Sunday, June 16, 2013

Daddy-daughter running diaries

Not long after I published my mushy Mother’s Day post, a good friend—and loyal blog reader—of mine pointed out that I sure as heck better write something equally sappy to commemorate Father’s Day. Of course, I was already planning to do so because (a) my dad is awesome and deserves mad props for his awesomeness, and (b) writing this blog post was much cheaper than buying and mailing a card. (Thanks for teaching me how to budget, Dad!)

My dad and I chillin' like movie stars in SoCal (Brad Pitt is taking the picture).

My dad and I share much more than just our good financial sense. From him, I inherited my charming foot deformity, my taste for anchovies and green olives, and, perhaps most notably, my insatiable desire to win at everything. As a pro football coach, he pretty much has to be competitive. And although he always emphasized sportsmanship and humility above all else, my dad definitely nurtured my innate competitive drive throughout my childhood—whether I was vying for the lead in the local children’s theatre production of Oklahoma! or a spot on the middle school math team. So, despite being raised in the age of participatory trophies and no-score youth basketball games, I developed a competitive spirit so strong that to this day, I can’t even get through a friendly game of Scattergories without a little smack-talk.

And even though cross-country was a bit outside of his wheelhouse, my dad fully immersed himself in the world of distance running to support my passion for it. If that’s not the definition of great parenting, then I don’t know what is. Here’s the “run”down (see what I did there?) of our most memorable father-daughter running moments:

A Daddy-Daughter Jog Down Memory Lane

1996 (summer) – I enter my first 5K road race. My parents also enter the race. After leaving my mom in the dust, my dad and I set out on a joint mission to conquer the eight-to-ten-year-old female age division. By the midway point, I am whining and complaining so much, you’d think it was an episode of Toddlers and Tiaras. Knowing full well that my drama queen antics are all for show, my dad risks a CPS investigation as he basically drags me through the final mile. Just as he predicts, my tears magically disappear when I see the huge throng of spectators gathered around the finish. I sprint across the line, win my age group, and receive my first-ever gold medal. From that moment on, I am in love with running.

1996 (fall) – My dad lets me race his offensive linemen in practice drills in hopes that they might be motivated by the threat of getting beat by a third-grade girl. I am oddly satisfied by my repeated victories over a group of 300-pound men.

2002 – It is the morning of my very first high school cross-country meet and I am a nervous wreck. It also happens to be school picture day, and in the midst of dealing with a Stage-5 Hair Crisis—trust me, curlers never work the way you want them to—I almost forget to pack my race bag. When I finally get to school, I make the horrifying discovery that in my rush to get out the door, I forgot to bring a sports bra. I immediately go to the office to call home. My dad answers the phone. My face burns red with embarrassment as I explain my predicament in panicked whispers. Ten minutes later, my dad shows up at school with the necessary equipment wrapped discreetly in a plastic bag.

2004 – My dad is coaching in Europe, and my family and I visit him over spring break. I am right in the thick of training for my sophomore track season. Because he does not want me to get kidnapped by a group of Euro-thugs in a Taken-type scenario—although, for the record, Liam Neeson ain’t got nothin’ on my dad—he insists on accompanying me on all of my training runs. He enacts the rule that I must stay within his sight at all times, so I end up doing a lot of back-and-forth running. This seemed overprotective and annoying at the time, but in hindsight was actually very loving and sweet.

2005 – For the second year in a row, my dad spends hundreds of dollars to take me to California so I can compete in the Footlocker West Regional Cross Country Championships. My race performance is mediocre at best, but he knows I gave it my all and offers lots of congratulatory praise nonetheless. Afterwards, he tries to ease my disappointment by devising a completely skewed, wholly inaccurate mathematical calculation proving that I am actually one of the top 50 high school runners in the United States. Also, he buys me a Tommy’s chiliburger.

