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CHAMPIONS

The summer my dad asked me to start jogging with him, I considered myself the luckiest 10 year-old alive and didn’t complain about the early hours.  I lapped up any time he wanted to spend on me, after he’d wasted so much of it fighting his own demons behind his bedroom door.  It didn’t occur to me, then, to be angry for how things were.

In the darkness, we didn’t stretch, except to get out of our own beds and bend down to tie our shoe laces.  Dad looked different without his worn-out Lee blue jeans, instead wearing grey cotton elastic-banded sweatpants like the white ones I had on.  Our ankles were elastic-cuffed as were our drawstring waistbands too.  God forbid we needed ventilation!  We were tight like that.  He ate a bowl of Wheaties brand cereal, “the breakfast of champions,” and so did I; making sure the spoon’s scrape didn’t wake the rest of the house and interrupt our communion.

We left the house a quarter to six and jetted out under the fluorescent street lights which hummed in the morning’s thick air.  Dad sounded funny, as he breathed with exaggeration and kept his arms bent and pulled in close like a t-rex dinosaur’s dwarfed upper limbs.   He was trying–really trying to prove his demons weren’t going to get the best of him, and I believed in him.

“How you doing, girl?  Is this pace all right?”

“Fine.”

What I meant to say was that I’d go to the ends of the world for him, even if it killed me.  He knew that my young legs were coiled and springy, but he was checking to see if my heart was in it.  Dad knew, full well, that battles are hardest fought there.

“You know, we have to pace ourselves.  We can’t play ourselves out right at the start.  We’ve got to save some for the end.”

He was my Herculean father who was winning the battle against his unrelenting and pernicious opponent–Depression.

“How far are we going?”

“I was thinking we could go all the way up Brady Street and back down to 4th and home if you are up for it.”

“Okay,” I said.

Even though the distance seemed further than I could imagine, my dad’s newfound enthusiasm was like water to my soul and I felt buoyant.  We kept moving forward, we kept on breathing.  We tackled Brady’s upward slope before turning and enjoying the downhill descent back to 4th Street.  Dad seemed to be tiring, with only one block to go but I was energized and excited to tell Mom how far we’d run, so I poured it on at the finish leaving Dad in my trail.  Veering over the curb, I parked my yellow tennis shoes on the dewy grass in front of our red house;  a proud smile plastered on my flushed face.

Dad rested; his hands on both knees, “Girl, you really beat me!  I can’t believe how you’d beat your old dad like that.”

I don’t know why I showed him up like I did.  Years later, it occurred to me that he probably pulled back on purpose to let me win.   It was a quiet triumph of two hearts, toeing up to the line and finishing strong before the cantankerous world woke up to contest us.  We were the champions.

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(Inspired by) Running with Dad

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