Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Periwinkle Memories

When I first witnessed a cross country race, it was the Alaska State Championships my 8th grade year. Wanting a weekend activity, and seeking to get involved at our "new school", my mom loaded up four kids (age 3-14), a bag of white cheddar popcorn, a trunk full of rain gear, change for hot chocolate and drove an hour to Palmer High School, and a set of dirt trails I would eventually know like my own backyard.

We watched the muddy races in the midst of sprinkling rain, marveling at the nasty conditions in which this sport took place. I thought it was ridiculous and wondered what kind of person would sign up for such a thing. As I sipped hot chocolate that burned the roof of my mouth, and cheered for athletes wearing my high school's jersey, I recognized that though the experience seemed a bit absurd--it was it's own culture. It was a group of people that enjoyed being a little crazy, a little out there, unfazed by the mud and grimaces and unfavorable conditions that came along with it--they were almost bolstered by such realities.

A year later I joined my school's cross country team, seeking to be a part of this group. Donned in baggy mesh shorts and a paint stained Reebok t-shirt I joined new teammates through sunshine and rain, through mud and gravel, spending the night on the floor of high school classrooms, and doing homework through the jostling of 15-passenger vans.

Slowly, I began to look like I belonged. I gathered the yearly team t-shirts, the mud-stained socks, the black spandex tights, the school's hooded sweatshirt, and of course, a few pieces of dry fit material. I still have my first "running" shirt, a long sleeved periwinkle blue Patagonia top that zipped a few inches down to be easily pulled over my head. It was too short for my short torso, and a little wide for my narrow frame, and a tad short on my arms--but it was great. As far as I was concerned, it went with everything I owned, and was a the perfect pullover for all non-formal occasions. When I wore it, I felt like a runner. I felt like I belonged.

I now half a dozen half-zip dry fit pullovers in many different colors, each representing a different memory, from a different phase of my career. There's a white one I got from my cross country coach when I started my first collegiate season, and a navy one with the team's logo that I took with me when I completed my college career. There's a couple black ones I got as gifts from my grandma, a neon green one I got from my mom, and a navy one I got from my husband's parents while we were still dating. My most recent one is powder blue, which I got from my aunt in the days before my wedding.

I don't wear these items with quite the fervor I did at the age of 16, but they hold a special place in my wardrobe. And even though the blue Patagonia top makes few appearances in public, it still makes me smile to see it in my drawer when I dress for my daily run. It reminds me how far I've come as a runner, the people that have (and do) accompanied my journey, and the many lessons I've learned along the way...the least of which being I don't need an ill-fitting top to belong.

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