When Running Takes A Seat, It’s Still Running

As part of my triathlon training, I’ve stepped up the racing a bit, and did a 5K yesterday. It was a race hosted by and designed for disabled veterans. Everyone was welcome to run, however, and although early-morning rain brought down the number of participants, enough showed up to make it interesting.

I arrived early, since the venue was one I did not know well. A fast, flat, somewhat shady course, though the heat and humidity of the day would make the shade pretty useless in the end. As runners arrived and checked in, I had the chance to check out the sportschairs  the disabled competitors were using. Very slick and lightweight, they are low to the ground, powered by hand crank or pedals, depending on user mobility. The owners dress them up with miniature license plates, bumper stickers, streamers and whatever they can find to make them stand out as both individuals and racers.

As I was admiring the machinery, I was also watching the owners’ pre-race preparation. They stretch, warm up, trash talk each other, commiserate over recent races and times, share information about upcoming races. The difference is that they are rarely coming to events alone. Some can drive, but the transition from car to standard wheelchair or crutches to sportschair  is arduous. Many need assistance to get the wheels onto their sportschair (the wheels often have to be removed in order for the chair to fit inside a vehicle), seated and strap in securely, then get gloved and helmeted. Once ready, these wheeled warriors are as ready as they were during their time of military service. Whatever kibitzing they did before the start is done; when the clock starts, the competition is on.

Watching these men and women, who served from Vietnam to the present day, is an education in what life looks like after the guns go silent and the uniforms are put away. Looking at their sportschairs brought home the realization that while the technology to make them has come a long way, it’s tragic to need that technology for this in the first place. But most of all, no matter how we get to the finish, we’re all still standing together as a community of runners.

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Filed under Exercise, Running

I Got Stupid and Signed Up For A Triathlon

This is what I'm used to. Won't be this nice in a triathlon.

This is what I’m used to. Won’t be this nice in a triathlon.

It’s been a busy time here. And yes, you read the headline right. I got stupid and decided to add yet another new endeavor to my bucket list. Bad enough my first open water swim is two weeks away. Now I have a triathlon less than three months away as well.

It seemed like a good idea at the time I hit the “Register Now” button on the website. No, I didn’t think it through for very long. Yes, I did have a sports-deprived childhood. No, my parents weren’t mean to me. Yes, I can cycle, run and swim. No, I have no idea what I’m doing in triathlon-land. Yes, I think I will figure it out.

I’ve already had my first shock trying to find a one-piece triathlon suit, Size is a problem. My size, not the suit’s size. Triathlon types are skinny people. I am not one of those types. So the search is ongoing. I have all the other gear I need. I have three months to build up a good-size case of nerves. Part of me wants someone to talk me out of this. Part of me wants to find out if fear and adrenaline are enough to push someone through a multi-sport endeavor.  As time and training go on, I’ll keep you posted on what I do, what I learn and even confess to (at least some of) the abysmally idiotic things I don’t plan on, but will inevitably happen along the way to the last Saturday in June.

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A salute to old warbirds

A B-24 is beautiful to look at, but a beast to walk through. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

A B-24 is beautiful to look at, but a beast to walk through. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

I did a 10K race and swam yesterday, and felt just fine. In fact, I took four minutes off my last 10K time.

Upon arriving home, The Husband thought it would be fun to visit some old WWII planes at a local airport; a B-17, a B-24 and a P-51 Mustang. The planes are part of The Collings Foundation, a traveling exhibit that goes to local airports, offering rides to the public (for very high, but totally worthwhile prices) and teaching war aviation history to generations who will never know what it was like to literally fly by less than the seat of your pants.

I agreed to go. I like planes and airports and most things aviation-related, though I admit to being less than a stellar air passenger. I don’t get airsick or panicked, but I don’t enjoy flying all that much. It’s more to do with having a control-freak nature. I need to take a lot of reading material with me to take my mind off the fact that my feet are not connected to the ground, and other than the dollhouse-sized restrooms, I have nowhere to go inside that long metal tube.

When we arrived at the airport and paid our entrance fee, our first task was climbing under and inside the B-24. I am not accustomed to ducking under anything, being quite short. But even I had to first crawl under and then inside. It’s cramped, dirty and smells like old engine oil upon older engine oil. Bare minimum, stripped down, hard metal green surfaces, lots of angles and black boxy little letters denoting equipment, storage and dangerous things. There are windows and gunner openings, but it’s still a claustrophobic space to conduct a war. You stoop and step slowly, trying to imagine navigating through the plane while it’s noisy, you’re hot or cold and under fire.

