Monday, June 27, 2011

What I've Been Doing for the Last Four Days. . .

At first I debated whether or not to put this on my blog because it’s doubtful that anyone reading it could possibly be interested, but then I thought about how much I love having my old blog (High Desert Home) as a photo-scrapbook-journal of one year of life in our home, and sometimes out of it. I absolutely would not have remembered all of the details I put into that year of posts about mundane things (cleaning the house, what we ate, what was in my kitchen, what I’d been reading); our fun, fine adventures (hiking Mount St. Helens with Bob and Laura’s family, etc.); the silly sweetness of my grandchildren; our nice family times; some sad events (the death of my father and leaving our home), and all of my musings about life, home, learning, and spirituality that I jotted down day after day. But now I treasure having all of those photos and stories of my family and my home. On that old blog, I posted whatever I had to say whether or not I thought everyone “out there” was going to like it. It’s the same way now, and since the following is what I did for the past several days (plus, at the very end, some brief thoughts about sports), I want to include it.


Before I tell you what I’ve been doing, I have to say something I read in an email today that really made me smile, and I hope the author won’t mind too much that I’m putting it up here (I shall keep you unnamed!):

“Your writing ALWAYS makes me want to go have tea!”

I think that’s one of the loveliest things anyone could say to me about my blog!


Photo-hint about the topic of this post:

We've spent a lot of time at this place--Hayward Field. 
We sit in the middle of the big covered stands on the left. 

Do the names Shalane and Kara, Galen and Solinsky, Lagat and Wheating, Symmonds and Tyson Gay mean anything to you? (I’m guessing that few of you know who these people are.) If you don’t know, they are United States track and field stars, and I watched every one of them compete this past Thursday through Sunday in the USA track and field championships at Hayward Field (the University of Oregon track). They were fighting for a chance to be a member of the US team that will compete later this summer at the world championships in Daegu, South Korea. Around here—in this town, and in my family—the above names are household names.

The place where I live is known among track fans and athletes around the world as “Track Town USA.” Spectators in the stands are knowledgeable and buzz with excitement as they enthusiastically discuss the ins and outs of each race—possible strategy, various athletes’ recent performances, who’s battling injuries, possible upsets, predictions, etc.—just like Wall Street brokers discuss. . . uh. . .whatever it is they discuss (or do they just yell?). Track is a nice sport. We cheer loudest and most energetically for our “own” (university athletes and local elite competitors), but we cheer for everyone and love to see a good performance. We love all of the competitors, and they love us. There’s a special kind of happy, magical ambiance that exists at Hayward Field, which is magnified considerably on sunny, warm days (which the last four were).

My siblings and I spent a chunk of our growing up years at Hayward Field. We were around when University of Oregon coach Bill Bowerman created “waffle”-soled running shoes and Phil Knight came into the picture and Nike was born. We watched Steve Prefontaine tear round and round the track ahead of all competitors to raucous cheers and applause, and I was one of many who donned a “Go Pre” shirt to cheer him on. The US Olympic trials for track and field were held at this track in 1972, 1976, 1980, and 2008, and my family, of course, was there.

Can you tell I am a track fan? A track nerd, actually. It’s my dad’s fault. He had us kids competing in the “midget” division of all-comers track meets when we were little, and took us with him to watch track meets of University of Oregon before we had any idea what was going on around that track.  But we loved it. When I was young, I could rattle off the world and American records in every track and field event, and I could probably tell you the history of those records, too. I loved those meets, and I absorbed the information without even trying. My siblings and I used to run around after the meets to get autographs from our favorite athletes. I think I still have one of those old autograph-covered programs, and my sister just let me know that some of them are worth money, particularly if they bear the autograph of Steve Prefontaine (if I still have them, they do). So, I’m sitting on a gold mine. Heh.

Since we are track nerds, when my sister found out that holders of four-day passes to this past week’s track meet could attend (for free) a special track clinic put on by the US Olympic Committee and other organizations for elite track coaches and those working toward certification to coach at Level 3 (the elite level), she asked if I wanted to go. She needn’t have asked. We went. We were the only fans there, but we sat amongst the coaches (and a group of Nike physiologists) in a small room (we thought it would be a big crowd in a big room) like we belonged.

Handouts from the clinic. Packed with interesting info!

And for four hours, we were gripped by the sports physiology and nutrition information we were made privy to. It was fascinating stuff! Both my sister and I took notes like mad, and we left with handouts and information detailing specifically how athletes should train at altitude before Daegu (how high should they live and for exactly how long? exactly when should they come back to lower altitude? when do altitude training benefits begin to decline? what altitudes are too high or too low for optimal benefit?). We learned how athletes should deal with jet lag (before, during, and after the flight), in order to recalibrate their circadian rhythms to Daegu-time, so that they can quickly resume normal workout schedules and minimize risk of injury. We learned how athletes can acclimatize to the high heat and humidity of Daegu (starting before leaving the US), and what can they do to keep the core body temperature normal (and why this is all-important for performance). We were told what the athletes should eat (I could have given a better talk on this; strangely, the speaker (who actually really knows her stuff) sort of dumbed this down.

