Cover The Distance

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Philip congratulates Mary after completing Sunday’s YMCA mini-triathlon.

I’m tired of survival of the fittest ruining everything.

After writing a piece about one of my former high school classmates with a gravely ill paraplegic son, I raced out the door for a briefing on a mini triathlon Sunday at the YMCA. I began stressing about it, wondering if I could do it with a case of the sniffles and a bigger case of nerves.

And then I got a huge dose of reality, and a double shot of humility. I thought about my classmate and her son fighting for his life. I thought about people who wish they could  participate. I asked myself if my performance, or whether I looked horrible in our team photo, mattered.

I decided it doesn’t. No one except someone with an incredible amount of spare time would care how I looked or fared. So when swimming coach Tess urged me to correct my very poor swimming stroke, I didn’t. When my husband looked at me as if to say, “Why the hell are you doing the breaststroke?” I shrugged. When my running coach Maureen stopped her Honda Civic and ordered me not to walk, I didn’t until she was out of view.

In the end, it doesn’t matter – not a whiff.  Float, paddle, peddle, cruise, jog, walk, crawl. Cover the distance. Life’s not always about coming in first, even if you’re the competitive type like me. It’s hard for me to let go of my edge, but I’m trying.

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Mary Kelly crosses the finish line.

For the record, I finished third from last among 11 competitors. I was among the oldest women and there was no escaping it: a 59 in black Sharpie was scrawled on my left calf, in case anyone saw it and got the urge to beat me. But guess what? When I began the running leg, I was dead last. So much for motivating anyone.

The one woman I did pass in my age group, Mary Kelly, couldn’t care less. And the one guy I passed, Philip, 48, was power walking, taking along his kids and a buddy for the 3.1 mile final leg. Spotting my kids near the outset of run, I begged one of them to join me. I needed to be lifted up, even by an ornery teen telling me to get moving.

And then Kayne West’s song “Stronger” miraculously came on my I-Phone. “Now that that don’t kill me, can only make me stronger.” I listened to that song 10 years ago when I began running again after a long break. It was in the best shape of my running life when a dog mauled me, sidelining me for more than two months. I stopped running for years after the dog bite, mainly because I was terrified of being attacked again.

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The group the night before.

But I began running again in the summer of 2016. I heard running was good for anxiety, and I had plenty of that. I needed endorphins to level me out, and guess what? Running and fresh air made me feel better.

Pounding my feet to “Stronger,” I found my groove, though it didn’t last long. I had to stop and walk several times to catch my breath. I was, to use my latest favorite term,  “gassed.”  I usually can’t stand walking during races, but I didn’t care. Some days covering the distance is all you can do.

When my energy waned again, the theme from Rocky came on. Honestly, I don’t think there’s a better song for motivating people when they feel like packing it in. I played it at least five times in the second part of the run, and am convinced I couldn’t have staggered home without it.

This is the second mini-triathlon I’ve done, and it was harder than the first because I knew what was involved. You swim 36 laps (a half-mile), spin for 45 minutes or 13 miles, and run (or hobble) for 3.1 miles. “Why are you doing that?” my mother asked. “And I don’t want you to do it if you have a cold, OK? Just forget about it if you’re not feeling well.”

Don’t you love mothers? They give us an out for everything. My mother has never understood my interest in sports, which began about age 13. She’s not athletic or competitive, which I love. I got my competitive drive from my father, and often joke that as the second of seven girls, I was the son he never had.

I loved my first mini tri. We were a tight-knit group training in spring when everything is full of promise, and did our tri last Mother’s Day. I had a lot more trouble settling into this group. We began training in mid-January, jogging on treadmills because it was too cold or dark to run outside. I couldn’t swim with the group on Tuesdays because of a previous commitment. The only saving grace was the spinning. We had spiffy new bikes and a much bigger spinning room.

The first time around, I made a buddy in a woman named Heather, who needed my help and support running. I got to know Heather well, and we motivated each other. I didn’t have Heather this time around, and I missed her.

This second group was more fractured – loosey goosey if you will. I liked everyone – Erin, Heather #2,  Amy and the others – but I didn’t feel I was making any connections. I felt alone.

But as we gathered in the Y lobby for last minute instructions and pep talks from our coaches, I looked around, and finally felt something. We were all in this together, whether we realized it or not.

