It’s fashion week in Milan, Italy. That means 3 things for me.

  1. I wish I was still young and thin and wrinkle free enough to walk a runway or pose outside Jimmy Choo with a pair of shoes three times my income.
  2. I wish I were wealthy enough to buy said pair of shoes
  3. I wish I had picked a different week to visit the city – because at this time in this city, I had to stay…

IN A YOUTH HOSTEL.

For those of you who have never back packed across Europe, visited NYC on NYE or ran out of money a week before pay day, let me enlighten you to the realities of hostels.

  1. You’re sharing a kitchen, living area, bathroom and sometimes bedroom with complete strangers who sometimes lack the finances (and possibly hygiene) to stay at the Four Seasons or even the local HOJO.
  2. Strangers can be a gift from God. They can also be s&m dungeon masters who rock the bed from 11pm – 12am, 2:15 – 3am, 4 – 5am? pausing for a smoke break on the shared terrace 2 feet from your bunk bed.
  3. see “bunk bed.”

Thankfully, I was traveling with a good friend and 3 children so we had a private room and I had someone to commiserate with at 1130pm, 230am, 430am….

Italian drivers are insane. Mopeds will hit a pedestrian for sport. But I take my hat off to this local. Because the birthplace of modern fashion means getting home from the runway …. on a bike …. at night … in 3 inch pink heels.

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Italy is beautiful. The architecture on the main roads is lovely but most captivating are the tiny archways tucked between store fronts that expose incredibly beautiful courtyards – hidden gems that are mostly missed by the greedy millennials racing around looking for the best bargain Prada to impress their friends back home.

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The expresso was invigorating but the cup so small I felt less glam drinking it and more like I had taken the blue pill and gone down the wrong rabbit hole. The food was incredible. Smoked meats, artesian cheeses, crisp, local vegetables soaked in home grown olive oil plucked by Sophia Lauren. Heaven.

I didn’t run in Italy. Partly because I couldn’t find a race in the area and partly because I was so sleep deprived I would have finished some time the following day.

Enter Switzerland.

First, I have been shocked by how close the countries are. I drove from Germany to Italy in less than 5 hours and went back to Germany via Switzerland in the same amount of time. The Alps are incredible. St. Moritz is probably the most beautiful part of the world I’ve seen thus far. The mountains climb so high they disappear into the soft, fluffy clouds. The alpine water below is the most captivating color of blue/green I’ve ever seen up close.

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The villages are full of stone and plaster cottages heavily adorned with detailed mosaics harking a time of skilled artists and craftsmen. Every mile was a chapter from a fairy tale and the children were awe struck at every mountain switchback turn.

On Sunday I ran. It was less than 3k but it felt like a marathon. Partly because I was exhausted, partly because it was all hills – IN THE ALPS. My friend and I were trying to find any excuse why it was so difficult. Altitude? Only 5,000 feet. Distance? Ridiculously short. Sometimes I run and finish first, other times my legs feel like lead and I think back to all my past sins for fear of an impending stroke. I do it all to raise awareness for Parkinsons Disease but sometimes it sucks.

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I was completely alone after the first 400 meters. The cobblestone hurt my knees and I was grateful when I got onto the trail up the mountain. Then the fear set in. The fog was thick and the rain started to fall. Mist – Rain – Huge mountains – Quiet – Hillside… Lions? Tigers? Bears? Loch-Ness Monster? SHIT. I’m totally going to die up here.

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Then a thin elderly man wearing a grey hat with a green feather (can’t make this stuff up) ran past me. THANK YOU JESUS! As soon as he appeared he was gone into the mist but I instantly felt better. Sometimes a good friend calls just when we needed to hear their voice. Sometimes it’s the break we need at work or the cash you find in an old pair of jeans. Sometimes the serial killer runs past you with a stupid feather in his hat because it’s just not your day today.

Sometimes, God shows himself right when we need a reminder that we’re not alone. Maybe it’s a friend that grabs her kids and sleeping bags and says, “hell yes i’ll road trip with you!” Maybe it’s the accolade that comes when you were feeling unappreciated at home, a hug from a partner you felt drifted, a note from an old friend. We all need to be reminded to keep the faith, keep on keeping on, Run to Win.

“I lift up my eyes to the hills– where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.” Psalm 121.

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Ah, Paris! The city of love and lust, home of fashion, art and culture. I went to the famous French city to run La Parisienne – a 40,000 woman only road race under the Eiffel Tower and around the ancient city.

