My parents are in town for a week. Parkinson’s makes it difficult for my father to travel and he doesn’t do well out of his routine but I needed them and they came.

Life Lesson #1: Ask for what you need. Don’t expect to get what you want but ask for what you need.

I wanted to do something special for them while they’re here so I asked them if there is anyone in particular they would like to see in the DC area. They gave me a few names of people – intimate friends – people who feel like home.  Some of them joined us for a few hours last night.

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Life Lesson #2: “Home” is not places but people. The comfort of your childhood living room can be revisited in the embrace of an old friend.

We assembled in the lounge of a hotel nearby. The first to arrive was a wrestler from the class of 1991. A product of my father’s high school in Fair Lawn, New Jersey, though over 30 years a part. President of FCA at West Point, a constant presence in our home. Two more couples came. First, leaders in their life and in their faith. He a strong, calm presence. She an effervescent joy that heals the soul.

The second family are generational friends – parents, children, grandchildren… Our families bound together by faith, hope, service and sacrifice. For years, their Thayer Road home was our family base when we’d return to the Academy for visits. They feel like home.

Life Lesson #3: Relationships rooted in Faith are like a house built on a rock.

And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.”

The last guest was a grad from the early 1980’s that my father had craved a reunion with for over 20 years. He was a surprise guest – a gift I could give thanks to my stalking abilities and social media presence. 20 years but as a day….

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Life Lesson #4: Stalking works. (oh, wait. Don’t do that, kids.)

Life Lesson #4.5: Reach out.

Don’t be afraid of rejection. If it happens, you’ll use the spiritual muscle you’ve been honing to deal with it.

A recent study said the only regret people have is NOT taking a chance. What are you waiting for? What are you afraid of? You’ve been through worse. Don’t let fear paralyze you. Life is too short. You can handle whatever comes. Reach out. Be brave. Be Bold. Love hard.

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We had other reunions. A former cadet from the class of 1988 – one of my first “big brothers” that I haven’t seen in 20 years stopped in while passing through town.

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And a few weeks ago we reunited with a super special couple (whose son was one of my favorite guys growing up) – people that are more than family. (is there such a thing?) Sometimes family is the what we’re born into. Sometimes family is what we put together ourselves. Love them both.

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Life Lesson #5: Love more. Love harder.

Like an athlete playing his last game of the last season, lay it all on the field. Like the last quarter mile of a race, sprint to the finish. Run to win.

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Over the river and through the woods
To Grandmother’s house we go.
The horse knows the way to carry the sleigh
Through white and drifted snow.

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I grew up in New York. Every Monday we would leave our Rock Bound Highland Home and head over the river and through the woods for dinner with my Grandmother Camp in New Jersey. My Grandparents were Dutch – a housewife and a minister who had been a Chaplain in WWII. My father was the eldest of 5 children who all gathered for Thanksgiving and sometimes Christmas with our grandmother for the 20+ years she lived after my grandfather died. The New Jersey homestead was in our family for generations although it has since moved on to other families and other Thanksgivings. They say you can never go home again and for me that is true. But the buildings remain and the memories are firmly rooted in my mind.

I’m running all 50 states but not just to accomplish that lofty goal. I’m doing it for my father, for Parkinson’s and especially for the reunions; reminiscing about old times and making new memories. I’ve had the luxury of running alongside some pretty awesome people these past few years but there’s something special about running with family. My cousin Adrienne – an elite athlete, former Cornell soccer star, a PhD AND a mother to 4 girls (Four. FOUR girls) has run with me multiple times. She ran a few races with me last year and joined me on our now famous Army 10 Miler run this past Autumn.

She called me a few weeks ago and said, “We need to run together. What states are left?” (Quite a few, actually. Sigh.) I find races via either active.com or runningintheusa.com. It takes the logistical navigation of an elite Army Pathfinder to plan out my runs. We settled on New Jersey as it’s close to her Pennsylvania home and one of the few northern states I had left. When I looked up a run, there was a 5k in Hawthorne – the town where we spent our youth visiting Gram and feeding the ducks in the park across the street. But there’s more. This run had a turn around point RIGHT IN FRONT OF OUR GRANDMOTHERS HOUSE. (You can’t make this stuff up.)  We put the word out and people came – half of my cousins, both of my father’s brothers and one of his sisters.

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We ran together like a roedel honden (Dutch for pack of dogs.) Half way through we stopped, ran across the street and took a picture on the stoop of our late Grandmothers homestead.

