DETOUR

“The really happy person is the one who can enjoy the scenery even when they have to take a detour.”

Sir James Jeans, physicist and astronomer

 

At age 35, I had no plans to ever run 26.2 miles in a marathon race.

Now, here I am, a senior citizen, telling you I’ve run that far in races over forty times and I’m getting ready to do it again.

What happened?

This tale begins in 1971.

I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. I was nineteen years old, on a ship off the coast of Vietnam. After eighteen months in the service, I was more than certain that I was not meant to be all the things Marines are famous for.

But what was my future?

I discovered what I believed the answer was in a book called, The Lunacy Boom by William Zinsser.

It was about all the zany things going on in America. Included was a story about a Clown College operated by Ringling Brothers Circus. I could feel it in my bones, this was my destiny. In a few short weeks they promised to teach all the skills required to perform in their famous three-ring circus. I sent for an application. But before I could experience the thrill of performing in The Greatest Show On Earth, there were some things in my way.

I still had another eighteen months of service ahead of me. Then I learned out of thousands that applied each year, Clown College only accepted 80 students. I considered my options.

With an honorable discharge from the Marines, I was entitled to money for a college education.

So the first stop on my way to Clown College was Ohio University then look out Ringling Brothers – here I come. It took a while but in time I earned a degree. Along the way came marriage, fatherhood, divorce, financial setbacks, and a whole lot of depression. I applied to Clown College year after year. And year after year they turned me down.

I started making regular visits to counseling in an effort to get my head screwed on straight. It was not easy. For a short time, I was on medication. Following the advice of a psychiatrist, I laced up my first good pair of running shoes. A whole new world began to open up for me. I felt better. I made some great friends. I helped some worthy charities. And with a stack of finisher medals earned some bragging rights.

This long detour has been a real treat. I’m happy but I still want to be a circus clown. Ringling Brothers is out of business. So after I finish The Boston Marathon, I’ll trade my running shoes for a red nose and some grease paint. I’ll start looking for another circus. I hear there are some great clown schools in New York City.

“It is never too late to be what you might have been.”

George Eliot, novelist and poet

 

 

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RUNNING BUDDIES

“Book Now!

Imaginary Friends Stay Free.”

Marque on The Hampton Inn –  Lancaster, Ohio

Every book I’ve ever read on the subject of running encourages you to make friends with other runners and train as a group. Why not? Runners lead a positive lifestyle. Most of the time they eat right, think right and act right. What we’re talking about are the benefits of hanging out with people who want the best for you.

In my thirty plus years of running, I have enjoyed being part of several running clubs. On race day,  it’s been fun sharing the struggle and celebration with my buddies. But for my next adventure, I’m going to try something new, running with my imaginary friends.

On one side of me at the starting line is Rocky Marciano and on the other side is Norman Vincent Peale.

The most important quality a long distance runner needs is tenacity – the ability to just keep going, one foot in front of the other no matter what. There is no better athlete to illustrate this virtue than Rocky Marciano, the only Heavyweight Boxing Champion to retire undefeated. He won 43 of his 49 victories by knockout. He was relentless. Sports writer Bert Sugar said, “A building could fall on Rocky Marciano and he would still be swinging at you.”

Just like the Tortoise in the famous race against the Hare, in the beginning, Rocky didn’t look like a sure bet to become champion. He was clumsy, lacking style and grace. What couldn’t be measured in the beginning, soon became apparent as Rocky began knocking out all his opponents. For most of the early rounds in his fights against the top contenders he looked like the loser.

Bruised and battered he kept after his opponents and just plain wore them out. It looked like he became stronger with each passing round. He soon became famous for his right hand, a knockout punch that sports writers named the Susie Q. Rocky’s trainer, Charlie Goldman, said, “I got a guy who’s short, stoop-shouldered and balding with two left feet. They all look better than he does as far as moves are concerned, but they don’t look so good on the canvas. God, how he can punch.”

Norman Vincent Peale was pastor of The Marble Collegiate Church in New York City for over 50 years. He wrote, The Power Of Positive Thinking, a book that stayed at the top of the best seller list for two years. His message is still studied by those who want to be winners. Dr. Peale said, “People become really quite remarkable when they start thinking that they can do things. When they believe in themselves they have the first secret of success.”

I’m certain that Rocky and Norman are not going to tell me to try and knock out the other runners. But I am sure they are both going to encourage me to give the challenge my best effort and never give up.

COACH MOSES

“A good painting to me has always been like a friend.

It keeps me company, comforts and inspires.”

Hedy Lamarr, actress

 

Any book you read on the topic of success will encourage you to find a good role model. I would be willing to bet I’m the only marathon runner to choose Grandma Moses for the job.

Just in case you don’t know, let me explain what the word marathon means. For a runner like myself the word marathon means left foot, right foot, a whole bunch of times until you’ve gone 26.2 miles. I ran my first marathon race in 1986 finishing in 5 hours. In the years that followed, I managed to cross the finish line in less than 4 hours on four different occasions. My personal best is 3 hours and 37 minutes. Now If you hang out with serious runners long enough, you will hear this question.

