Friday, November 25, 2011

Changing course

My Charlie and I had planned to run the Dallas White Rock Half-Marathon together this year. We decided this last December, on one of those wildly glorious Sunday afternoons that seem to go on forever, the kind that, if the sun sets and you haven't made any pledges or promises, maybe you don't believe -- at least not today -- in magic.

We had driven to Swiss Avenue to watch my friend Laura run the anchor leg of her relay team. As we looked for her, Charlie tagged behind me at first; I don't think he knew what to expect at such a huge race. He may have been a bit overwhelmed at all the runners -- to say nothing of his excited mother's reaction to them. But by the time we spotted Laura, Charlie was yelling, too -- maybe not as loudly as I, but nonetheless yelling, cheering on people whose legs were giving out, but who kept on going.

Twice in the hour or so we were there, Charlie turned to me.

"I want to do this," he said. Hearing him say that made me so happy. I put my arm around his shoulders, told him yes, we'll do it together.

"Hold onto this moment," I said. "When we're training and things are hard, remember how this feels right now." I linked my arm in his as we walked to the car.

Months and seasons passed. I did my usual running, my occasional swimming, my semi-regular jaunts to the gym.  Charlie stayed in the utmost of shape during track season, most of which intersected with club volleyball. Spring made way for summer, which too soon passed. School, and volleyball season, began anew.

We had every intention of following through with our plan to run the half marathon. Charlie hadn't been running, but volleyball keeps him in phenomenal shape. Plus, being 18, I had utmost confidence he could build up his mileage...which he did; the week after the volleyball tournament that ended the season, he ran five miles one day and seven another.

For his October birthday, I gave Charlie a pair of running tights, a stocking cap, an ear warmer, and a nifty pair of gloves that had an optional wind-breaker flap. He was thrilled, and so was I.

By then, he'd started playing club volleyball again. One day, he came home and said his knee had started hurting so badly he had to sit out much of practice. Though he wore knee pads, he'd still had a few knee ailments throughout the fall volleyball season -- not surprisingly, judging by the number of times he went flying through the air after a wayward volleyball, sliding across the gym floor on, yes, his knees.

"I cringe when he does that," I told the orthopedist. "The balls go flying, and they're usually so out of reach they're impossible to rescue."

"Yes," he told me, "but it's those one or two he does get that keep him trying."

 When Charlie told the doctor he'd planned to run the Turkey Trot, which was 36 hours after our appointment, and the half-marathon 10 days later, the doctor shook his head.

"I don't recommend it," he said. "If your knee starts hurting even a little, stop. Having to sit out your volleyball season for an injury you exacerbated by running just isn't worth it."

He sent Charlie to a physical therapist in an adjoining office. Charlie was there for an hour or so, and the physical therapist told him no running, no volleyball, for at least two weeks.

I'd planned to run the YMCA Turkey Trot with Charlie. But when he couldn't, I decided I wasn't up to getting caught up in the excited mayhem of the Thanksgiving morning race. Charlie wanted me to go, but instead I ran eight miles in the neighborhood, and was perfectly happy with that.

I'm not going to skip the White Rock Half, which I haven't run in several years. But yeah, I especially wanted to run it with my son -- for, among other reasons, his calming influence (not that I get jittery before a race or anything). Mostly, though, I wanted us to do it together because he's a high-school senior, making this probably our last chance while he's still living at home. He nixed my idea of training for the 3M half in Austin, or for the Big D Texas Half in April, because track and volleyball will take up so much of his time by then.

I quite understand, as I do his wanting to defy doctor's orders. Several times since his appointment, he's said, "I want to run." Instead, we've gone to the gym, where he's ridden the stationary bike with zero tension, and worked with weights that strengthen his upper-body.

Am I disappointed? Sure, and I know he is, too. Yet as I write this -- on a Sunday afternoon, no less, much like a certain other one a year ago -- I realize this change in plans has taught me and, I venture, Charlie, a lesson or two:

Namely, that not every promise can be fulfilled. And that as earnest and eager as pledges can be, they, too, are at life's mercy. Yet, on Sunday afternoons such as this, despite certain pebbles and plummets on its path, I'm keenly aware that life itself is wild and glorious -- and as filled with magic as we -- and our dreams -- allow it to be.

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