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I took the train from Germany – a very fast, very cool, very comfortable multi-hour train ride through the countryside. I read French Vogue to get me in the mood for my big city adventure. I packed leather pants, cropped jackets and my favorite black heels. The Parisian ladies did not disappoint. I rarely saw locals in pants or shorts. They were decked out in summer dresses, sandals, kitten heels and wide-brimmed hats. On the subway in every direction were lovely ladies who looked like they walked right out off the runway with Chanel bags and red soled heels. The cafe lined streets had well positioned chairs to take in the sights and smells of the French women walking by – their floral perfumes lingering just for a minute behind their freshly combed hair. In the morning I had an espresso (in the worlds tiniest cup) among handsome men with pressed shirts and women with cigarettes dangling from their thin, manicured hands.

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And then there was me. Those poor leather pants never saw the light of day. It was hot and walking a large city with my 4-year-old side kick meant two things: shorts with pockets stuffed with crayons and very comfortable shoes. While the locals pulled out jewel encrusted mirrors from their Chloé handbags, I pulled out day-old juice boxes and antibacterial wipes out of my TJ Maxx travelers pouch. Sexy.

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Sunday morning was the big event – the road race. Everyone runs for a different reason. Some for time, for cancer, for spite, for revenge, for health, for camaraderie. I run for Parkinson’s and for my dad so he knows (right around mile 4) that he’s not suffering alone – I’m pretty miserable too.

The race was advertised as beginning at 945am. That might have been true, had you gone through security at 5am. I woke up at 7, got ready, walked the 2.5 miles to the race site and proceeded to spend 30 minutes in the security line only to be escorted to the chute – a half mile long gated area where we were corralled like cows to the slaughter. They released a few hundred women across the starting line every 7 minutes which meant they’d get to my group around Christmas. As luck would have it, my heat went at about 12:15pm. I had been walking, jogging or standing for over four hours and the race hadn’t even begun yet.

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Around 11am, with my phone about to die and the 1pm apartment check-out looming in front of me, I started to panic. I legitimately tried to bail and leave the corral but I could not. There was no exit, no gate I could sneak through and no personnel to recruit for my great escape. I had no way out. I thought of two things in that moment. First, I thought of yelling “BOMB!” and the ensuing stampede but I had blown my budget the day before and didn’t have enough left to post bail. My next thought was of was my father. I know there are times in his battle with Parkinson’s where he wants to escape his body but there’s no place to go. There are plenty of people who have illnesses, depression, jobs they don’t like, marriages they don’t like, with no escape. So I kept going. I ran for them.

The race itself was really fantastic – probably the greatest display of pageantry of any race to date – and I’ve run a lot of races. About every 500 meters there was entertainment of some kind. Several amazing percussion groups, singers, dancers, I’m pretty sure the entire cast of La Cage aux Folles and a drag queen or two. (or six.) My favorite was a small orchestra dressed as chickens playing the theme song to The Muppet Show. It was fantastic.

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Around mile three, my left foot started to ache, my phone’s battery died and my tampon reached max capacity. (Did I make you wince? It gets worse.) I finish the race at around 1245. (I’m sure someone kept time but it was a giant party so no one seemed to care.) I made it back to the apartment 30 minutes late and my host (though I’d rather not call him something so inviting) had already cleaned the bathroom and would not allow me to shower. So here I am, having walked a collective five miles, ran five miles and was probably covered in more blood than an amateur boxing ring. And I had to ride on a train like this for the next five hours.

Paris has a motto – Fluctuat Nec Mergitur – Latin for

“She is tossed by the waves but does not sink.”

I thought about bailing on the run but I didn’t. I thought about bailing on this entire expensive, exhausting, navigationally insane endeavor to run Europe for EU Parkinson’s but I can’t quit. You can’t quit. We have to keep going – keep being intentional in our lives and relationships – keep going no matter the obstacles – keeping encouraging each other to Run to Win.

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Erma Bombeck, my favorite author and literary muse wrote this check list as a reflection on life:

I would have burned the pink candle sculpted like a rose before it melted in storage.

I would have talked less and listened more.

I would have invited friends over to dinner even if the carpet was stained, or the sofa faded.

I would have taken the time to listen to my grandfather ramble about his youth.

I would have cried and laughed less while watching television, and more while watching life.

Instead of wishing away nine months of pregnancy, I’d have cherished every moment and realized that the wonderment growing inside me was the only chance in life to assist God in a miracle.

There would have been more “I love you’s.” More “I’m sorry’s.”

But mostly, given another shot at life, I would seize every minute… look at it and really see it… live it… and never give it back.

Stop sweating the small stuff. Don’t worry about who doesn’t like you, who has more, or who’s doing what.

Let’s cherish the relationships we have with those who DO love us.

Let’s think about what God HAS blessed us with.

And what we are doing each day to promote ourselves mentally, physically, emotionally, as well as spiritually.

Life is too short to let it pass you by.

We only have one shot at this and then it’s gone.

With that as my guide, I’m embarking on a new endeavor. I’ve run half this country, reconnected with some amazing people and made lifelong friends (building and strengthening friendships is one of my goals and is a bi-product of building Spiritual Muscle.)

