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Tracy: Final Round – Body and Soul

A few years ago, shortly after being bit by the running bug, I met a family on a bus. The mother had just run a marathon, and she was heading home with her 11 year old son. I foolishly asked the son if someday he was going to run marathons like mom. Turns out they both compete in half marathons together. 11 years old. And he runs 13.1 miles with his mom. Frequently.

What struck me wasn’t that an 11 year old could run that far, it was the “poor me” realization that there are probably lots of moms out there who can share their love of running with their children. My son Justin was also 11 at the time, and as a moody, hyper child with ADHD and Asperger’s Syndrome, I didn’t have a chance in heck in getting him to run with me. His Asperger’s manifests in his intense fixation on certain random topics (which unfortunately don’t often interest anyone else) and his inability to relate on a social or emotional level to most other people. What this means, in a nutshell, was that unless “running” ever became the topic-of-the-month for him (which was unlikely), he was never going to want to run with me, even though his hyperactive little body could power him for miles.

Then take my youngest, Morgan, 7 at the time and a diabetic. Not the kind where you can manage it with diet and exercise, but the kind where her pancreas malfunctioned when she was a baby, and she can no longer produce insulin. She wears an insulin pump that delivers a constant drip to her bloodstream through a tiny catheter, and we’ve learned to be highly cautious of any intense cardio activity, as it could cause her blood glucose levels to plummet and send her into seizures or worse. So… marathoning with my youngest was probably out too.

Of course there’s Melanie-in-the-middle as we call her. My middle daughter, healthy, active, and starved for attention after being book-ended all these years by two special-needs siblings. So there’s always hope there that she may want to join me someday.

Enter Christmastime, 2010. The amount of STUFF that one could give their children for Christmas is endless. And it ends with most parents feeling overwhelmed with the amount of STUFF that has entered their house in that one day, and yet by the end of the day listening to their children saying “I’m bored, there’s nothing to do!” So no STUFF this Christmas. Instead, we surprised them with a much needed and long awaited family vacation to Walt Disney World during the Princess Half Marathon Weekend. I signed up for the half, my husband for the 5k, my two eldest for the Mickey Mile, and my youngest for the 400 yard dash. Hubby and I figured these kids love Disney enough that they’ll willingly do the races, and maybe the joy of running in Disney World will help foster a joy of running in general.

In some ways, we were right. They were beyond excited when they opened their stockings Christmas morning and found pocket calendars with a week in February highlighted that said “Family Goes to Disney.” And they DID say it would be fun to be a part of mom’s race. So now with just under two months to go, all they had to do was start training.

Now, before you start thinking I’m Wickeder than the Stepmother, I did not force these children to run drills day after day or chase them around a track with a bullwhip. There were no push-ups-till-u-puke or drinking raw egg whites. Training for my kids just meant that a few days a week, after school, all five of us would layer-up and go for a walk-jog around our neighborhood (conveniently laid out in a flat one-mile loop). Something that I see many families doing daily, and enjoying it! So we did it too…though no one really enjoyed it.

First of all, Justin would (every time!) complain about having to peel himself away from his video games to join us, and whined the whole time that if he has to be outside, why can’t he be on his bike instead? Usually in the last 100 yards I’d be able to turn his mood around by asking him to tell me all about his favorite Nascar driver, or how exactly he built his most recent building out of Lego’s. Things I’d normally ask him to hush about because he’d already told everyone 10 times that week.

Morgan, of course, had to be watched carefully every step of the way. Did she test her blood-glucose levels before she went out? Did she eat enough? Did she drink enough? What if she has to pee and we’re halfway around the block? What if her insulin is just now kicking in? Is that a cramp or is it early ketoacidosis?

And my Melanie-in-the-middle. Silent alongside, pushing to go a little further than last time, walk a little less, run a little more. Because the smiles and the hugs and the “I’m so proud of you’s” were worth it.

