Saturday, November 9, 2013

Judge me by my size, do you?

I ran my fourth 5K of the year this morning. And by "run," I really mean "jogged, then power walked, then kinda waddled for about a mile, but totally finished at a sprint while everyone at the finish line was looking!"  My pace was a whole four seconds faster than the last run I did, and, darn it, that's improvement.  I had a lot of time to think during today's race - particularly between miles 1 and 2, which are my weak point, physically and emotionally - about how I'd never really be a runner and this was a disaster and I was totally fooling myself to pretend I'd ever improve.  But I came to another realization, too - underneath all the discouragement and mental self-flagellation, I had a stone-cold confidence about the situation. I was confident that I wouldn't time well, and I certainly wouldn't place, that it would be hard, and I'd fight myself the entire way... but that I'd keep going, I wouldn't stop, and I'd finish strong.  And I did.

At my first 5K back in April of this year, I was more nervous than you can imagine.  Not only was the physical aspect overwhelming, but I was embarrassed.  I wondered how someone my size and my fitness level could even pretend moving their hulking mass 3.1 miles around the course was a good idea that had any possibility of NOT ending in utter disaster. I could feel the eyes of everyone around me as I imagined they haughtily scoffed in my direction and wondered what the fat girl thought she was trying to prove and how long it would be until she dropped out. But, I didn't drop out.  I finished.  And I thought I was going to die.  I spent the time between miles 1 and 2 chanting in mantra-like cadence "this was a bad idea, this was a bad idea."  But when I hit that Mile 3 marker and saw the finish line, I felt like King Kong on steroids. (Bonus points if you get that reference.)  I ran under the finish line and felt like I was going to explode from sheer excitement.  My time was 54:10, but no one could say anything that could make me any less proud of what I'd accomplished.

My second and third runs were those novelty-type runs that are popular (and awesome) right now - Color Run and Aqua Run.  At both runs, I found myself surveying the crowd, seeing if I stood out as the fattest one there, and trying to avoid the judgmental stares of those around me.  But I ran Color Run faster than my first run, and, even more importantly, I felt better after I'd finished.  In contrast to my run in April, where it took nearly two days before I even felt like a person again, I finished Color Run feeling awesome.  Aqua Run I didn't time, but I had fun, and I played around, and I finished and again felt awesome.

This morning, I arrived at check-in and I could again feel people staring me down.  This was a much smaller event, only about 64 runners.  I was petrified of coming in last.  I had visions of being the last runner left on the course, of running to the finish line as they were breaking it down and yelling "No! Wait for me!" as everyone laughed at the fat girl who couldn't run.  Instead, the small crowd of runners were very supportive, smiling and chatting as we waited to start.  Still, there were wayward glances here and there.  But I realized, for the first time, that I didn't care.  I truly did not.  I had done three 5Ks already this year.  I had business being there.  I knew I would finish, no matter what they thought when they looked at me.  I know at my first few runs, my mind was awfulizing the stares and glances and making them seem worse, more malicious than they were, because the deep-rooted shame I had about my own fitness level was exacerbating what was already there and transforming it into crippling disgust.  I thought I was going to fail, so I assumed everyone else thought that, too.  Today, I came out knowing I would succeed and that made all the difference.

Today was a harder run for me than the last two. It was chilly, which was rough on my asthma, and I had a terrible cramp down the back left side of my body that didn't let up from about a half a mile in.  But, still, something amazing happened.  For the first time, I passed other runners!  People who started ahead of me finished behind me.  I never thought I would pass anyone, and yet, I gleefully realized, not only was I not last, I was gaining on those ahead of me!  Also, short of the first minute of two of the race where everyone is sorting themselves out from the start and organizing the pack, no one passed ME until a few late runners caught up near the end.  I finished strong, ran under the finish line, and crumpled onto the curb to collect myself.  But I. Felt. AWESOME.

"Running While Fat" is definitely a phenomenon I know other overweight runners have experienced.  It's hard to be around fit runners who you know can lap you without breaking a sweat and not feel drastically unqualified to step onto the race course.  But I'm finding my confidence building.  It's empowering to know that, while they may finish in a third of the time I do, I'm heaving three times the body mass they are around the same course and still finishing strong.  Maybe I will never be a "runner."  But I'm finding myself out there on runs as I realize I'm not letting my weight define who I am an what I can do.  As I divorce myself from the image of that fat girl who can't run, I'm finding the woman inside who doesn't care what anyone else thinks, who just wants to push herself to be better than she was the time before, and who might be just a little amused at the stares of people who never thought she'd finish as follow her across the finish line.

Friday, February 1, 2013

"The Columbia is lost. There are no survivors."