Without Heather #1 at my side, I struck up conversations with whomever happened to be on the next treadmill or spin cycle. People opened up about their reasons for doing the tri. Most people just felt they needed a challenge, or to kick up their exercise regimes a notch or two.

Philip, who sat on the spin bike next to me during the tri, said “I did it because I’m tired of being fat.” Oh yea? Lost any weight? “Yea, but I keep finding it,” he joked.

But Mary Kelly was different. The first week, Mary told me that she had just completed chemotherapy for breast cancer, and was still receiving infusions during our training. This was Mary’s fourth tri. She said the thought of doing another tri often kept her going during her grueling days of chemo.

As I sat with Mary and Eileen, a whip smart official at Yale, a few weeks ago, Mary said, “When you get breast cancer, everyone says, ‘Oh, you’re so brave to go through the chemotherapy.’ I’m not brave. I don’t want to die.”

Mary has an incredible approach to tri training that I’m sure she applied to her treatment. She puts her head down and does what she needs to do, oblivious to the time it takes to get the job done. She was the most focused member of our group, an inspiration to us all.

When she tried to pull out the cancer card on Sunday while changing out of her swimsuit into her cycling gear, her friend said, “You can’t say you’ve got cancer any more. You had cancer.” We all smiled.

We all have different things that inspire us through dark or difficult times. One person’s celebratory trip to Paris is another person’s mini tri. It’s just important to have a brass ring, something to keep you motivated and keep things interesting.

Just before going under for a colonoscopy last year, the anesthesiologist asked me to think of a place I’d like to go. “Montana,” I said wistfully. He laughed. “That’s a first,” he said. “Usually people say Europe or tropical islands. Montana?”

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Philip finishes with part of his contingent.

Hey, I was being honest. Deep blue sky as far as the eye can see. Wild animals roaming freely.  Hadn’t he ever heard of the song “Home on the Range?”

Along with Mary, there is the married couple Bud and Lisa. I love these two because they refuse to sit next to each in the spin room, and Bud never answers when Lisa asks, “How’s your heart rate Bud?”

Veterans of prior tris, they have both had their share of health problems. Bud underwent brain surgery after his last tri a few years ago. He’s in his 70s now and has to be careful.  A few weeks ago, they decided the swimming is too much, and dialed it back to a biathlon (cycling and running).

Since I was the last one out of the pool this time around, I’m thinking a biathlon might make a lot of sense for me too.

 

Momma’s New Gig

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CT-NOW President Cindy Wolfe Boynton blows me a good  luck kiss.

Momma’s got a brand new gig.

My friend and former editor Cindy Wolfe Boynton asked if I’d take charge of the National Organization of Women’s Connecticut chapter’s blog. I’m handling its content so Cindy can do other things, including running for state representative, teaching college courses, leading CT-NOW, advocating for adoptee rights, being a wife to her husband Ted, and mom of two young adult sons.

I’m sure that’s not all she’s doing, because she’s one of the busiest people I know. She wrote a play about her mother’s battle with Parkinson’s disease, has written a couple of books and leads a quirky walking tour called Spirits of Milford that visits famous ghosts sites.

She’s someone you want to be around because she’s on a mission to make the world a better place. Years ago, she asked me to sit on a committee to collect gifts, clothing and throw a Christmas party for residents at the Beth El Shelter, Milford’s homeless shelter. She also got me involved in a movement to open adoption laws in Connecticut so adoptees born before 1983 can access their original birth certificates. Cindy’s an adoptee, while I’m the mom of two adopted children.

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My favorite Maltese Eli.

She’s a person who sees endless possibilities instead of obstacles. When Internet trolls took potshots at her for supporting Hillary Clinton, and entering the race for state representative, she kept their ugly comments on her Facebook feed. When I asked her how she deals with unkind remarks, she shrugged. “People can be so cruel. I guess I just let it roll off my back. I learned that from Linda Bouvier, my editor at the Milford Citizen. She didn’t let anything bother her.”

When I reminded her that Facebook is not a newspaper and she has the right to remove such comments, she looked as if it had never crossed her mind. She is the rarest combination of big-hearted yet tough as nails. I’m hoping a little of her resolve rubs off on me. I still remember every nasty remark anyone ever said to me when I was a reporter.

“So, what’s up? What are you doing, sitting at home writing blog posts all day?” she asked. “What’s the story with your blog? How did this whole thing come about?”