Now, I have the opportunity to run Europe for EU Parkinsons. (European Parkinsons Disease Association).

And I’m going.

I’m running as many of the partnering countries as I can in 6 months. Then i’ll head back to run more of OUR precious country.

I’m a little scared. A little excited. A little unsure of how it will play out with my toddler in tow and languages I don’t know. I will miss my friends, neighbors, my family, my little PR firm, my big US adventures and my DC family.

To Dara, my partner in business and partner in crime, I will miss you the most.

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To Will, my logistics coordinator, my prayer partner, my spiritual muscleman, I will miss you the most.

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To the original Morgan aka “Aunt Mimi” my pseudo sister, my coast to coast roommate, my dog-chaser, kid-encourager, everything do-er, I will miss you the most. (And to her mother who helped get a toddler, a dog, a dog cage, a stroller and 9 bags through DC, thank you! It was a total shit-show.)

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Note to self – it takes a village….

I hope you will join me on this endeavor to Run to Win – to encourage those in other countries struggling with Parkinsons to have Hope and feel lifted up. And if you find yourself at a Polish pottery market, find me on Tango or whatsap or Facebook and let’s run or drink or celebrate together. Let’s stay connected.

Life is short. We have to take risks. We all get paralyzed by fear. Break out of the rut and routine with me. Change your job, your diet, take the stairs. Dump the joy-stealers, the nay-sayers, the people who hold you back. Wear the “fancy” clothes at noon on a Tuesday. Break out the good china, drink out of the crystal glasses that you inherited from Grandma. Use the guest towels. Go big!

And run to win. Every day, all the time.

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As Erma said, “Life is to short to let it pass you by.” So  I’m leaving….. Right Now…..

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There is something magical about New England. Home to Norman Rockwell, the Kennedys, quaint towns like Hingham, MA where my father had a church for several years when my siblings were young… It’s warm and inviting even on the coldest days. And there are some very cold days. Like last week in Vermont – May in Vermont – when I ran in 1/4 inch of snow. My friend and adventure co-pilot Cherie said,

“I think it’s snowing but perhaps if we don’t talk about it, it will go away…”

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Thankfully our New Hampshire hosts had the things big old farm houses have – wool. (Hats, gloves, scarves and enough down feathers to fly south for the winter). We looked like Wookiees but we survived the impromptu snow storm and our girls learned to suck it up.

I had no idea why my friend would want to go on this trip with us. Grueling schedule, erratic temperatures and my budget was so tight we were rolling pennies for gas by state 5. (Rhode Island had the wind chill of the North Pole.)

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But she came. She made 2 very powerful statements.

  1. “I wanted my daughter to see what sacrifice looks like – your running for a cause, the dedication to what you’re doing…. I wanted her to experience that.”
  2. “I don’t really remember my mother having close girlfriends when I was growing up. I want my daughter to see what adult girlfriend relationships look like.”

There is something significant about girlfriends, boyfriends, old friends, best friends. It changes over time but it never loses its significance. When we’re kids, our friends teach us sharing, conflict resolution and behavior modification. When we get to college our friends are our conscience and our guides. They’re our support system when we fail, succeed, when we change paths, change boyfriends or girlfriends, when our hearts get broken or when the pregnancy test comes back positive. I’ve held the product of someone who chose life and the hand of someone who didn’t.

I’m working hard at relationships so my daughter knows the importance of investing in others.  I have an incredible group of ladies who I’ve gotten to know over the past few years here in Maryland – women who have rallied around me and each other in celebration and heart break. Loss of jobs, homes, dreams, pregnancies… They’re all women of faith which makes our bond even stronger. We believe God has a plan for us and for our children. There is great power in that.

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People ask me why I’m running for Parkinson’s all over the country. It’s expensive. It’s time-consuming. It usually involves arranging child care or hauling a stroller around Des Moines. For me, there are three benefits. First, I’m honoring my father and lifting him up in his battle against Parkinsons. Second, it’s a great way to keep myself motivated to stay in shape and make my health a priority. Third, I’m able to connect and reconnect with people who have held a significant place in my life over the years.

New England was significant because it brough back memories of childhood vacations, college road trips and crisp autumn evenings. The coziness of weather beaten shingled homes with candy apple red doors warms the spirit even when it snows in May. Like a Nantucket landscape, a Norman Rockwell painting or an old friend, it gets better with time.

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Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine.

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I need to start out admitting I missed New York. There are 3 reasons why. First, I ran out of time. Second, I ran out of money half way through New Hampshire. Third, I was traveling with not one but TWO preschoolers. This leads me to the first revelation of this particular run journey:

If you have the opportunity to travel the country with 2 children under the age of 6, go ahead and stab yourself in the ear with a paring knife. It will be less painful.