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The run itself was a good effort – there were only about 3 other runners besides our pack and our family made up the cheerleading squad. It was cold and snowy (in April. It snowed in April!) but we did it. We came together crossing state lines and logistical boundaries to honor our heritage. Family is special. Sometimes, family doesn’t live up to our standards. Sometimes family fails us. Sometimes, the greatest family is what you assemble yourself out of friends, neighbors, coworkers, my cadets. Sometimes you’re lucky enough to be given it. Both take work – like the garden they need to be watered, pruned and fertilized. But like the pine trees anchoring Grams front door, if the roots are deep, the trees will continue to grow.

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We all gathered together to share coffee and companionship (sweat and sacrifice? snacks and sentiment?) post run. I’m proud of my family. Proud of the people they are and the things they’ve accomplished. My cousin Matthew is the Director of Government Relations at Teachers College, Columbia University. But more than that, he’s kind. He fell back in the run when I fell back. He joined me for a 5k in NYC last year in sub 30 degree weather on a moments notice. I’m humbled by my family. This group has eight college degrees, seven masters and four PhD’s. (That baby is six weeks old and i’m pretty sure she has at least one AP class under her belt.)

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But it’s not the accomplishments or accoutrements that makes this group unique. It’s Faith – faithfulness to God as the creator of the earth and sustainer of life. It’s Hope – hope that we’re using the talents passed on to us to do good things. It’s Love – love, affection and appreciation for the generation before us and the future we’re creating.

Over the river and through the woods,
Now Grandma’s house I spy.
Hurrah for fun; the reunion’s done;
Hurrah for our family tie.

 

Sometimes we still say it with a whisper. Things like, “terrorist” or “infidelity” or “hemorrhoids….”  A few weeks ago I noticed two old biddies on the metro look at a young lady with a cute, freshly cropped hairdo and whisper… “lesbiaaaan”…..

I will admit in my navigationally challenged and logistically naive condition I would say “West Virginia” in a whisper. As if somehow I am aligning myself with toothless, mindless, gun-toting, war-mongering inbred relics from a James Dickey novel.

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In fact, West Virginia is beautiful. The drive was beautiful, the run through a pristine college campus was beautiful, the farmers market on the cobblestone streets lined with Civil War reminders was beautiful. The local coffee shop was filled with working college students reaching responsible adulthood and burned out hippies trying to run away from it.

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I kept looking for the “Bernie Sanders Slept Here” sign.

My little family came with me on the adventure and my tiny tot was rewarded with runners dressed as her favorite My Little Ponies. I’m guessing their attire was more creepy than cute but my kid’s future will be corrupt enough without me shielding her from the life sized incarnation of her favorite cartoons.

OHIO

Ohio was a very significant run. It was a 1 day run for those killed in action.

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Death is a difficult topic to write about. It’s part of the military experience – it’s part of our human experience. Knowing this, the Army created a Comprehensive Soldier Fitness Program. One of the five components is Spiritual Fitness. I call it Spiritual Muscle but it’s the same thing. Athletes lift, run, squat to build muscle so they can jump, climb, run fast. Soldiers build muscle by hitting the gym, the nearest Crossfit group, through military training like Ranger School and Airborne School. They do it to be ready for whatever comes – conditioning hikes, simulated training, war. Spiritual muscle is reading the bible, praying, getting to know your maker so when times get tough – and they will – you have the strength to get through it.

In my race packet I received a KIA bracelet representing SGT Daniel McCall. He died from an IED blast in Iraq in 2007. His wife is a student at OSU.

I didn’t know Daniel or his wife but I prayed for healing and protection for her as she continues with her life. I could write a lot about the significance of past cadets who have died – the influence they had on me as cadets and the influence their memory still has to guide and inspire. But some things are better left unsaid. Some things are sacred. I thought of them on the run, their legacies, the importance of family and friends, of supporting each other. I said a prayer for them. I sent their names into the wind in a whisper.

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This past weekend I was in NJ & NYC for a run and to visit family. (Stay tuned for my Jersey recap. It was an epic run.) Sunday was supposed to be a Central Park 4 miler. However, the evening before enticed by wonderful conversation and an equally enchanting liquor selection, I indulged in a bottle of aged French wine and- well- there went the neighborhood.

I try to get to New York quarterly for either business or pleasure.  I stay in 1 of 2 places. The first with family in a gorgeous yoga-studio-zen-den inspired spacious apartment near NOHO with vast expanses of glass overlooking bustling streets from one of the largest patio decks in the entire city. The other apartment is a swanky Upper West Side bachelor pad with plush overstuffed sofas, wood paneled walls and windows framing the most spectacular views from a ridiculously high floor.

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Every few months I come plopping in with my toddler and all the accoutrement that comes with her. And snacks. So many snacks. I pack more snacks than clothes. At the Upper West Side apartment they have coffee and tea – incredible selections of organic, free trade, fair trade, hauled-by-Gypsies-through-the-Himalayan-mountains coffee. But you won’t find a bag of turkey jerky for miles. One common denominator among WASPs is their love of condiments. They will have a $30,000 refrigerator that does everything but steam clean your arm pits and all it has in it is a relish jar and a bottle of Perrier.

