Marathon Letdown

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Ruckmann-by Kubota!Yes, dear readers, it’s happened: the marathon letdown.

I’ve met the letdown before, but never this bad. Then again, the marathon I completed last Saturday was like no other I had ever run.

I’ve competed in marathons with 5,000 athletes and thousands of spectators cheering us on, in cities, on trails through wooded areas, past skyscrapers, rivers, oceans, over railroad tracks, on bridges, in rain, snow, stepped on autumn leaves or morning frost. I’ve received finishers medals of all sizes and shapes, been saved by volunteers handing out water and other replenishing liquids including beer! I’ve run entire marathons talking most of the time with friends — either partners I’ve met on the course or those with whom I’ve trained for years — or in complete silence.

So having run miles of all kinds in a dozen different places, why is part of me on Wednesday still with the 40 or so athletes on that difficult course in Hawaii Kai from last Saturday?

Because even though my legs are still tired, I rediscovered an idealism about sports and perhaps life that I thought had maybe faded away like so many dreams we believe in as children or even in the heady years of young adulthood.

Most of us who ran last weekend in the dead of summer in Hawaii Kai were probably in the 35 to 55 age range. Many of us showed strain on our faces as we climbed Heartbreak Hill to complete the next mile. And yet we all shouted encouragement to each other wherever we were on the course, smiled past the pain, lifted our heads to nod to each other, used dwindling reserves of energy to give each other high fives. And when we finished we shared our relief, properly introduced ourselves and even our families who came to support us.

I likely won’t see a lot of friends from last weekend again, many of whom traveled a great distance to Hawaii Kai. But I won’t soon forget this marathon that has made me embrace anew the many miles we run together.

More Miles and Gratitude

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Number 19!Well, dear readers, I did crawl my way to the finish line. Actually, I ran on one leg and dragged the other, probably looking like a wounded kangaroo as I hopped along the last mile to reach a personal time goal and complete my 19th marathon.

For a good six hours afterward, the runner’s high kicked in. Nothing bothered me until 11 p.m. when I woke up crying out with painful cramps that interrupted a blissful sleep. I stood up and staggered out in the dark hoping for relief that my husband provided with an emergency massage of my legs. Then all was well again except for my daughter’s stuffy nose — as if she, too, had held out to the end and then her body let down.

At this point, a few of my 19 marathons blend together, but some stand out more than others.

Yesterday’s event will be one of those. I found out about it by accident when an acquaintance told me that there were two marathons on this island, one in July and the other in December. That was a real surprise. I had always planned to run 20 and then stop although even my husband thinks I’ll find a new goal given that I had promised to hang up the sneakers after finishing 10, then 15, then 16.

Yesterday morning, though, I told him about the parable of a man who lived in the Alps. Every spring, summer, and autumn he would go down his mountain to tend to his fields. Every winter he would go back up the mountain to his hut and wait out the cold months. One year, he knew he would not make it back down the mountain. He stayed in his hut forever.

I’m nearing my stay in the hut phase for marathons. My husband and I will do one together in December, his first and my 20th in our 15th year together. Life doesn’t always present such lovely numbers. But to reach this symbolic mark of togetherness and tenacity with my husband, I needed to squeeze in my 19th marathon at a time when my training has been on the lighter side.

Perhaps that really helped yesterday. I joined a group of athletes for an event that over the years had grown from a training run for extremely fit runners to an ultra run for with men and women from 11 states and Canada who chose distances from 13.1 (a half marathon) to 100 miles.

Some 40 of us encountered warm temperatures and hills that would have made my parable friend from the Alps proud. We ran, walked, and crawled 9-mile loops to reach our distance goals. We often were on our own but sometimes we kept each other company. We drank water or electrolyte replenishing drinks from stations often unmanned. Very few people cheered us on, except for a few curious onlookers, but every cheer, including our own high fives to each other, helped us keep going. The scenery was breathtaking and the route reassuring. Having completed one loop, the second and those that followed seemed like familiar friends (albeit ones so new I wondered at times if I might get lost!), just like the big trees on the course where I stretched to keep my muscles from tightening too much, the rocks that became mile markers, the traffic lights that helped us reach the next destination point.

The finish was as organic as the whole experience. Instead of loud cheers and a giant clock, a dirt path in a park led to the check-in canopy tent watched over by event’s organizer who gave us finisher certificates, water, food, and his calm wisdom about endurance! In fact, Kawika gave me all kinds of assurance when I first called him about seven weeks ago to see if I could actually be part of the Hawaii Kai Ultra Run challenge.

The older I get the more grateful I am for every mile. I was not alone yesterday. In addition to the other runners and Kawika, I wore my school’s Run for Peace singlet, my daughter’s watch and carried my husband’s small running towel to rub down my leg muscles. And I carried faith that helped me smile most of the nearly six hours I willed my body to grind through a marathon course again before I finally know after December and a race I will share with my husband that I won’t be coming down the mountain for a long while.