My traveling companions for this adventure were my dear friend Cherie who I have known for a decade, her  5 year old and my 4 year old daughter. There is something spiritual about 2 preschoolers together. And by spiritual I mean you get to know Jesus real quick because you spend and exorbitant amount of time in the fetal position singing “Jesus Take The Wheel.”

I learned a lot of new things. I heard a lot of obnoxiously loud apps. I learned that my daughter is really a crotchety 70 year old woman who thinks I am ridiculously overrated. It comes from me being the youngest child of older parents and her being the only child of older parents. She doesn’t have any friends under 30. One afternoon our five year old guest was hungry just after lunch. My 4 year old with all the authority of a tiny evil dictator said, “suck it up. it’s not even happy hour yet.” I’m raising a tiny Joan Rivers.

I leaned more important lessons like how incredibly resilient children are. I experienced one of the most beautiful parts of the country through their curious eyes. I saw them struggle to climb rocky gorges and trip over thick roots stretched across pine needle covered paths. I watched their eyes widen as the steep mountain seemed to continue forever into the sky. I witnessed their awe at peaks so high they felt they could touch the clouds. We packed the car like the Von Trap Family Singers on a world tour. All they really needed was a fist full of cheerios and a hand to hold over the mud flats. How often we get so focused on our goals we forget to appreciate the journey. And isn’t it on the journey where we find the most growth? We build spiritual muscle so we are strong enough to keep our footing though rocks and roots cover the path.

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Our adventure started in Connecticut then Rhode Island. For the more northern states, we stayed at a central location near Peterborough, New Hampshire. It was a beautiful house – home to a couple in their 60’s. He was a math professor from Germany, she an artist from New England. Part hippies, part community organizers, part artists in residence, they were truly unique and incredibly hospitable. My toddler liked him instantly; taking his hand around the old farmhouse to look for the cats. Let’s take a moment to talk about the cats. They don’t like me, I don’t like them and a farm house in New England will most certainly have cats. And they will find me. And they did.

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The lady of the house came home late in the evening on our first night to share with me that her father had suffered from Parkinsons Disease. (After the experiences I have had this past year running for Parkinsons, I can assure you there are no coincidences in life.) The next few mornings we spent sharing stories of strength and survivial through perseverence. Her father had led Seder dinners for Jews in Germany during WWII. She has hosted people in her home every night for over 30 years. Sacrifice, selflessness, compassion…. I realized how fear of rejection and failure has hindered my ability to be truly gracious like our hosts.

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There were certainly other highlights. The girls provided comic relief in an otherwise stressful situation. We were traveling to 5 states in 4 days (or was it 6 states in 3 days? Bueller? Bueller?) running, hiking, sleeping in new places and living off of granola bars and boxed juice. They complained on the big hikes but did it. They were perpetually hungry even though we had enough snacks to feed a third world country but the kept going. They craved technology amongst some of the most majestic scenery in the country but they rallied. They cheered me on every time. They hugged me even in my sweat and woke up refreshed and excited for the day even when the air mattress had gone flat and the night air chilled us to the bone.

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They reminded me that attitude is everything.

Laugh and you’ll feel happy. Be enthusiastic and you will accomplish great things. Don’t worry about looking silly – be silly. Don’t worry about what people think. Be who you were meant to be. Don’t let the naysayers get you down. Know who you are and be it proudly.

20 states down. Run to win.top of NH (2)

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.

 

About 10 years ago, my super strong, super athletic, super handsome, super smart, super awesome father noticed a tremor. That tremor was the beginning of Parkinson’s Disease. Maybe from being a multi sport letterman in high school, or All-American football player in college, or his semi pro football years. Maybe from summers working on the family farm in upstate New York, maybe from pesticides pruning roses for estates while in Seminary. I suppose it doesn’t really matter how or why. It is our reality. I started to run to honor him. I run because he can’t. I didn’t run today. I feel bad about it but i’m tired.

Dad’s constant shaking is exhausting. Disease sucks. It’s depressing.

Attitude is everything.

Tell yourself the end is near and it will be. Tell yourself its not going to get better and it won’t. Surround yourself with negative people and you’ll become a negative person. This is not rocket science, people.

But it’s ok to be sad sometimes.

I can be a wallower. There’s something about feeling sorry for yourself that feels kind of good. So go ahead and watch a Friends marathon in your 1990 Gap sweats (like i’m doing right now) eating popcorn wondering if Joey could really be THAT good in the sack. (I think Ross would be better – did you see him in Band of Brothers??? and you know Phoebe is a freak.)

Netflix and chocolate were invented for these kinds of days.

Just don’t wallow for too long.

It’s not a good look.

Shake it off. Tomorrow is a new day.