With a Grateful Heart

On Friday, the boys and I drove down to the Valley for a long weekend with my parents. The main purpose of our trip was to participate in the Mega Memorial 5K in Harlingen, a memorial run for a dear friend and former training partner, Meg Jorn. For a woman who dedicated most of her life to distance running, it was a touching tribute to a life tragically cut short. Family, friends, former competitors, and training partners all rallied together for a 5K race in her honor.

Race participants released purple balloons in her honor and her best friend, Dayna, read a beautiful poem and released twenty-six monarch butterflies into the clear blue sky. Moving speeches by both her husband and Dayna brought all of us to tears as we celebrated the incredible life she lived and how she had such a profound impact on her family, friends, and community.

Meg lived a “mega” life. She pushed herself professionally and athletically inspiring so many along the way. Her spirit will live on for years to come, but it does not make her loss any easier to bear. A quote on her Facebook page truly sheds light on the kind of life Meg tackled with gusto and strength, “Life is precious…..let us try not to waste it!”

Meg lived by an exceptional mantra. Life truly is an incredibly precious gift. The threads that make up the tapestry of our lives give us so much to be grateful for. In life, we never know how much time we have with the ones we love. Living each day to the fullest surrounded by the ones we love is such an amazing blessing.

Coming home this weekend allowed me the opportunity to bid adieu to a woman who taught me so much as we shared the road and miles and miles of words of encouragement, laughter, and joy sharing something we both loved- the pursuit of athleticism achieved through training and achieving PR’s. It also reminded me how important the little things truly are. Happiness is seeing your grandparents light up when they see their great-grandsons, catching up with your godmother and clinking glasses as we sip on prosecco, and witnessing the powerful love a big brother shares with his baby brother through a simple kiss and a hug.

My mother made an incredible Thanksgiving spread for us while we were home this weekend. Savory, comforting, and truly delectable, she put all of her love into the preparation and presentation. My mom is my rock, and a woman I derive so much strength and inspiration from. Who I am today is a tribute to the amazing things she has done for me all of my life to help me grow. I am truly grateful for the love, kindness, and grace she encourages me with daily, and I don’t know where I would be without her unconditional love and friendship.

Thanksgiving offers us an opportunity to pause and reflect on the profound blessings God has graced us with. Our health, happiness, family, friends, and all of the other infinitely beautiful blessings we call our own. Wishing you and yours a wonderful Thanksgiving filled with delicious food and family and friends around your table. Even after tomorrow, let us remember that we have the opportunity to start each and every day with a grateful heart!

Remembering Granddad

Earlier this week marked the fourth anniversary of my grandfather’s death. For those close to him, he was best remembered for how deeply he loved my grandmother, D’Ann,  how dedicated he was to his work, and his passionate fire for the Texas A&M Aggies.

He was anything but the warm and fuzzy type. He cursed like a sailor and never apologized for his temper. For most of his life, he maintained a strict exercise regimen. Like clockwork, he was up by 5:00 a.m. and out the door for his daily morning walk. Rain or shine, he ventured out; often bragging that he was “airborne.”

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My grandfather smoked like a chimney for most of his life. Most of my childhood memories include him puffing on a cigarette alongside my grandmother. When she became deathly ill with a lung infection though, he quit smoking cold turkey. A habit I can’t imagine was easy to do. There were few things my grandfather wouldn’t do for his beautiful, D’Ann. Married for over 50 years, they shared a love of traveling, tall Cuba Libres, and brown pelicans.

Hard work paved the way for a very successful career. It started first working on the railroads with his father and brother and later traveling further south to pursue a profession in the shrimping industry. My grandmother was anything but pleased about moving away from San Antonio to the quiet town of Port Isabel, but my grandfather soon made her realize the opportunities were plentiful on the coast. The two of them settled into life in South Texas with my father and uncle. Working at the docks meant long days in humid and hot conditions, especially when the season opened and closed or an imminent hurricane was in the Gulf.  His work ethic instilled in me the importance of working hard for the things that matter most in life- your family and career.

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Since my grandfather passed, the fall seems a lot quieter than I remember. He never missed a Texas Aggie football game on television. He’d hoop and holler at the screen cheering on his alma mater with the gusto of a yell leader. If the game turned south, however, he often had very vocal and profane words he’d direct at his beloved team. This usually meant a lot of “G D’s” as I often referred to them when I was younger. Being a member of the Corps of Cadets brought him great pride. He carried the spirit of Aggieland in his heart until the very end.

In reflecting on his life as a son, husband, father, grandfather, friend, and Aggie, I’m grateful for the moments we shared. For him, my accolades as a runner brought him great pride. I loved calling him after a race and sharing my accomplishments with him. How I wish Sean, Liam, and Atticus could have met him! I know he’s smiling down on me from a comfortable chair in Heaven. His feet are propped up and he’s enjoying the view from above!