She’s always had the impression that I’m pampered, like a Maltese with a tiny ribbon in its hair with a jeweled collar and leash. And I suppose by some people’s standards, I am. I was lucky to stay home with my kids, but I know what it’s like to work and scrimp. I put my husband through law school on a $12,000 per year reporter’s salary. We qualified for free blocks of federally-funded cheese, and I bought paper towels one roll at a time.

I explained my blog is an outgrowth of my inability to find a job after being a stay-at-home mom for 18 years. I have a part-time job and volunteer, but my blog is my baby. I write every day, though 75 percent stays in the draft bin. I don’t make a dime off it, and I like it that way. If you want to ruin something, make it your job instead of your passion.

I blog to share my thoughts and take on life, to work out things that perplex, amuse, interest or move me. I don’t have an axe to grind. I just want to share my stories, and for you to weigh in if you’d like. I love feedback. It means you’re paying attention.

Like a lot of things in her life, Cindy has a great vision for the CT-NOW blog. She’d like to feature stories about women facing issues because of their gender. I wracked my brain for women who could be profiled over the next few weeks. And then I realized that I could have used CT-NOW when I launched my job hunt two years ago. I’m convinced I was dismissed as a job candidate for positions well beneath my pay grade because I’m a woman over 50 (OK, over 55, but who’s counting?)

I suspect I was a victim of sex and age discrimination, that when people looked at my college graduation year (1980) they thought, “Why is she applying for jobs when she’s nearing retirement age?” Job hunting at this age is humiliating. It’s even worse when the neighbor down the road tells you she’ll put in a good word, and you still hear nothing.

I believe that age discrimination is becoming as big a problem as sexual discrimination in this country.  Sally Koslow wrote a brilliant piece on this subject last summer in her piece entitled, “Hire A Woman’s Your Mom’s Age” in the New York Times. Reading her piece was one of the first assurances I had that I wasn’t a complete loser, that other women had tread similar paths and survived.

As my accounts to Indeed, Monster and LinkedIn sat woefully silent, I was flooded with news about new college graduates landing jobs for well over $100,000. I was happy for them, but dispirited and depressed. I found myself regretting my decision to stay home with my kids, and urging young moms to keep a foot in the workplace lest they never work again. I was haunted by the expression, “Out to pasture.”

At cocktail parties, I’d tell everyone that society has no respect for stay-at-home moms, that we’re viewed as second class citizens who spend all day watching TV, nibbling on bon bons and spending our husband’s (or partner’s) hard-earned cash. A part of me believes there’s still this perception, that we’re lazy and took the easy way out.

I’ve heard of women who have penned novels at kitchen tables, and painted murals while their kids were sleeping, but these are superwomen. Most of us just want to put up our feet and watch a TV show or read a book without being interrupted when the kids are finally in bed. At least that’s my goal.

Women need to realize that we’re all in this together, that when one woman is discriminated against, we all suffer. Over dinner with two couples, a woman I went to high school with complained about stay-at-home moms looking down on working mothers.

My former classmate is a divorced mom who worked full-time to support her two children. Despite her job duties, she made a point of attending school events. One day when showing up to a field trip, a stay-at-home mom glared at her and announced, “Oh look who showed up. Doesn’t Mrs. So & So look nice in her fancy boots?”

We’ve all been there, haven’t we? And sometimes it feels like we just can’t win. We’re all doing our best – holding down jobs, taking care of kids, parents, the house and the dog, and trying to carve out time for self-care. But the self-care more often than not goes out the window. Just ask any woman who plans to hit the gym after work, and has to skip it because of dinner, the PTA meeting or the book report due the next day.

I’m convinced that women hold the power to do great things if we unite and take more active roles in changing things. It’s easy to sit back and criticize, quite another to put yourself out there to affect change. I’m convinced mothers must take the lead in ending school shootings. Organizations like the Sandy Hook Promise are doing great work, but they can’t do it alone. We need to get out there and make our voices heard.

PB233269 (1).jpgCarolyn Milazzo Murphy is blog editor for the National Organization of Women-Connecticut chapter. She is a freelance writer with more than 30 years experience in journalism. She writes the gsandwich.wordpress.com, and is active in many community organizations. She can be reached at carolyn.milazzo@gmail.com.