A bittersweet beginning

As I sit here almost a week after my 35th birthday, I can’t help but to smile. In doing so I almost feel guilty. There is no secret that last year was a rough go for me in many aspects of my life. I was challenged mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and physically.

Within those challenges I found myself. I found who I wanted to be and what I wanted to accomplish. I set boundaries. It wasn’t easy and it didn’t come without work.

I fostered new relationships. I hung with my ladies. I rekindled old friendships that had been lost for years. My racing was stellar even though it was few and far between, I surprised myself setting new PR’s across the board with minimal training. I ran on a contract for the first time and became a part of a team.

I came into the last few months of 2018 with a fire burning inside. A switch was flipped and I finally felt like I was ready to work again. I race planned I made decisions that would be long lasting.

I decided that I would finally put my dream of running for my grandmothers charity to the forefront and make it happen. A little larger scale than originally planned though. I am running across Wisconsin to raise awareness and money for Riverway Communities of Hope. 175 miles of rural roads in the southern most part of the state, in February.

I am going into this run knowing full well that it will be hard. But, I think about the reason behind it all. This charity and the work my grandma is doing to help our youth can’t go unnoticed. Mental Health and Addiction is a real part of many peoples lives either directly and indirectly. My family is no exception. If we could give someone the opportunity to better their odds when the deck is stacked against them, why wouldn’t we? If something like this was around when I was growing up, maybe things wouldn’t have been as challenging. Maybe I wouldn’t be the person I am today.

So many people help shape you into the person you become. We lost one of those people a few weeks into the new year. A man, that if you were lucky to know, touched your life even with a single interaction. My maternal grandfather. He was the kindest, most gentle man. This man who married my Nonna with five small daughters and no hesitation. This man who was always teaching the people around him. This is the man who developed dementia a few years ago and was fading fast, the man we once knew was now slipping way.

His actual death happened very quickly. Within a few days aunts, cousins, siblings, and friends had now congregated in the midwest from all over the country to witness the recounting of an extraordinary man. Not only were we gathering to celebrate a brilliant man, we were also experiencing the re-opening of a wound of another. Just 20 months previous we were all gathered in the same place to say goodbye to my mother.

There is a certain level of comfort being with your family in a time like this that you cannot replicate anywhere. You all have certain memories of the same person but in so many different ways. You are all connected in this deep way that you cannot explain. And yet, all families have stuff. All families have traits and things that make them unique. I come from a family of very strong women. We don’t quit, we move forward, we find a way, there is no other choice. In doing so, we found a way to compartmentalize our lives. I’ve said it before, I excel in this area. I believe that is what makes me a good ultrarunner.

I found myself reflecting as I was getting prepared for what laid ahead. Why is it that getting ready for a funeral service is so strangely similar to getting ready for a date or a wedding? I mean, why?
Is it because its a celebration of the person who you are now going forward in your life without? Is it because you know you will see people you haven’t seen in years maybe decades? I’ve really been thinking about that contradiction and I still have no answer.

So here I sit almost a month into 2019 trying to reflect on how 2018 changed me. I remember those few months of difficulty with so much clarity. But, there was so much good, so many laughs, so, so much self discovery. Here in the new year I carry the fire that I built in late 2018 for my personal athletic goals. This new year started with a death, followed by an anniversary of another death of a great man in the family. A milestone birthday and a forgotten anniversary that once meant everything, to Roubaix turning six and a polar vortex.

As each year passes I understand more and more why I gravitated to ultra running. It makes so much sense to me. The rawness, the pushing beyond limits that were just an illusion to start with. The pain. It really is just an extension of everyday life compressed and magnified.

“Blowups are never fun, but it’s impossible to know your true potential if you’re not willing to risk pushing too far from time to time.”
~Tommy Rivers

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