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A Week of Little Things

This Mama Bear has been M.I.A. for the last week and for no particular reason other than I spent every free moment of my already limited down time reading a page turning thriller I couldn’t put down. One of my favorite perks of being an Amazon Prime member is Kindle books available for download one month before they’re released to the general public. It feels like Christmas every time I see the email message signaling the new releases. It’s a rather difficult task narrowing down the five books available to just one. I lament over every detail and reread the book descriptions several times over before I finally feel informed enough to click on the title I think best suits me. For the most part, I hit the nail on the head almost every time. On the rare occasion, I’ve missed the mark I find myself faced with the option of abandoning a book.

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This months book, The Good Samaritan by John Marrs, was one of my favorites to date. It’s truly not for the faint of heart though as the main character’s sociopathic tendencies make her an absolute force to be reckoned with. If you like psychological thrillers than this book will be right up your alley.

In addition to losing myself in a good book, this week included some easy dinners (I’ll post the recipes later this week) and a bulletin board of positive affirmations that lifted my high school students and colleagues up. “Take what you need” the board stated and around these words a plethora of handwritten affirmations encouraging others to persevere, believe in themselves, and be kind. Students and faculty alike shared these Post It notes with one another; leaving a trail of positivity on lockers, notebooks, and classroom doors around the school.  Atticus received his one year vaccines, a heartbreaking endeavor for this Mama Bear. Four shots and a finger prick later he was all tears, and who could blame him. I’d probably be in tears too after being poked that many times with a sharp object. Our school hosted a blood drive on Thursday, so I donated alongside several of my students. The temperatures finally dropped and with it finally feeling like fall, I wore my new favorite novelty sweater for kicks. Liam spent most evenings after school jumping on the trampoline to his hearts content. He also decided his Halloween skeleton shirt made a great pajama shirt because it glows in the dark. I enjoyed some beautiful moonlit runs after the boys were tucked in for the night. Sean and I rounded out the work week a bottle of my favorite champagne; enjoying the bubbles as we made some vacation plans for the holidays, Spring Break, and the summer.

God continues to bless me in little ways every day. I’m grateful for all of these little things that make my life immensely better because of it. It truly was a week of wonderful blessings!

My Newest Running Partner

As of late, I’ve traded my quiet evening runs of solitude for a short, mostly bald running partner. While I adore his company, he doesn’t have much to say on our training runs. He’s not making me faster, but he’s certainly making me stronger. I often find myself plodding along with a partner who quite frankly is deadweight.

Despite these shortcomings, I continue to lace up my running shoes to join him for our weekend morning runs. Always the earlier riser, these runs begin in the dark. Occasionally he’ll babble or flash me a brief smile, but most of the time he’s lost in his own thoughts about life. Over the years, I’ve typically gravitated towards running partners who like me didn’t know the meaning of silence. Miles upon miles of training runs blurred together because of the words of training partners like Meg, Michael, Anna, Loris, Ed, Tom, and Gabe to name a few. Their company and conversation carrying me along for the ride.

My newest training partner, however, is a man of few words, but his bright eyes, belly laughs, and companionship mean the world to me. Pushing him along the winding paths of the neighborhood make for the perfect start to my day. We bask in the beauty of gorgeous sunrises; pausing from time to time for a water break or to exchange meaningful glances of encouragement through the sunroof of his stroller.

Undoubtedly running with a jogging stroller is a labor of love. It’s a full body resistance work out that is definitely not for the faint of heart. These training runs can be downright grueling, but I have come to love every part of them. In these quiet morning hours, Atticus and I share this pursuit of happiness together. It’s definitely my favorite kind of mommy and baby bonding time!

 

 

Running is a Gift

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I first met Meg, the summer before I started my junior year at The University of Texas. I was recruited by a former teacher to run as the anchor leg for The South Padre Island Beach Mamas at the Beach to Bay Relay in Corpus Christi. I was the only runner on the team who wasn’t a mother but perhaps because of my hometown roots, they made an exception. I remember immediately being in awe of her athletic abilities and her incredible abs. I hoped that one day, I too would exude a similar running prowess.

Fast forward five years, to my first year teaching. I spent the fall training solo for the Houston marathon, driving to the beach on the weekends to complete my long runs with Norma and Karen. After the marathon, as my mom and I waited to board the plane, Dayna approached me about running with her group. I was eager to train with others as running in the quiet, dark early morning hours had proved to be rather lonely, so I agreed to join them the following week for a run.