“Have you run the Boston Marathon?”

My answer has always been no. But that is going to change very soon. And if you’re waiting for the punch line to a joke, there is none. I’m serious.

The Boston Marathon is the Holy Grail of running. It is the world’s oldest annual marathon. They have been in business since 1897. It started with just 15 runners. Now there are 30,000. And to become part of that group you have to qualify at another marathon race and finish it in a certain time. For my age group, I need to clock in under 4 hours and 10 minutes. That’s a 9 minute and 30 second mile pace.

Now about Grandma Moses and how she came to be one of my running coaches. At the age of 76, when arthritis made it impossible to embroider, she picked up a paint brush. When the brush became too painful to hold in one hand, she would hold it with the other. With no formal training Grandma Moses completed over 1500 paintings. Some of them selling for as much as $10,000.00.

And thanks to President Truman, one of them hangs in The White House. She kept painting until her death at age 101.

C.S. Lewis wrote, “You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.”

When you talk about late bloomers, a person who does not discover their gift or talent until late in life, Grandma Moses is at the top of the list.

But I’m a runner and not a painter you say. Yes and no. True, I don’t run with a brush and easel in my hands. But I do run with an imagination. And that is where I do my painting. I see myself running with the rhythm of a locomotive, the grace of a ballet dancer, and the glide of an eagle as I cross the finish line of the Boston Marathon.

Grandma Moses was a late bloomer and so am I.

You can be too.

See you at the finish line.

 

 

 

ROOKIE IN RUNNING SHOES

“I am learning all the time.

The tombstone will be my diploma.”

Eartha Kitt, entertainer

 

Rocky Marciano was Heavyweight Boxing Champion Of The World from 1952 until he retired in 1956. He was undefeated in 49 fights and won 43 by knockout. Near the end of Rocky’s career a reporter stepped into the locker room for an interview before a fight. He found the champ reading a book on “How to Box.” Even after devastating every challenger put in front of him, Rocky still felt there might be more to learn.

So what have you learned today?

In his book, Born For Love, Leo Buscaglia, talked about his childhood experience at the dinner table. Leo was part of a large Italian family. After the meal, Leo’s father would go around the table and ask each of his children what they learned today. “And you better be ready to tell him something,” Leo explained. As a grown man in his seventies, Leo often found himself asking before going to sleep,

“What have I learned today?” And if he drew a blank it was off to an encyclopedia to look up some wacky statistic or piece of information so he could satisfy his father’s requirement and get a good nights sleep.

You and I have 100 billion brain cells. And if you want to keep them dancing you need to feed them some new thoughts and ideas. But don’t take my word for it. Former First Lady Laura Bush explains, “A love of books, of holding a book, turning its pages, looking at its pictures, and living its fascinating stories goes hand-in-hand with a love of learning.”

Let me add some exciting news to her words, library cards are free.

Do you have one?

One of the most amazing discoveries of my life was learning that after age 60 I could take classes free at any state university. As a senior citizen at Ohio University, I studied acting, painting, public speaking, writing, history, and half-dozen other subjects. In the near future watch for me at Hocking College. I’ll be the dude with gray hair and a beard in the glass blowing and ceramics class.

And please don’t be concerned about the crash, boom, and bang sound coming from North George Street. That’s me playing the drums and pretending to be Ringo Starr. I’m entertaining my neighbors but my wife thinks I need a few more lessons before I take my show on the road. Learning to play a musical instrument just might be what the good brain doctor ordered.

Hey, look at the clock. Time for me to lace up my running shoes and put in a few miles on the path near my house. I’ve been an avid runner over thirty years and guess what. I still read books and watch training videos on the subject.

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.” Shunryu Suzuki, Japanese Zen Monk

 

 

GETTING OFF THE BUS

“When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive– to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.”

Marcus Aurelius, Roman Emperor

 

For three years I have been working as an aide in the city schools where I live. Most of my service has been at an elementary or preschool. And in every classroom one of the walls is decorated with the alphabet. I still sing my ABCs from time to time and not long ago, while the children were at rest, I started thinking about those letters –  A is for apple, B is for ball, C is for cat, so on and so forth.

Then I started rethinking those illustrations and decided the letter A should be represented by a picture of one of the preschoolers I have been honored to work with. And the letter A should stand for Attitude. You see the young scholar I’m talking about spends a lot of time sitting in a chair for making some unwise choices.  But the next day, when the school bus arrives, he is the happiest camper on the planet. Glad to see everyone and more than ready to start a new day. He does not carry a grudge, not for the teacher who put him in time out or the playmate that snitched on his evil deeds. An excellent role model in the fine art of forgive and forget.

So how do you plan on getting off the bus tomorrow?

Who are you mad at?

Take a tip from my little friend – get over it!

And that brings us to the letter B.

How about B for back bone.

Have you tried anything new lately. My little friends are always up for an adventure. They don’t seem to worry about being too small, too tall, too old or too young. Name the game and they are ready to play. Name the project and they are ready to build. And whatever you put in front of them they find a way to make it fun.