The title of this post is the quote from then-president George W. Bush I used to title the post I made on February 2, 2003, after spending a day in utter shock, unable to digest what I'd seen unfolding the morning previous.  The post, made on Ye Olde LiveJournal, reeks of 17-year-old self-importance and just enough childish naivety to punch me in the gut as a re-read it.  In a very grave sense, Columbia was my generation's disaster.  Apollo 1 happened long before my parents even met and Challenger was lost when I was two and a half months old, but I watched Columbia.  I saw that now-iconic image of fragmented orbiter streaking through a blue Texas sky as it showed up on television, live, staring through tear-clouded eyes and begging for some other explanation than the one even my teenage mind knew to be true.  Tragedies didn't happen in MY space program.  They were a thing of the past.  My heroes were invulnerable.  My shuttles were flawless.  And yet... this was happening.  I saw it, I felt it, I experienced it in a way I can't relate to Apollo 1 or Challenger.  That doesn't lessen the sadness I feel when I remember those two tragedies every year, but Columbia is personal, and slices just that much deeper.

I never met any of the astronauts that died that day - though I share a somewhat uncommon name with one of them, which led me to immediately identify with her - but they were the faces of all my aspirations.  While the next ten years of my life took me in a very different direction than I ever envisioned my life going, at that point, I was hell-bent to be an astronaut.  I would accept no less.  Aside from making my role models strikingly and gruesomely mortal, it was also the first time I realized how dangerous the career path I yearned for could be.  And by accepting the gravity of this, I gained that much more respect from the seven men and women who had just given their lives without a second thought to put stars in the eyes of children like me who longed to continue their mission and push humanity to strike out among the stars.  "Hero" status isn't earned by those who act "cool," but by those who take on real risks - and are sometimes called to cash in on that gamble - without any concern to their own lives, but the contribution their work, and sometimes their sacrifice, can make to everyone else.  The seven astronauts lost on Columbia - and the seven on Challenger, and the three on Apollo 1, may have lost their lives, but achieved immortality through this.  They became larger than anything they were on earth or in space.  They are infinite, they will never fail to serve as constant motivation and a reminder of those who have gone before to inspire those who are still to come.

Every year this tragic week in NASA history passes by without a current manned program in this country is that much more tragic, in my mind.  I know, better than most, that space exploration is NOT dead; it is alive and thriving and just waiting to advance.  But I look at the lives we've already put down in deposit and it hurts my heart that it seems that advance is put on hold.  And I remember, and I ache.

February 1, 2003 was a Saturday.  I was a junior in high school, and I wanted to sleep in.  My mother said she would wake me so I wouldn't miss the sonic booms, and I could watch Columbia on TV as it glided in for a smooth, perfect landing.  I'd listen to them welcome the astronauts back to Earth, and I'd smile at the end of another mission... and then I'd probably go back to bed.  It never dawned on me that my perception of the entire space program would change that day.  I vividly remember my mother waking me up and saying, "Laurel... something is wrong with the space shuttle."  And I saw that something was very, very wrong... and in my world, at that moment, everything was wrong.  I'd lived my whole childhood with a burning passion for all things NASA, and I had full confidence that nothing would go wrong.  But it wasn't the end.  And it never will be.  As long as we look up at the sky and believe that the greatest risk isn't in failing to succeed, but in ceasing to explore, Rick Husband, William McCool, Michael Anderson, David Brown, Kalpana Chawla, Laurel Clark, and Ilan Ramon will continue to inspire us, and they will never be lost in the hearts of everyone who knows we belong among the stars.

Godspeed, Columbia.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Grateful for Gratitude

At this current moment in time, I have two jobs.  Both are more-or-less "part time," though labeling either of them in such terms is complicated.  What's easy to explain, however, is that they play off each others' schedules well and I can frequently get a 5-6 day work week without a problem.

Today, however, they didn't mesh with each other quite as well as I'd like, and I wound up having to work BOTH jobs today.  Luckily, my first obligation was only for 3.5 hours, and the second was 6.5, with an hour in between (that didn't feel like much of a break, as I frantically rushed from one job to the other, changing clothes in my car).  It wasn't an outrageously long day, but it was demoralizing, and it was exhausting.

About halfway through the day, though, it dawned on me just how lucky I was to have this problem, though - I spent nearly 2 years unemployed or underemployed, feeling utterly useless and like a waste of a person because I couldn't contribute to my own financial well-being.  It was a dark and difficult time in my life, and for a good portion of it, it didn't seem like it was ever going to get better.  And now, here I am, not only with two jobs, but with a third I had to turn down.  I am good at both jobs.  I make money and I help support myself and my little family.  I work hard, come home exhausted, do my best, and bring home a paycheck, and for a long time in my life, I wanted nothing more than the ability to do that.  Even on days like today, when putting one foot in front of the other can take some serious mental preparation, I am not so far removed from desperation that I am ungrateful for the opportunity to work myself  into the ground.

The American Dream has always been to rise up from nothing, work until you drop, and make it on your own.  So, so many these days just don't get that opportunity.  Having felt like I was one of them leaves me in a valuable position to truly appreciate my hardships as an opportunity to be grateful for the chance to work and the motivation to do well out of gratitude for that opportunity.  Of course, I am human and there are days when the alarm is an enemy and my drive is totally flat-lined.  But even just remembering to be thankful completely revolutionized my mood today, and it's such a simple way to improve your outlook.  There's always something in every situation to be grateful for, even if you have to push aside pride, exhaustion, weakness, anxiety, or frustration to find it.  And sometimes finding it is the key to getting through all the rest.