For the next two and half years, Meg, Dayna, Michael, Scott, David, Mark, and I met multiple times a week for training runs. We gutted it out around the Marine Military Academy track for morning speed work sessions, ran up and down the McElvy Trail hills over twenty times a run in hopes of preparing for hillier marathon courses outside the Valley, and ran so many loops around the Harlingen Country Club, it’s a wonder we didn’t get dizzy. We charted out long run through the streets of Harlingen and parts of San Benito, always finding our second wind on the last stretch sprinting towards the Heart Clinic.

Each of these runs was special in its own right. Meg and Michael, the oil and water of our group, were always at each others throats. We often joked they bickered like an old married couple even though we all knew Meg’s heart forever belonged to Bill. Their opinionated banter often had us roaring in laughter. Sometimes just Meg, Dayna, and I ran delving into more serious topics of conversation about our lives, families, hopes, and hardships. Meg was always such a source of strength and support. She had a way of making even the most difficult of times seem managable.

When I moved to Houston seven years ago, leaving those friendships behind was so difficult. Who would I train with in a new city? Who could match their personalities and the dynamic we all shared? It seemed like such a daunting thought thinking about starting all over again.

Every holiday or visit I made to the Valley up until pregnancy included a run with my Harlingen running crew. Each time, it was as though I had never left. We picked up where we left off, filled each other in on what we’d missed, and always talked about our next big race and the training it would require.

Yesterday we lost an incredible gift. Meg, you will be missed by so many. Thank you for the privilege of being a part of your inner circle while I lived in Harlingen. You inspired me, encouraged me, and supported me in so many ways. You taught me the importance of balancing a career, a family, and a passion for running. Your beautiful smile and strong opinions were truly my most favorite things about you.

Last night searching through email archives I found a note she sent me when I first moved to Houston. It truly encompasses the kind of friend she was.

 Hey Sweetie,

My best wishes to you for the SF marathon. I bet you will do a great job & exceed your expectations. I hope so anyway! Please post your time on Facebook when it’s all over so we can see.

I am running again, trying to get back into shape during the season I hate most in South Texas! It doesn’t seem fair that someone can train for over 20 years of their life and be dedicated and committed to a sport, and get “out of VO2 Xchange shape in a matter of Weeks!! I am stubborn. I will get back into shape for Philadelphia my birthday weekend – Nov 20. Dayna is doing it with me!

Should be cold in Phili in Nov. I hope so anyway!

Hope you are doing well & happy at your new home. We get to Houston  a few times a  year. I will try to track you down.  Wish you the best for the race & your new job/ studies.

All my love,

meg

Running is a gift not because of the physical and mental benefits it provides but because of the amazing training partners you share the road with. When you look past the miles, sweat, and body odor, there is a vulnerability that comes from laying it all on the line when you lace up your running shoes. There’s something that happens in a long run when you let your walls down and pour your heart out.  A running friendship is truly an exceptional gift with exponential payouts.

Meg, you will forever have a special place in my heart. May you find eternal rest in Heaven. Godspeed!

A Coach with an Incredible Heart

A great coach motivates, inspires, and brings out the best in their athletes. With over 20 years of competitive distance running under my belt, I have trained under a handful of coaches who brought out the best in me athletically. No one, however, deserves the honor of the greatest coach more than my middle school and high school track and cross-country coach, Sylvia Torres.

Her dedication to the sport and to her athletes inspired so many of us to chase our dreams across sandy beaches, grassy fields, and an all-weather track. Every morning, I sat on my parent’s washing machine in the utility room anxiously awaiting her arrival in my driveway. She would pull up in her red mini van, and I would scurry out the door to meet her. She had three young girls at home still asleep, so my spot in the van was always in Taylor’s car seat. Coach Torres always had a smile on her face when she picked us up. If she was tired, she never let it show. By the end of our route, the van was busting at the seams with athletes eager to start their morning run.

As we all filed out of the van and carried our bags into the locker room, she was usually trailing after us telling us how far we’d be running that morning. It was always still dark outside when we started. We ran a straight stretch from the high school into town and then turned around at a halfway point indicated by Coach Torres. These workouts were usually lighter than our afternoon workouts and provided ample opportunities to laugh and converse with our teammates.

After school, we piled into a school van to do it all over again. This time, though, Coach Torres would drive us across the causeway to the sandy beaches of South Padre Island. Some afternoons it was tempo or progressive workout along the shoreline. My favorite workout and oftentimes the most difficult was our weekly hill workout through the sand dunes. The soft sand was brutal on the calves, especially because getting traction was almost impossible. We would chart out a course in the highest dunes on the north end of the island, and she would time us with her stopwatch; yelling out our splits as we crossed the makeshift finish line drawn in the sand.