Then came the B-17 adventure.

This time, no crawling under, but up an aluminum ladder. First stop is stooped over in the cockpit, waiting for the people who entered ahead of us to go through. I knew this was not going to end well when I heard a woman’s nervous voice and what I thought were giggles, and her talking about being afraid of falling. What happened next was the sound of panic in the plane, a full-blown frenzy. “I CAN’T DO THIS! I CAN’T MOVE! I CAN’T GO FORWARD! DON’T PUSH ME! I’M AFRAID I’M GOING TO FALL! I HAVE TO GET OUT OF HERE!!!!!!” The woman ahead of us was mired in panic attack mode, unable to move forward or back. Dropping out of the center of the plane, paratrooper style, was not an option, thanks to the replica bombs in the way. So she left the way she came; backing out, whimpering all the way, with her husband yelling unhelpful things the entire time.

She was wearing green pants and pink sneakers. For some reason, I’ll always remember that. I’ll also remember to thank a service member more often. No matter what branch or which war, whether in miles of desert or a few feet of foxhole, military service is a thankless job.

 

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Filed under Current news

Using the pen to beat back the sword

Last week, the terrorists tried again. They tried to silence the voices they did not understand, did not agree with and therefore insisted were wrong and dangerous.

Last week’s attacks against Charlie Hebdo in Paris, resulting in the deaths of more than a dozen journalists, police officers and civilians, hurts anyone and everyone who has ever picked up a pen, a camera or put fingers to keyboard in an attempt to express any opinion.

Last week’s show of unity and strength among readers, writers, publishers and everyday people around the world who never read the targeted satirical publication was a message beyond “Je suis Charlie” and “Not Afraid.” It means we can and will read what we want, when we want and make fun of you while we do it. Everyone is fair game, anyone is a target when it comes to satire. We talk a big game when it comes to political correctness, and while we seem to be easily insulted by the smallest racial, ethnic or disability slight, we also get a real howl out of the humor that forms as a result of dark tragedy and suffering. There’s no sense to what’s funny, sometimes.

And there’s no making sense of what happened last week in Paris, just as there is no sense in the loss of 1,084 journalists killed in the line of duty since 1995. There’s no making sense of the fact that number represents one-fifth of my town’s entire population. Those were loved and respected people, with families, friends, interests, hobbies and lives outside the newsroom and beyond the sound bite. Just like there is no sense in dishonoring them, and their Parisian colleagues, by failing to stand up to the savagery disguised as religion but in reality a just-out-of-reach execution squad, capable of inflicting death at will, eluding capture and either unable or unwilling to consider that any way of thinking other than their own could possibly be legitimate.

Support the staff at Charlie Hebdo. Buy the publication, if you can find one of the three million copies slated to come out in this week’s run. Buy it even if you cannot read French, Italian or Turkish, the languages of the print edition. Or take a look at the digital version, which will also be available in English, Spanish and Arabic. And remember that you get to read this, and we get to write this, on this platform, without fear of reprisal. For many journalists, the right to speak their minds even one time is one time too many to ensure their survival.

An opinion well-expressed is never expressed in vain.

An opinion well-expressed is never expressed in vain.

 

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Filed under death, Murder, Violence

Thanksgiving…because mom did it that way!

The holiday is more than just a full plate. It’s also full of memories. Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons.

Thanksgiving is two days away, give or take a few frantic hours. I’ve got a schedule, lists, food piled on a prep table and packed so tight in the fridge that the bottom shelf is actually in the dark when you open the door.

Some things I fix for the big day I do because I like them, and/or the family likes them. Some things are just part of tradition dating from an unknown time, place or reason and continued because, well, mom did it that way.

Dad passed away many Thanksgivings ago, so his influence on the day is minimal. Though we figure he had something to do with the baked ziti. We’re not Italian, but many of his friends were, and someone must have served it at a party. Mom made it for years, using a black enamel baking pan. I have that pan, one of the few things I took from her kitchen when she passed away, and I still use it. Most of Thanksgiving winds up in disposable aluminum pans, but not the ziti.

One change I did make is the sweet potato casserole. Grandma mashed and whipped and served it with the toasty little marshmallows on top. Of course we all ate some to be polite. Hated it, but we ate it. I bake my sweet potatoes, scoop them, break them up in a baking pan and top with a mixture of brown sugar, cinnamon, butter and nutmeg. No mashing and no marshmallow puddles.

The appetizers are things mom liked and have not changed in forever. Spiced steamed shrimp, fresh veggies and onion dip, chopped liver and crackers. Totally unsophisticated in a world of amuse bouche, but it’s family food.