Monday, January 14, 2013

My Most Embarrassing Moment

For many years, I didn't have an answer to the question "what's your most embarrassing moment?" for the simple reason that I do so many conventionally embarrassing things, intentionally, on such a regular basis, that it takes a lot to faze me.  Then... THIS happened.  This is actually a blog entry I wrote on another journal while I was still in college and the incident was fresh in my mind.  I've largely preserved it for posterity, and thought I should share it with all of you now who have sadly been lacking awareness of this occurrence for so many years.  I'll warn there is a slight bit of TMI in the story, but, really, it's a small price to pay for this much entertainment.


This is a tale from way way back in my sophomore year of college. You know, 2005. Perhaps you've heard it before, but I shall spin the tale, nonetheless, to entertain old and new listeners alike.

It was fall semester. I was taking a class called Wildlife Issues in the New Millennium. (What? It was a science credit!) Despite the name, it was actually very interesting material. The lecture itself, however, was NOT very interesting. However, one day a week, he showed a video in class and gave us a questionnaire for each video. One question from each of these questionnaires was on the exam. Being the grade-grubber I am/was/was striving to be, I, of course, showed up to each class to make sure I had all the lecture material handy. Luckily, I'd recently acquired a free laptop to keep me entertained in the non-pertinent parts of the class.

Now, when I say it was "free," well, there was a reason. It worked, sure. Much in the way a tornado is a gust of wind, it worked. It took small amounts of ritualistic dancing and minor insect sacrifice to get it turned on everyday, but once it was going, it generally kept it up. But, it was always a crapshoot. In order to give you hard numbers with which to envision this... it was a Compaq Presario 1200. The 2100 was already outdated at the time. It choked on Windows 98.

At any rate, I was one of the few students who actually attended every class, sitting right up in the front, feigning attention while really reading Facebook and chatting with friends. But the professor saw me there, assumed I was attentive, and gave me leeway when I slept through the second exam appeared to like me. Plus, hey... this was 2005. Not everyone HAD a laptop yet! I was chic. I was sophisticated. My laptop, I thought, was my tool and my best friend.

Halfway through the semester, I would find out it was actually my downfall and my foe.

This one fateful day, class was ending and I was getting ready to pack up and move on to my next class. I began the lengthy process of coaxing my laptop into "sleep" mode so I could safely store it in my backpack while in transit. However, it refused to be subdued. My will to fight, however, was weakened by a nagging bladder and a 15-minute class change time. In desperation, I held down the power button, but to no avail. It simply would. Not. DIE. So, cursing under my breath, I grabbed that hunk of belligerent technology and trudged toward the single-stall unisex bathroom at the front of the lecture hall.

As I entered, I realized the door did not lock. Oh well, I thought to myself, I'll just put my backpack and computer right in front of the door! That way, if someone tries to come in, they'll hit them first and I'll have time to say something to stop them! It was only later I would discover the door opened not inward, but outward, any my plans at thwarting would-be intruders were ineffective.

Now, at this point, you may think you see where this is going. Oooooh no, my friends. You would be sorely mistaken.

I dropped my drawers, both over and under, and wedged them securely around my ankles. I sat on the pot and did my thing. When I was done, I reached for the toilet paper and wiped. Much to my dismay, it came back smeared with red. Was it that time of the month already? Okay, well, I have a pad in my backpack, so I'll finish cleaning myself and trudge over there.

Not wanting to soil my underpants, I waddled over to my backpack, drawers still around my ankles, and retrieved a pad from the pouch. As I was doing this, my laptop suddenly began emitting this piercing high-pitching WHIRR sound. Fantastic. I tucked the pad under my chin and opened up the laptop to press and hold down the power button until the infernal noise stopped. It would bow to my will this time!

At this EXACT MOMENT IN TIME, the door flies WIDE open.

There I am: naked from the waist down, pants and underpants around my ankles, feminine pad tucked under my chin, leaning over a computer (seemingly surfing the web or something, I don't know?), DIRECTLY in front of the door. With a VERY surprised college-aged male standing there staring at me from about two feet away. And two rows of students from the next class doing so from their seats. The kid who threw open the door stammered. I looked at him. He looked at me. Time froze.

After a few stunned moments, I managed to stutter, "C-C-C-CLOSE THE DOOR!" He nodded and did so. I finished up as quickly as I could and gathered up my things. I seriously considered addressing the class afterwards, explaining the situation. Surely they'd understand, right? Yeah, likely not so much. Besides... that would ensure they'd recognize me later. No, I did the wise thing- I RAN out of the bathroom and through the classroom doors, leaving the last of my dignity awash in my wake.

I didn't need it, anyway, right?