Race day dawned early with hubby’s 5k at 7am. Thankfully all three kids were pleasant about getting up when it’s still dark out, waiting for the fireworks at the start, and cheering dad on louder than anyone else when he crossed the finish line. Then to the kid’s races. And the waiting, and waiting, and waiting. Little did we know that the races are held youngest-to-oldest, and it would be hours before even Morgan would run. It didn’t fare well for anyone’s mood except Morgan (who made friends with almost all of the 1000+ kids there), but we plastered smiles on our faces and rallied the team over and over again until it was finally time for the 400 yard dash. Morgan kept up with the front of the pack, pumping those little arms and legs, and crossed the finish with the biggest smile I’ve ever seen.

For the one-mile race, we lined Justin and Melly up with a huge crowd of tweens at the back of the pack, not wanting them to get trampled by those who may be faster. At the sound of the horn, they all took off, and Justin blazed through like a triple-crown horse, passing kid after kid, closing the gap. The leader couldn’t be caught, but finishing in 7 minutes made my son faster than I’d ever realized. And Melanie, with a perfect 9:09, exactly the pace I’d been training at for my half marathon. I can’t explain the love, the tears, and the pride I felt that day for all three of them.

Now with the races over, I’m so thankful that my children came with me to share my passion, even for a day. I told them all that they never have to run again if they don’t want to, thinking maybe Justin would change his mind (after all, the kid’s FAST!) Or maybe Melanie, with her steady pace and drive. But Justin insists that being outside for him is only fun if he’s on his bike. And Melanie spoke up to say “Mom, I really just want to ride horses.”

It’s my little Morgan, 9 years old now, who joins me for a run. We check her sugar levels before we head out, and take a smaller route in case she needs to get back to the house quickly. She runs 1-2 miles with us, and her goal is to join me in a 5k before the year is up. I’m still a little paranoid. Racing with her will probably mean learning to run with a backpack for all of her emergency supplies. But she’s happy, healthy, and we’re all learning that diabetes doesn’t need to slow her down one bit.

Justin and I have found a way to get our mother-son time together too. He comes with me on my longer runs, he just rides alongside on his bike. He actually chooses to pedal slowly and match my pace, and I’m actually finding that I am interested in some of these crazy tangents that he gets himself on. For that hour you’d never know he has any challenges, socially or emotionally. We’re just mother and son, talking, laughing, enjoying the day together. And we signed Melanie up for horseback riding. And she’s damned good at it. And I’m so proud.

Written by

Tracy is a certified personal trainer with the National Academy of Sports Medicine. She’s employed by a major fitness footwear retailer as a Regional Product and Sales Trainer. By working in what she considers to be “as close to a dream job as you can get,” Tracy gets to travel the east coast while educating her co-workers and potential clients on the benefits of embracing a healthy lifestyle.

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10 Responses to "Tracy: Final Round – Body and Soul"

  1. Heather gaber says:

    Tracy, you are an AMAZING writer. You truly deserve this. Every time I read one of your columns I can’t stop until the end, even than I want more. Great, great job.

  2. Karen says:

    This brought tears to my eyes!! You are an incredible Mom and your kids are also incredible. I have enjoyed the times that I saw them and the times I spent with you. You are an incredible writer and I think you should do more of it!!!

  3. Leslie says:

    I agree with Karen!! This made me emotional!! You are a fantastic writer and I think that any magazine would benefit from your insight and honesty!!! You are an amazing woman!!!

  4. Paul Lucia says:

    Excellent writing and joyful story.

  5. Thanks everyone for your support and kind words!!! I’m in the lead (so far!) but second place is so close behind me, so please keep spreading the word so I can win this one!

  6. julie says:

    Tracy, I always describe you as the woman that can do anything she wants and always succeeds at what she loves. You have proved me right again. You inspire me to run and stick to it when life throws me a lemon. Miss ya girl!!
    <3 Julie T

  7. Gail M says:

    Touching story from start to finish. Thanks for the great read!

  8. Terry Cornick says:

    Tracy….I love that you see your special-needs kids as kids with unlimited potential and that you give them opportunities to explore what their potential is. The sky’s the limit! Way-ta-go Mom :-)

  9. Judy Thurston says:

    T! You are a winner in my eyes no matter what!!!! Great job!!! Love you!!! Mom!

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