And there will be latkes, the Jewish potato pancakes. I do this because the Chanukah holiday is usually fairly close to Thanksgiving. It isn’t this year, but Mom always made them: a platter of gently crispy outside, soft and oniony inside latkes. She had to work fast; latkes are the last thing you make before dinner is served, and you have to hide them as you make them, or people come into the kitchen, drawn by the aroma of fried potato perfection, and eat them right out of the pan. Served with applesauce (an American affectation; purists insist on sour cream), they are never, ever a leftover.

This Thanksgiving, there will be several sets of dishes mixed together: mine, mom’s and grandma’s. We will all fit at the table this year, with only the need for one extra chair. But everyone we love will be there in food and memory.

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Filed under cooking, family, food, Holiday

Planting something in a food desert

No fresh food for an entire town is something no one wants to imagine.

I’ve got some thoughts rambling through my head at the moment, so maybe some of you can help straighten them out.

One of our local towns, population about 2,000,  is about to become a food desert; that is, a town with no source of fresh food. The only grocery store is set to close shortly. There are other grocery stores outside the city limits, but for many people without cars, those are not within walking distance. And pubic transit here sucks.

I write about food, and I am particularly passionate about fresh and local food. Organic fresh and local food is good, but this town’s inhabitants have a median income that does not lend itself to buying the more expensive organic food, so fresh and as local as possible would be good. Unemployment is high and high-paying jobs almost nonexistent.

The town has other issues: crime, drug and gang violence. There are neighborhoods that are not safe at any hour.

The town has a primarily African-American population. What I love about this town is the number of small ethnic restaurants: Jamaican, Haitian, Mexican, Central American and Caribbean places that offer great food in less-than-glamorous surroundings, which of course means that the price of a meal is right.

There are large corporations doing business near this town, but they are either national companies and/or have around a long time and have a loyal and steady workforce, and that workforce makes enough money to have personal transportation. There’s no city money to pay an incentive for someone to come in here and open a grocery store. And with profit margins pretty thin (between one and one and a half percent), who would take the risk?

But what about everyone else? How do people who cannot access a grocery store eat? And do they have the right to expect such access?

They rely on friends and family for a ride, eat unhealthy and expensive fast food or from convenience stores, use food pantries, free school lunches, free senior meal deliveries and the occasional holiday handouts. It’s a tenuous way to live, especially if you are feeding your kids.

I’d like to get involved in feeding a community, not just for a day, but for a lot longer. Maybe forever. Never been in that line of work, though. How do I get started? How would you get started?

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Filed under budget, Children, Current news, food, hunger, poverty

Swim in a meet, meet new friends

Watch and learn: even when you're waiting for your event, other swimmers teach a lesson.

Watch and learn: even when you’re waiting for your event, other swimmers teach a lesson.

I drove (and swam) a little outside the proverbial comfort zone this weekend. I went to a three-day swim meet about two hours away.

I’m wiped out, but it was worth it.

I was the only swimmer from my team to make the trip (hey, you’ll have to ask the other swimmers why they didn’t go!) and of course, it gets a little lonely being a solo act. Fortunately, I was adopted by another team. The group was from Georgia, and there wasn’t a “y’all” to be heard from any of them. Actually, they all sounded like they were from anywhere except the Peach State. Their hospitality, however, was pure Southern. They want me to come to their next meet. They’ve promised me great barbecue and adult beverages. I’m not planning on turning any of that down, by the way.

As for the meet itself: it went well enough. I brought back some hardware.  There were a lot of better swimmers there, and a lot of old swimmers. And by old, we’re talking about athletes age 85 and older, who can still go fearlessly off the blocks and haul hindquarters up and down the meter lanes with the best of the whippet-thin whippersnappers. I saw family while I was there; my niece was my counter for one of the long races. I warned her that what she would see at a Masters meet was nothing like the high-school team she coaches. “You’ll see bodies that don’t belong in these kinds of swimsuits,” I said. “And body parts that should never, ever see the light of day. Just letting you know.”

Her reaction? “I hope I can still swim when I am as old as some of these people!”

Kids say the darndest things. And I agree with her. I hope I can still swim when I hit the age where they stop bothering to keep official records. By the time I reach that age, it shouldn’t matter anyway. What should matter is that I’ve made more friends than I can count (and hopefully, they’re still around) and that I can stagger out of bed each day and steer my rear to the nearest pool.

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Filed under Aging, Exercise, family, Relationships, Swimming, thought, travel