2007 – It’s my freshman indoor track season at the University of Montana. I’m set to run the 800 meters in a meet at the University of Idaho, which happens to be in the middle of butt-effing nowhere. My dad doesn’t even think twice about making the five-hour trip to Hick Town, USA, to watch me run for two whole minutes. In his rush to get there in time for the race, he neglects to fuel up and runs out of gas midway through the drive. Without a moment’s hesitation, he gets out of the car, and—dressed in jeans and a leather jacket—begins jogging down the interstate toward the next exit. A nice young man takes pity on him and gives him a ride to the closest gas station. He makes it to the track just in time for the 800. A local sports writer is so impressed by this story that he later pens an entire column about it.

2010 (spring) – I’m set to run the 800 in one of the most competitive track meets of my college career: the Rafer Johnson/Jackie Joyner-Kersee Invitational. The meet takes place in Los Angeles—my dad’s old stompin’ grounds. I’m pretty sure my coach has fudged my entry time so I can run in the fast heat. To get myself in the psychological state necessary to compete against women with thighs the size of my torso, I repeatedly tell myself that (a) I am a badass and (b) as such, I can definitely keep up with these chicks and their massive quads. Once I hear my split at the 200-meter mark—27 seconds, the fastest I have ever run 200 meters, period—I realize that my plan is effed. I blow up hard core at 500 meters and finish dead last. My dad commends me for taking a risk and tells me it’s good experience to race against such a competitive field. Also, he buys me a Tommy’s chiliburger.   

2010 (fall) – It’s my senior cross-country season at UM, and we’re on our way to one of the biggest meets of the season: NCAA Pre-Nationals. For some odd reason known only to the NCAA and possibly Dr. Phil, the Division I cross-country championship course was built in the boondocks of western Indiana and is only accessible by a series of windy backwoods two-laners. My dad has traveled all the way to the Hoosier State to watch me compete. I have no idea how to direct him to the course, so I suggest that he follow the team van. He is staying at a hotel a few miles up the road from ours and plans to jump on the freeway as we approach his exit. Despite my moronically vague descriptions of our location—“Um, we’re, like, on this road that is next to, like, another road...oh, and the roads have lines on them!”—my dad somehow manages to perfectly time his freeway entrance, sliding right in behind the team vehicle in the legendary maneuver that forever will be known as “The Merge.”

2013 – I’m now a full-blown has-been, and I’m running in my latest community road race—a 10K in Polson, Montana. When I pick up my race packet, I find out that the 10K course is actually just two loops of the 5K route. I also find out that there are approximately six people registered for the longer distance, half of whom are men over the age of 50. After the starting gun—er, whistle—goes off, I am running alone within seconds. To help me deal with this double-whammy of monotony (repetitive course + no competition), my dad drives the car alongside me at various points throughout the race. He and my mom cheer just as enthusiastically as they would if I were pulling ahead of Kara Goucher in the Olympic Trials.

So Dad, thanks for always being there to cheer me on no matter what. I can always count on your congratulations, encouragement, and support—whether I win a major award or just a participatory trophy (although for the record, I hate participatory trophies and think they are slowly destroying America). Love you! 

Saturday, June 1, 2013

One for the birds

I love baby animals. And if you don’t, well then, you’re a heartless asshole.

That being said, I realize that not everyone cares about baby animals as intensely as I do. Some people prefer to focus their attention on other, similarly important things like war and disease and human starvation.

Perhaps you tear up when you see one of those Christian Children’s Fund commercials—as well you should, because they are very, very sad. But nothing tugs at my heart strings more than those Sarah McLachlan animal cruelty commercials, which I cannot bear to watch for fear of developing a serious drinking problem. Whenever one comes on, I instinctively close my eyes, cover my ears, and sputter out sentence fragments like a Tourette’s patient until I can locate the remote and change the channel.

Now that you have a bit of context, I’ll get on with my story. It all started a few days ago when my friend Kim and I headed out for a run on a particularly breezy afternoon. The sidewalk was covered with windblown leaves, fallen branches, gum wrappers, flimsy Dairy Queen napkins, Taylor Swift concert tickets, and other worthless bits of debris.

As we turned onto the main road, I caught a scurrying blip in the far left corner of my peripheral vision. Upon closer examination, I realized that it had tiny legs. And a tiny beak. And tiny wings. I gasped in horror as my brain caught up to my eyes. It was a baby bird—an itsy-bitsy panic-stricken ball of fluff trying desperately to jump over the curb so he could make his way back to the tree from which he had fallen.

