The Penguin Chronicles – Family Values

I grew up in an extended family. Of course, I didn’t know it was an extended family. All I knew was that it was my family. A mother, father, brother, grandmother, and grandfather. Sometimes there were aunts, uncles, and cousins, depending on how extended the family was.

When you’re a child you don’t know any better. I didn’t. I woke up and everybody was there. I guess I figured that every family had the same cast of characters. The good news about an extended family, especially and multi-generational extended family, is that you’re exposed to lots of different world views and life experiences.

My grandmother was born 10 years before the Wright Brother’s first flight. For her, flying to Florida with me when I was 10 was as much magic and miracle as it was transportation. My grandfather was born in Chicago, moved back to Italy between the ages of 7 and 15, and then came back to Chicago in 1910. Virtually everything that I took for granted in my childhood was a mystery to my grandparents.

When I started running I discovered that I had a new family, a running family. At first it was a small family. The only ones who knew me were the people closest to me who knew my secret; that I was trying to change my life.

Eventually, as I began to go to races, I discovered that I wasn’t just part of a family, I was a member of a community. I was, much to my surprise, a race bib wearing member of the running community. It was a small community, but I belonged. I was welcomed. I was celebrated.

As my racing world expanded, as I began to travel to races further from home, I discovered that I was a part of an expanded running community. I went to small local races. I went to large national races. It didn’t matter. I was welcomed. And all I had to do was show up wearing a race number.

My running world exploded when I began writing and speaking. I found, though, that the running community was the same no matter where I was. Runners were fast. Runners were slow. Runners were thin, thick, short, tall, young, old, and everything in between. And I found that runners weren’t always runners. They ran. They ran and walked. They walked and ran. Some runners never run a step. They walk.

The biggest surprise was that – almost without exception – the greatest runners, world record holders and Olympians among them, are also a part of my running community. As I’ve said, what unites as runners is far more important than what separates by pace.

Now, at a time when my personal best are well behind me and my days of racing with thousands of my closest friends seem in the distant past, I find that I am once again coming home to my running family. It is an extended family, to be sure, but one that has surely welcomed me back none-the-less.

But it’s different this time. Like my grandparents, much of what today’s runners take for granted are a mystery to me. Online training, smart phone based mileage apps, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and more are as foreign to me as algebra was to my grandparents. And maybe just as useful.

I find I am as content now to view the satisfaction in a new runner’s face as I was to experience that satisfaction for myself. I find now that I am content to let their joy be reflected in my face. I am as content to look into their eyes and see their souls and their spirits as I was digging deep into the abyss of my own psyche.

It is for that connection, for that community, for that sense of family, more so than any of the physical benefits of running,  that I am glad that I am a runner. And why when the time comes that I can no longer run I will still consider myself a part of the family.

Waddle on, friends.

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