Some of my clinic notes. Hah--if you thought the writing in my recipe book (below) was atrocious, click and
have a look at this! It looks like a doctor's writing on a prescription form!
I was writing furiously because I wanted to remember the details. 

We watched the competition under sunny skies and talked and laughed between events. For the next four days, we watched favored athletes fail to make the finals, saw young athletes beat the pros and set world bests, and cheered as our favorites soar to new heights. We saw many competitors clearly bow in thanks to the Lord, and one event winner pointedly thanked “the Lord Jesus Christ” in his interview. Joyful athletes danced and made us laugh. Distraught athletes, in wrenching tears, fell to their knees on the track and hid their faces in their hands. We hurt for them.

Quite honestly, underneath it all, I have ambivalent feelings about sports (almost a love-hate relationship). I grew up in an athletic family who trotted off to sports events all the time, so sports were a huge part of my culture. I played sports in high school year ‘round (I even competed in the track and field high school state championship meet at Hayward field as did my kids years later) and was awarded scholarships to compete in college. I loved the physicality and mental intensity of sports, but conflicting feelings also arose, especially as I got older.

Every time a story about another athlete who has been caught “doping” breaks, I just want to write off sports forever. Athletes get bigger, and world records get unthinkably high, fast, far, and I start to wonder if everyone is taking something. And the training has gotten so scientific that sometimes I (briefly, because I still get caught up in the drama of a competition) feel like I’m watching one big science experiment instead of a sporting event. And then an athlete's human--charming, grateful, nervous, funny, etc.--side comes out, and I can't help but cheer for him.

Also, athletes are almost idolized. Even in track, we cheer loudest for the winner, which is obviously the nature of a competition, and while we clap for the ones coming in last, too, we aren’t really paying attention. We’re just being polite. That’s what we do here. Our eyes are on the winners, and the competitors know it. I think it adds to the pressure they put on themselves to win, and that pressure is enormous. I remember that Nike ad: “You didn’t win the silver. You lost the gold.” Only first is good enough. And certainly, that’s what the athletes train for, but that leaves an awful lot of disappointed athletes who have worked very hard and accomplished much in spite of not winning the big competition.

Then unimagined kindness comes along to prove that, for some athletes at least, it's not all about them and their individual success. That was the case this weekend when a local favorite (our country's best last year) shocked everyone by placing fourth in his 1500 meter race, failing to make the US team. The man who was second in the 1500 (Bernard Lagat) had already won another race, so he gave his spot on the 1500 meter team to the fourth place finisher. Lagat was all smiles and the other competitor was in tears as they hugged one another (and we watched it from our seats and guessed, before the announcement what had happened).
I go to the meets, and I have a blast, and I love the excitement in the air and the camaraderie with everyone around me, but when I leave the track, drive home, and enter my quiet house, there is a bit of a jar. Real life feels so different than all that I’ve just been part of. And I walk around in the echoing quiet and eventually sit down, and I feel almost antsy until I am able to recalibrate my mind to reconnect with what matters eternally.

Fun is fine, but, really, everything is vain save one thing: to know and love Christ with all of my heart and all of my mind and to love my fellow man. (Okay, that’s two things.) And I must say that I believe that there are many athletes out there who understand and do this very well.


  1. I'm married to a huge track and field enthusiast and I enjoy it, too. We followed the meet online and a little on television (track doesn't get much tv play except during the Olympics). What fun to be there in person! I'm sure the clinic was fascinating.

  2. That's so cool that you got to go to the specialized clinic, Susan! While I'm not an athlete myself (as you know), I can relate on many levels: The being at Hayward Field with you level (super fun!), the Bob was a runner (and still is, though he'd say not) level, and the insanity of specialized and competitive pursuits level. (Too bad it can at times kill the interest.)

    But gee, I thought to recalibrate your circadian rhythm, you just drank macchiato! Oh, I do love your corner of the country!

  3. Sounds like a fab time was by all, Susan!
    I'm not big into sport myself, but have plenty of friends who are, so I understand your love of it. My best friend (who NEVER previously had any interest in sport) decided to start running a couple of years ago, for health & fitness purposes. Well, she got the bug and hasn't looked back lol Since then she has taken part in the Belfast marathon for the past 2 years and loved it! She also raised a great deal of money in aid of breast cancer research, through the marathons. Sport, like all things, is just another one of the many, wonderful ways in which we can be used for so much good.
    My best friends new nickname is Happy Feet :)

  4. Beth, how fun to know! Around here, almost everyone's a track fan, but I know that around the country, that is not the case. Did your husband compete in track? Do you watch the meets online on Runnerspace (or the videos of the races after-the-fact) or just read about them? Anyway. I was happy to know you know what I'm talking about! :-)

    Laura, we sure did have fun at the '08 Olympic Trials, didn't we? Wish you could come next summer to the trials, too! And why doesn't Bob call himself a runner anymore? Because he doesn't race?

    Claina, yes, we had a grand time! And good for your friend, both for running marathons and for raising money for a good cause.

    Susan :-)