Paying it forward

This guy.

About a decade ago, I attended a holiday lights night run in Ann Arbor, MI, hosted by this guy.

I was much newer to running at that point and at the same time, much more excited about the prospect of lacing up and going out. Running had opened something up inside me, giving me both space on my own and an outlet for community I hadn’t realized I had been missing. By joining and training with a fabulous group of women, I had found a new home.

I had also learned to enjoy the physicality of my body, what it could do, how much I could push it and how far. I learned how good tired could feel, after a long run or punishing work-out. I quickly became enamored of that feeling. I looked for more opportunities to run, whenever possible. And because I was younger and still raising children, I especially enjoyed opportunities that were free or inexpensive. Even better were races or runs that allowed me to bring along my kids, both old enough to run with me a bit.

This night, about a decade ago, I took my then-teenage daughter along for a holiday event. The guy in the picture is Steve Angerman, then an owner at Running Fit and organizer of said event. All I knew was that we were going to run around 3 miles or so over roads and sidewalks familiar to me from my training runs but all gussied up for the holidays with festive lights and decorations. I knew my daughter could do it and I knew it would be a nice chance to spend some time alone with her, doing something good for our bodies and our holiday-busy minds.

What I didn’t know is how beautiful it would all be, the clear evening, the bright lights and the holiday cheer as we returned to the running store for hot chocolate – with whipped cream! – and free swag. I can so clearly remember how surprised and happy my daughter seemed. And I was so happy to share the night and the experience with her. I like to think that evening helped spark a tiny fire in her that grew to be her own love affair with the road, with pushing and celebrating her own physicality on the run. Maybe. I hope so.

I do know, however, that in honor of that night, that run and what it meant to me, I have hosted my own Christmas lights run each year since forming my own running group a few years ago. Steve left Running Fit a few years ago but I’ve found a great support in another local running store, Ann Arbor Running Company (AARC). I invite them each year and each year they’ve joined us for the run as well as to pass out swag and raffle some prizes. We gather at a local alehouse and get dinner after. It is all very festive and fun and my daughter hasn’t missed one yet.

To my great surprise and delight this year, however, Steve showed up to join the run! My friend Victor, from AARC, is also a friend from Running Fit days and invited Steve to join us in Chelsea for the event. I was incredibly moved to see him, especially at this event. Of course, Steve has no idea what his presence meant to me nor can he know how much his long-ago event meant to me at that time. I tried to explain how my run was a direct descendant of that night, my way of giving back and trying to create a great experience for one of my participants just like he had done for me and my daughter those many years ago.

And isn’t that one of the greatest things about this running/coaching life? Whether it’s hosting an event, putting on a race or leading a training session or more simply volunteering at a water stop or finish line, our actions in the sport matter, sometimes a great deal and sometimes to people we’ll never see again. We are constantly given a chance to change someone’s life for the better, to pay it forward in a direct line. If we’re very lucky, we sometimes see the connection. And when we’re really, really, lucky, we get to give back to that person who once inspired us.

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