win. Chauncey Ford, my first track coach, noticed me and invited me to run on his cross-country and track team. I would have rather been on the football team, but given my small size and thick glasses, cross-country and track were my only options.
At first, I didn’t like the strict structure and punishing workouts—running had been just a release for me. But over time, I grew to love being on a team, especially under Coach Ford. Even though he was demanding, he encouraged me and cared about me in a way few had.
He instilled discipline and respect into my untamed life, helping me channel my anger, sadness, and fear into winning. Not only did he want fast runners, but he also insisted his athletes conduct themselves with honor and dignity off the track. Otherwise, you were asked to leave the team.
Under his tutelage, I became one of his many stars as our Walter Johnson High School team won multiple cross-country and track championships in Maryland. Academically, I was failing nearly all my classes, so these wins were especially important to me.
I lived vicariously through my running heroes—Jim Ryun, the first high school kid to break four minutes in the mile and later a world champion and silver medalist; Frank Shorter, the marathon gold medalist; and Steve Prefontaine, who launched a running movement with his incomparable spirit. I keep a Go Pre T-shirt to this day. They made running cool, even if the girls preferred the football, baseball, and basketball stars.
In college, I continued running, first at Montgomery Community College and then at the University of Maryland. Because of my high school training, I found my place among the college athletes.
As it had all my life, running helped calm my anxiety and sadness when my family problems worsened. Running was my drug of choice, keeping me centered during the continuing chaos in my life. It never failed me.
By the time I entered my 60s, I had hundreds of races under my belt, including over 40 marathons, four of them in Boston. There’s nothing more fun for a runner than passing a crowd of enthusiastic fans on Patriot’s Day. Through the years, I’ve run in every roadrunner race available, making friends in every state and many countries around the world. No longer fast, we older runners still love to compete even if we are far back in the pack.
And then my left knee gave out. The five operations I’d had to fix a ruptured Achilles tendon, and later a torn meniscus, had taken their toll. I visited several doctors, who all told me to quit running, so I kept going to new doctors hoping for a different answer.
I was depressed, thinking my life was over, that nothing could replace the feeling of running.
Finally, I consulted my son Matt, a doctor of physical therapy. He knew how much I loved running, and he knows how stubborn I can be, so he gently nudged me toward replacing running with cycling.
He said, “Dad, it’s just a matter of time before you’ll need a new knee.”
When I pushed back, telling him I would be fine, he was firm. “If you want to keep a healthy lifestyle, stay open to the possibility that you may have to make a change.”
So I switched to cycling. It worked great, and when I started riding an ElliptiGO bike, it got even better because I had the same sensation as running. Then, as Matt predicted, the day came when using the ElliptiGO bothered my knee as much as running had.
I needed a new left knee.
Months after getting my arthritic knee replaced with two and a half pounds of cobalt and chrome, I started getting my strength and flexibility back. Every day is a little bit better if I stretch, lift leg weights, and ride.
I’m lucky enough to live in the Washington, DC, area where there are hundreds of miles of excellent trails, and I can bike to work most days on the Washington and Old Dominion and the Custis trails. My round trip is almost 29 miles.
The Stand Up and Ride movement has become my new source of aerobic happiness. And it still pushes the anxiety and sadness away.
When we get through this pandemic and life returns to some kind of normalcy, I’d like to look for bike races around the country and enter them with the same enthusiasm I did with running.
My friends tell me that the camaraderie among bikers is just as strong as among runners, and that at 67, I have many years of aerobic enjoyment ahead of me.
I never want to stop biking—or working, for that matter—because continuously moving has shaped my body, mind, and soul all my life.