A Runner Is Born

Picture this: a little girl is born in a poor home to a family rich with love. A few years later she is joined by a little sister, whom she detests at first (sharing mom’s attention? hrrrmph!) but that little bean of a baby soon wins her over and they become tightly bonded. Which comes in quite handy, it turns out, because you know those curveballs mentioned in the last post? Well, the universe decided to start tossing them her way pretty early on. Her mom had her first stroke when the little girl was just 12. The mom survived it, but her ability to talk was taken from her, just when the little girl was entering her teenage years and needed the calming words of a mother the most. The family was still poor and very little in the way of therapy was available or practical for them to get to. If that woman had that stroke today and had health insurance, chances are she would have fully recovered.  But she didn’t… and neither did the father. Torn up by his wife’s condition, a woman he loved very much, he turned to alcohol to help him cope. Was this a wise move for a man who was responsible for two little girls? No. But is it understandable given the level of stress he was under from  the combination of being poor and “losing” his wife? Perhaps. Philosophical questions like this were neither here nor there for the little girl, though.  She had big shoes to fill and over the course of the next decade, her feet grew into them beautifully. She did the shopping and made sure the family stayed afloat.  She prevented her bean of a sister (now lovingly known as “Bean”) from dropping out of high school. She fought with her father, especially over issues of race and ambition, and stayed true to her mother’s loving spirit. She cared for that mother for many years as her health deteriorated. She cared for that father, too, when his took a turn for the worse.

She met a man. Well, maybe he was still a boy at the time, just 18. He was quiet and shy but with an imagination like no one she had met before. At first they were interested in each others friends, but it did not take them long to realize that gravity was actually pulling them towards each other. They danced their cares away at Dancette and when it was time for the boy to be deployed to the Navy, there was never a question she would wait for him. In fact, there was never a question for either of them, ever. They both knew they belonged with the other – the love, the friendship, all the i’s were dotted, the t’s crossed. And most of all it felt natural, the most natural feeling in the world.

They married.

mom n dad married

The very beginning of 41 years of marriage.

They settled into their lives, but not without strain or sadness. By the time the little girl was 31, she had 2 daughters of her own, but had also already lost both her parents. She tucked them deep in her heart, thought of them often, spoke to them daily, dreamt of them occasionally and went about the business of raising her own girls. She was there for all the things her mom could not be – she was president of the PTA, head Band Booster, and came to every event her girls were involved with (cross-country races, swim meets, plays, band performances, on and on). She earned her associate’s degree, went to work and stayed fit aerobicizing the years away. Her bond with the man stayed strong and true.

The girls grew and moved away (but not too far, as they never wanted to wander from the comforting beam of love the mom and dad emitted). The little girl continued to work, continued to aerobicize… until one day a terrible, terrible pain took up residence in her jaw. Was it a dry socket? Her teeth had always been problematic, thanks to poor dental care growing up. All right, pull the tooth! Hmmm, more pain… of a horrific level, debilitating even. The woman has withstood a lot of pain in her life, mental and physical, but this was unlike anything she had ever experienced. The doctors were unable to find an answer and without that, unable to provide a cure. They suggested she go on powerful painkillers. The woman, haunted by the ghost of her father’s alcoholism and fearing she too would be pulled under a wave of substance abuse, demurred. She looked for other paths and found that the combination of yoga and acupuncture were her silver bullet. She would still have flare-ups, but was able to resume normal life.

But what was normal life? The little girl was now 61. She had spent years cheering on the sidelines for her two daughters and saw the looks of elation, glee and accomplishment on their faces as they crossed numerous finish lines together. She could not stop wondering what it would feel like, to run. She decided there was only one way to find out.

She got many “Are you crazy? At your age??” and “But you will ruin your knees!” comments from people when she first told them what she was up to – but none from her inner circle. The man and the two daughters were immensely pleased with this turn of events and encouraged her. She started out walking and when her legs were ready to see what it was like to become airborne, she obliged. She found it exhilarating!! Even better than she dreamed! Her body felt alive and she was joyful,  joyful with discovering this new side of herself. She fully embraced her, this inner runner. She started reading Runner’s World, had daily conversations with her daughters about what her runs were like, stocked her backseat with ShotBloks, water and toilet paper (oh, yes, she learned ALL the lessons of being a runner!). She shed pesky pounds that had been stubbornly holding on and her face was bright with the glow that running brings. She was, after many, many years of not being one,  a runner. It was time to race!