He was obviously too young to be out of the nest, and my heart broke as I watched him fail—over and over again—to scale the towering curb. Every few steps, his tiny bird feet lost their footing, sending him crashing into a precious little heap of yellow fuzz. It was the most pitiful thing you could ever watch—besides, I’m told, The Hangover Part III.

I didn’t have the heart to tell him that all of his efforts were in vain—that he would never be able to climb the tree and rejoin his little bird brothers and little bird sisters in their happy little bird home. (Also, I don’t speak bird.)

I stared pleadingly at Kim. The look of distress in her eyes matched my own. What could we do? If we left him to fend for himself, he would die—either from starvation or by the heavy paw of a feline predator. If we tried to rescue him, he would die. (Anyone who’s anyone knows that a mama bird will reject any offspring tainted by human scent!)

We paused for several moments and debated what to do.

“What should we dooooooo?!?” I whined.

“I don’t know, what do you think we should do?!?” Kim squealed back.

“I asked you first!” I retorted.

“Ooooohhh…look at him—he so cute!” She said.

“We can’t just leave him—he’ll starve or get eaten!” I wailed.

“I know, but what can we do?” Kim replied. “If we touch him, his parents will smell us on him and reject him anyway.”

“Well, we could put him in a box and raise him ourselves,” I reasoned.

“But what would we feed him?” she asked.

“Well, we could, like, chew up worms and spoon-feed it to him with tweezers,” I suggested.

I could tell from the disgusted look on Kim’s face that she was not down with my worm-mash idea. In fact, she probably thought I was a huge freak for even saying it out loud.

At this point, I knew I had to put a lid on the conversation before I word-vomited any more repulsive comments. I lamented the poor bird’s fate one last time before restarting my watch and resuming the run. I felt a pang of guilt, like I’d just witnessed a pedestrian hit-and-run and was now fleeing the scene of the accident as the victim lay in the street, bleeding profusely and clutching a broken femur.

I tried not to let on, but the truth was that for the remainder of the run, my mind was consumed by the memory of that poor baby bird. The look of sheer terror in his beady little eyes haunted my every thought. But there really wasn’t anything I could have done, right? RIGHT???

As much as I wanted to believe my own words of consolation, I could not shake the feeling that I was, in some yet-to-be-identified way, a miserable failure. There was only one way to settle this—to free my mind of its guilt-wrought shackles: consulting The Google.

The all-knowing power of The Google never ceases to amaze me. I am especially mystified by its crazy-accurate psychic powers. Like, I can type the word “If,” and it will autocomplete the exact question I was thinking: “If I had 7,856 nickels, how much money would that be?” (Answer: $392.80)

So, I brought up The Google and began typing “Can I,” and of course “touch a baby bird” popped right up in the search field. (I wish I could marry you, Google. You just get me.)

I hit enter, picked the most legit-looking search result, and cupped my hand over my mouth in disbelief as my worst fears were confirmed.

To put it lightly, whoever told you that mama birds will reject their human-scented babies—your mother, your babysitter, your kindergarten teacher, that guy Steve from Blue’s Clues—was a dirty liar. Because guess what? It’s A MYTH! The Internet SAID SO!

I probably would have spent a lot more time being upset and angry about this revelation had it not occurred as a result of stumbling upon the coolest fun-fact website of all time. And thanks to my adult-onset ADD, the whole baby bird fiasco quickly faded into the annals of history as I clicked my way through a series of incredibly-entertaining-but-ultimately-useless trivia items. Well, useless to a normal person anyway. As a rambling blogger with adult-onset ADD and a horribly disjointed writing structure, I know just how to use them—as my concluding paragraph!

So, here you go: Chickens have earlobes. Chickens with white earlobes lay white eggs, whereas chickens with red earlobes lay brown eggs. In an average NFL football game there are only about 12 minutes of actual play time. Nine-banded armadillos always give birth to identical quadruplets. Cashews are related to poison ivy. “Pepsi-Cola” is an anagram for “Episcopal,” which some people believe the drink was named after. “Britney Spears” is an anagram for “Presbyterians,” which no one believes she was named after. The end.