Coach Torres had an infectious laugh that was contagious. There are many times I remember her laughing so hard she started crying. Two instances that stand out in my mind both involve our rental car at the state cross country meet my sophomore year. The day before the race, we drove out to Roundrock to jog the course. On our way back, she kept saying that something seemed off about the way the car was driving. When we pulled into the parking lot of the hotel, we noticed the tires of the rental were emitting smoke. It turns out she had forgotten about the parking break and had driven the entire way back with it on. We both laughed and laughed about the error. I was so nervous that it definitely helped ease the nerves I was feeling about the big race.

The next morning we drove back to Roundrock for the meet. My stomach was in knots and traffic was a little heavy, so we arrived with very little time to warm up. To make matters worse, the parking situation was difficult, so we parked in a muddy field; she told me the jog to the starting line would be my warm up. I meandered up the road to the start, checked in with the line judges, and did some sprints from the starting box to finish warming up. Soon the starting gun went off, and I charged towards the front. After the first mile, I made a bold decision to take the lead. With second place, hot on my heels I pushed myself harder to extend my lead. I crossed the finish line first cinching the State 3A Cross-Country title. I remember the pride I felt as I scanned the crowd looking for her. She was beaming, and we embraced in a hug; relishing in the victory and everything it took for both of us to get here.

After the awards ceremony, we made our way back to the rental car only to discover that we were stuck. I will never forget standing behind the car with my gold medal around my neck, pushing the car as she steered with it in neutral; mud flying up all around me. When we were finally in the clear, I returned to passenger side of the vehicle, and we both laughed so hard at the predicament we had just gotten ourselves out of. With Coach Torres, there was never a dull moment.

Shortly before she passed away, my mom and I visited her at MD Anderson. I know she was in a lot of pain, but she still greeted me with that familiar smile. I shared running stories with her telling her about my running accomplishments since moving to Houston. That year, I received the honor of HARRA Open Female Runner of the Season. I had the Texas Runner Triathlete magazine with me to show her photos of me racing that season. And just like all of those years before, that same pride welled inside her.

Soon a doctor knocked on the door signaling the end of our visit. I hugged her, walked towards the door, and turned saying, “Goodbye, Coach Torres.” I remember the doctor saying in surprise, “I didn’t know you were a coach.” Almost out of earshot, I heard her say, “Yes. I was her cross-country and track coach. She was one of the best runners I ever coached.” My mom and I walked down the hall towards the elevator both in tears. This woman selflessly gave me a piece of her every day for five years. She lifted me up on the days I felt my weakest and pushed me further on the days I felt my best.

Yesterday marked her two year death anniversary. It seemed only appropriate to dedicate today’s morning run to you, Coach. I was blessed to have you in my life. Your leadership and direction as my middle school and high school cross-country and track coach laid the groundwork for my love of distance running. I know I am one of the many Tarpon athletes who still misses you dearly. Thank you for your tireless effort and unwavering support.

 

Houston Runs 4 Harvey

Tonight I laced up my running shoes in solidarity with other Houston Area Road Runners as part of HARRA’s Houston Runs 4 Harvey 5K. Participating runners had the option of joining them this evening at TC Jester Park in Houston for a 5K or running the same distance at a satellite location of your choice.

I set out later than normal. The night was eerily quiet with just the rhythmic hum of the cicadas cheering me on. As my feet hit the pavement, I fell into a cadence that easily allowed me to get lost in thought. With each step forward, I pushed myself a little harder and coaxed myself to run a little faster.

The deep orange glow on the horizon and a lone star shining brightly in the sky served as my guide to a finish line that only existed in my head. I weaved through twists and turns in the road racing against the clock closing in on 3.1 miles. As I ran, my head raced with negative thoughts about a hurricane named Harvey who brought destruction and heartache to so many people in the Gulf Coast areas of Texas. I thought of the people I knew directly and the ones I read about or saw on the local news who were directly impacted.

As my pace continued to quicken so too did my heart rate. My chest began to burn, but I still pushed on coaxing a swell of emotions out at the same time. My heart ached for so many who lost their lives, homes, and treasures to Harvey. My heart swelled with pride for a city I’ve called home for the last seven years that came together to support those who needed them most.

When my watch finally flashed 3.1 miles signaling the end of tonight’s virtual run, I found myself overcome with emotion. I stopped my watch, slowed to a walk, and found myself fighting back tears. For me, the completion of tonight’s run symbolized the end of a monster that took it’s toll across southeast Texas. A monster that left many wounded in it’s path; a path that still requires a lot of stamina, faith, and charity to overcome and rebuild what was lost.

As I turned the corner around the lake, a perfectly round moon with an orange glow took my breath away. It hung low cast perfectly on a blanket of black and purple sky. In that moment of natural beauty, I found myself reflecting on truth, goodness, and light. Those of us who lost nothing must serve as the light for those who have lost it all; coming together in goodness to help our neighbors through charitable giving.