Eleanor Roosevelt put it this way, “The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.”

I recall watching a program about American soldiers returning to the beaches of Normandy where they landed on D-Day in the Second World War. They were asked about their struggle on that day and the rest of the war, “Was it worth it?”. Hearing the laughter of children playing near by, one soldier said, “There is your answer.”

And that, my friend brings us to the letter C. It stands for cheerfulness.

What could be more precious than the laughter of children?

And maybe It’s it time to give your funny bone a workout?

Young children have a lot to teach me.  A, B, C,  Attitude, Backbone, Cheerfulness, And I still have 23 more letters of the alphabet to go.

BIG WHEEL AND A BIG DEAL

“If you have a heartbeat, there is still time for your dreams.”

Sean Stephensen, author and speaker

 

My wife and I live in Ohio.

Our grandson lives in California.

2,278 miles from our doorstep to his.

He wants to know how long it will take him to get here on his big wheel.

I don’t have an answer for that but I do admire his grit.

 

*            *            *

 

Not long ago we made the journey to visit him for his 5th birthday. Weather canceled two departing flights and we missed a connecting flight by five minutes in Colorado. But weary gave way to joy when we finally landed in LA. And if I have to pick the most exciting event of a week full of adventure, here it is. I took a toilet paper roll and held one end to my ear, the other I placed on our grandson’s tiny chest. A moment later, I was listening to his heartbeat.

 

*            *            *

The average heart beats 115,200 times a day.  And if you make it to the ripe old age of 80 that adds up to 3,363,840,000.

Wow!

Now, here is some really important information to go along with those numbers. There is no guarantee exactly how long you or I will live and how many of those heartbeats you and I are actually going to get. You can think right, act right, eat right, be right, do everything right and still, no guarantee how long your heart is going to last. Knowing this to be true ought to get our attention. So while we still have a heartbeat, here are some important questions we need to ask ourselves.

Who does your heart beat for?

What makes your heart beat just a little bit faster?

Singers and songwriters know what I’m talking about. Here are a few tunes to celebrate the heart.

You Put The Beat In My Heart by Eddie Rabbit

My Heart Skips A Beat by Buck Owens

Can’t You Hear My Heartbeat by Hermans Hermits

I Left My Heart In San Francisco by Tony Bennett

Heart And Soul by Hoagy Carmichael

Put A Little Love In Your Heart by Jackie DeShannon

Only Love Can Break A Heart by Gene Pitney

Love Me With All Your Heart by The Ray Charles Singers

Heartaches By The Number by Ray Price

Take These Chains From My Heart by Ray Charles

Your Cheatin Heart by Hank Williams

Total Eclipse Of The Heart by Bonnie Tyler

And you can see by some of those titles, the heart gets broken and bruised from time to time. That’s the way the game is played. And if you don’t take a chance on getting your heart-broken, you’ll never find true love and happiness in this life.

 

*            *            *

It’s a big deal – my heart and yours. And my prayer for you and especially my grandson is that every beat counts for joy, passion, and purpose.

THE NOT SO NEW KID IN CLASS

“You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.”

 C. S. Lewis, author and poet

Ohio University, Fall 1973

The first class I signed up for was creative writing. It was also the first class I failed. But I was determined to be called a writer so a year later I took that same class with the same instructor. This time I crossed the finish line with a B. I pressed on and in time earned a degree in communication. What followed was a less than stellar career with the government. Now fast forward forty years.

 Ohio University, Fall 2013

When I found out that, after age 60, you can take classes free at any state university in Ohio I bought a new box of crayons, grabbed my Snoopy lunch box and got on the school bus. Wow! As a wise man said long ago, “The only place change is not guaranteed is a vending machine.” Forty years ago we worked with pencils, pens, and typewriters. Now there were computers everywhere. And in 1973 if you wanted to call someone, you got in line at a telephone booth. Now everyone was talking on a cell phone or bouncing their thumbs off a gizmo. My biggest concern was how this senior citizen would get along with students slightly younger than my children and slightly older than my grandchildren. It became apparent very soon that I had wasted time thinking about it. The years between us quickly melted away and the party got going.

I had a boat load of fun in a class celebrating the history of television and film comedy. What could be more fun than going to school with my life long role models, Laurel and Hardy, The Three Stooges, Martin and Lewis, Abbott and Costello and a whole crew of other zany folks! I studied play writing and enjoyed making a fool of myself in an acting class. After a semester in a painting studio, I had three projects featured in the student art show. But my crowning achievement came in writing class. It was there I put the finishing touches on Buddy Bloom Wildflower, (A Tale of Struggle and Celebration) This book teaches the value of adversity, the joy of friendship and the celebration of life.

While enjoying the excitement of being the not so new kid in class I made a few mistakes with the balance in my piggy bank. Discovering I needed to go back to work, I was told that one of the best part-time jobs for seniors was working in the schools as an educational assistant. So if you’re looking for me now, you’ll find me in yet another classroom – much of the time working with special needs children.

There is still plenty to learn and lots of adventure waiting for this not so new kid in the giant classroom called life. And I intend to enjoy every minute.