Thankfully, the lower Manhattan homestead is family – and home to a really good chef. So, in addition to a space that is fit for the Dali Lama, the food is delish. I snuck a large spoonful of the most incredible organic honey that you’d swear was hand massaged from the ass of a pet bee. Heaven.

While feeling the NYC vibes I read a little bit about Gwyneth Paltrow and her “lifestyle” brand Goop. I’m a fan. Truly. There is something magical about eating clean, natural, organic food then having a beautiful Swedish doctor bring over a duck fat enema and suck it all out of you.

I always come home from my travels tired but energized and always thankful. This morning I woke up and thought, I should make myself a cup of detox yogi tea, steam a little nut milk with coconut oil and mediate for a while. That thought was ruined by reality – the dog was standing by the door with her legs crossed and a look of desperation on her face. The toddler had been in the bathroom a dangerously long time and my “detox” tea turned out to be “mothers milk” tea and I had no desire to re-lactate.

I thought about Gwyneth in her size 00 Stella McCartney mumu sitting at the table drinking her yogi tea while crossing her ridiculously thin legs.

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I, on the other hand, was standing next to the sink in stretched out running shorts watching my neighbor sneak a cigarette he keeps hidden from his wife in the garden hose crank while my dog relieved herself in the yard a few feet away.

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My favorite writer, Erma Bombeck said, “The grass is always greener… over the septic tank.” It’s true. Gwen can keep her 18 karat gold hand weights. My child weighs 35 lbs and I lift her every day for free. Don’t compare – just enjoy. Take a little bit and give a lot more. I’ve loved my adventures running all over. I’m running New England in May and then I’m DONE with the entire East Coast. I will celebrate with a toast to Gwyneth from my plastic glass of boxed wine. Cheers.

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I’ve finished the Southeast and the Mid Coast Atlantic on my journey to run a road race in all 50 states to honor my father and his battle with Parkinsons Disease.

Sometimes when I’m tired or sore I wish I had decided to do a movie marathon instead. Or a 50 state vineyard challenge. Or chocolate around the world tasting challenge. Or test-your-liver-limits vodka challenge. But, as my friend and teammate Will reminds me, “If this was easy, everyone would do it.”

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South Carolina was lovely. It was an easy trail run along a river where weathered fisherman hauled in catfish and striped bass. My tiny tot came along for the ride. We stopped to smell the flowers – something we rarely do in the short amount of time we have between races, states and home.

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North Carolina. 7:30am on a Sunday.

Earlier in the week (like a few days ago…) I received an email from one of our former cadets saying, “Hey! check out the All-American Marathon here at Fort Bragg.” Well, the only marathon I will run is the kind that gives away a million dollars to every finisher and has cabernet hydration tables along the route. However, as luck would have it, the race had a 5k attached to it. And I get to connect with old friends. Win-Win.

July 1, 1991. West Point, NY.

My father walked into the chapel to make sure the lights were off and the doors locked. (Ministers are never off duty. Neither are their families. Ever spent your Saturday evenings breaking up communion bread? Or folding bulletins? No?)  While doing rounds he noticed a lone visitor sobbing in the pew. “Just dropped off a new cadet?” dad asked. “No, he said. Two.”  Twin boys from Nebraska, the first born sons, home grown heroes off to the Academy for “R” day. Dad brought him in for tea and he stayed the week. 25 years later they’re still a part of our family – all of them – uncles, aunts, best friends, girl friends, 8th grade piano teachers…. they came with a crowd. I have a thousand “Thomson Twins” stories but I’ll save those for more intimate settings (like my Tour of America Via Airport Bars challenge perhaps?)

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The Fort Bragg run was through the main part of post – past the hospital, gracious spanish style Commanders homes and buildings meant to intimidate just a bit. Home of the 82nd Airborne Division as well as others including significant Special Forces commands, the run was filled with incredibly fit men and women, their incredibly fit spouses and incredibly fit children. It was an intimidating start when the starting gun was an artillery piece. The best part was an email all the runners received the night prior…

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Note to self – Leave the gas mask and RPG’s at home.

My host Derek and his eldest daughter got up at 0 Dark 30 and came with me. It was a great race full of all the pageantry you hope still exists, surrounded by the men and women who deserve nothing but our complete reverence and thanks. And me – a hopeless romantic, a sucker for uniforms, parades and balls.

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I love this particular challenge because of the reunions across generations and state lines.

Reunions are special.

They remind us we’re a part of something bigger – that our community isn’t just where we live or where we work but an intricate network of people from every road that have influenced the paths we’ve taken and the direction we’ve gone.

fast far      #Truth.

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Run to Win.