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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I like church. I like the buildings – giant gothic cathedrals, gargoyles, pipe organs, gold crosses that seem to glow even in the absence of light. I like passing through Little Italy by Canal Street and seeing all the Marys-in-the-half-shell.

I was raised in a church. Literally. My house was literally in a church. With a crypt. And gargoyles IN MY HOUSE.

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And bats. So many bats. You don’t appreciate real masculinity until you see a 300lb linebacker cover his head and scream like a school girl from a 14 inch bat. There were secret tunnels. Iron gates. Towers and secret rooms and underground chapels and did I mention the crypt? I explored every square inch. I know all the secrets. I’ve seen the most beautiful craftsmanship only accessible by ladders and rope.

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One time a cadet asked my father if he could spend the night in the chapel before graduation. Let me tell you a few things I learned living in a church:

  1. Gothic cathedrals are magnificent and really freaking scary.
  2. Everything, and I mean everything, is creepy in the dark. I don’t care how beautiful it is during the day. At 2 am even white fluffy kittens start to resemble gremlins – hungry, angry gremlins.
  3. I encourage everyone to try it. You really do get close to Jesus while the wind howls and moans through the belfry and you’re cowering in the corner of the choir vestibule in the fetal position singing “Nearer My God To Thee.”

I don’t remember the cadets name or what spiritual development he was looking for but I remember the look of panic marred with twitching exhaustion that comes from real, sleepless fear.

My father is a minister. One of my favorite Aunties is an Italian Catholic from Jersey with gorgeous skin and a hearty Long Island accent. My “spiritual well” is a Reformed Jew from NYC who outlived both her Rabbi husbands. I have a kid who thanks Jesus for her My Little Ponies.

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My spiritual journey has been rich and varied. Every year I host a Seder dinner. I have a 14th century menorah that is among my favorite possessions. I also think Jesus is real.

Religion can be really beautiful. It can also be really divisive. I know you’ve experienced it. My God is a God of LOVE. Don’t dismiss God because organized religion failed you. Don’t let the state of the church deter you from the phenomenon of Faith.

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“Life isn’t about finding yourself, it’s about discovering who God wants you to be.”

Exercise and Edification. Running to Win. Wine and Wisdom –  (oh wait thats next year…..)

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)

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.

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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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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.