She started easy at first, like most do. 5ks, a 4-miler. She loved them! And so did her daughters, who simply delighted at being able to share this part of themselves with that part of her. The man, ever supportive, came to those races, just as he had for many years for his daughters.

through the woods 10k

The family that runs and cheers together, stays together!


The little girl decided it was time to step up her game – a half-marathon was on tap!! She trained long and hard and let it pay off on a glorious day in November, her youngest daughter by her side. The man and older daughter and a freshly minted son-in-law and a bean of a sister and the bean’s daughter and her best friend and other friends spent the day cheering for her on the sidelines.

laur n mom philly half

Philly Half-marathon 2011 success!!!

mom n grp philly half

The little girl and the bean came a long, long way from where they started – and they did it because they never lost sight of each other.

Today, that little girl turns 64. She is older than either of her parents were when they died. She has come up against many obstacles – bunion surgeries, face pain and even a late in life diagnosis of scoliosis (“oh, so that is why one shoulder always sat lower than the other!” she exclaimed).  But she still has that man, she still has those daughters and she still has that inner runner, dormant for many years, whispering in her ear that there is a lot of life yet to be lived, a lot of miles to cover. She ignores the naysayers, focusing her attention instead on a goal that has always been there, since day 1 – to run a marathon. She knows it will be hard, that maybe her body won’t cooperate, but that won’t stop her from trying. Nothing has ever stopped her from trying and that sure as hell isn’t going to change now!

When you wake up, achy and tired and don’t want to get out of bed and run, think of this little girl. When you are battling injuries that require patience and persistence to heal, think of this little girl. When you are wallowing in all your problems, think of this little girl who overcame so much and kept moving forward, eager to embrace life’s joys and let go of its disappointments. She wants you to run – but this time, she won’t be cheering for you from the sidelines, she’ll be cheering by your side.

Wherever would we be without our Bo Peep?

Wherever would we be without our Bo Peep?

Happy birthday, Running Momma!


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22 responses to “A Runner Is Born

  1. Bel

    Love this 🙂 Absolutely beautiful, you made me bawl like a baby.

  2. Linda Kisiel

    Loved it, Chris, I am humbled by the story, the time you put into it and the love you always show me. Of course, I am crying. Thank you so much for a wonderful birthday gift, one I won’t soon forget. I love you with all my heart.

    • I am so happy! I was a little nervous I was sharing too much, but you have always been very open about the things you have been through and I wanted you to read it without knowing that I had been working on it. You can thank my injury for this one – I composed much of it in my head on long swims 🙂 But you truly are an amazing person and when I think about where you came from, I just can’t believe you did not turn out the way so many kids in your situation would have (or do, as Laur’s work shows us). You have an indomitable spirit and I am proud to call you my mom.

  3. Robin Del Collo

    Chris, what a beautiful and inspiring tribute to your mom. You are all truly blessed as a family.

  4. Lauren Kisiel

    Absolutely at a loss for words. You captured everything Mom is and how lucky we are to have her. Just beautiful

  5. Heather

    What a great story! Happy Birthday to your mom!

  6. Wow – great post – proud to know and have been a part of all their lives.

    Steve Pierangeli

  7. Beautifully written for an amazing woman. Happy birthday, Linda! I can’t wait to see what you do next:)

  8. sandra krapf

    Absolutely amazing!!! Linda still has that circle of love, husband, daughters, son-in-law, Bean and some very old friends. I traveled the road with her experiencing the life of growing up poor… although my experience was not nearly as tough as hers. I remember her Mom and Dad. Mom did her best to communicate with Linda’s friends and she was always smiling… I was one of the few permitted to enter the house on King Street. Dad had his difficulties but he did love Linda and Bean and tried his best. It is a true showing of love and respect that Linda/Frank have passed on to their daughters. I am awe of this written birthday tribute… Linda, i wish you ongoing success and happiness. May the wind carry your body/soul onward… Happy Running. Love ya…. sandy

  9. This blog post is awesome… filled with love, hope, inspiration. Happy birthday, Linda! May all your dreams come true!

  10. Anne Davis

    I am thrilled for Linda. How special it is to hear those words from your
    daughter. Better and more important than anything. A true tribute
    to love, devotion and determination. Love, Anne

  11. Linda Kisiel

    Thanks everyone for your comments. It meant a lot to me.

  12. Pingback: What I Saw When I Ran Wednesdays | Cape Island Runners

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