Miles and Gratitude

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Ruckmann-by Kubota!In the days leading up to my 19th marathon, I’m washing my hands more thoroughly to make sure I don’t catch a cold the week of the marathon as I have for my last three. After going through all the hard training, the body lets down even though all 26.2 miles for the actual marathon loom ahead.

I also have taken on minor muscle strains and pulls and taken off five or so pounds I always lose during months of training and more mindful eating. My blue blisters on my toes are a badge of honor. I read about but try not to overthink the marathon course. This Saturday’s run features a Heartbreak Hill that increases from 50 feet above sea level at the base to a steep 286 at its peak.

I have my running gear, including what I’m wearing, ready to go. I’ll aim for decent sleep and no major surprises this week.

Am I starting to get a little nervous? Sure, but to be truthful in a self-indulgent way. After all, I’ll be without parenthood responsibilities for several hours before, during and after the marathon. Whatever I face on the course, I’ll be able to translate into a new chapter in my life that will include a running theme but also recurring threads like faith, endurance, mind over matter, the love of my family.

It’s one thing to be a healthy man d’un certain âge in good shape, of modest means, but within grasp of my goal of completing 20 marathons. I’m also lucky that if I stumble on the course or anywhere else I have good health insurance to help me get back up.

The headlines and subheadings today about the Senate effort to repeal Obamacare include a pretty hefty fact: according to the Congressional Budget Office, if the bill were passed, 32 million more people in the United States would be uninsured than under current law. Here’s another piece of news that stands out: the new bill would mightily favor the very wealthy who may be going prematurely gray, but not because of wondering if they can afford to fall ill.

So while I take greater notice of my aches and pains these next few days, I’m also extremely grateful that I’ll get over them pretty easily and for insurance just in case anything truly serious were to happen.

Finish Lines and Impermanence

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Ruckmann-by Kubota!Dear Readers,

I hope by the time I write my post next weekend (in year two of my blog I now just post on Wednesdays and a weekend day), I will still be flushed with endorphins from finishing my 19th marathon.

Let’s hope I crawl my way to the finish line!

Although I’m a Quaker, I work in a Buddhist environment, and usually a few times a week I hear a reminder or two about the undeniable and inescapable impermanence of human existence.

As truthful and profound as this teaching is, I usually wait to reflect on it after my young daughter has gone to bed and I pour myself a nice glass of Bordeaux!

I hope I haven’t rocked the boat too much with that last shocking sentence about a Quaker and marathoner having a glass of red wine now and then! As a vegetarian, I mostly have a Mediterranean approach to my diet that I try to bring to my general outlook on life: delicious, whole and wholesome, but not deprivational!

It’s still morning in Honolulu, and the two sports headlines that have stood out for me so far are Roger Federer winning his 19th Grand Slam championship a month shy of turning 36, and Julia Hawkins setting a record yesterday for the 100-meter dash at age 101.

I’m between Roger and Julia in decades (and at this point a lot closer to Roger), but they sure both have given me a lot of inspiration and reminders for my 19th marathon next Saturday: go for your goals even though there are no guarantees except impermanence — and for me the love of trying!

The Glass is Half Ful…bright

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Ruckmann-by Kubota!Now that I’m posting only two days a week rather than five — after meeting my goal of writing every day but weekends and holidays for a solid year — the topics about which I could write seem to be overabundant!

Here we are, for example, in the thick of Wimbledon. Do I offer thoughts about the surprises of the tournament that lasts two weeks and is the one time of year when I try to rearrange my life around tennis?

Should I share insights about how my husband and I are preparing our daughter for second grade — for most parents probably not a huge deal, but somewhat uncharted territory for a precocious child who is holding her own with other kids her age but who nonetheless was born with an extra chromosome. Is there more my husband and I should be doing? Is there less?

Perhaps some advice for my followers about wisdom I’ve gained training for my 19th marathon that is less than two weeks away?

Or do I reflect on the astonishing turn of events with the new occupants of the White House?

I’ll pick the latter but for this post only as it relates to a subject near and dear to my heart.

As it desperately tries to make itself credible in any possible way, the Trump administration has again made a proposal that defies logic: a 47% cut to the Fulbright program as one of many painful reductions to a State Department that is every day rapidly losing talent, purpose and meaning.

The program was launched by Sen. William J. Fulbright right after World War II to encourage global study, understanding, and constructive engagement with the world’s community of nations.

I think many of us are trying to figure out if Donald Trump is a nationalist, isolationist, or just breathtakingly shortsighted. I wish he knew some basic facts about Fulbright.

Over seven decades, some 370,000 people from 165 countries — Americans studying overseas, and men and women from other countries attending universities in the United States — have received Fulbrights. They include Nobel and Pulitzer prizewinners and former heads of state.

In the current budget year, 8,000 scholars from the United States have been funded by $235 million from the State Department to study abroad. The Trump administration hopes that amount will shrink to $125 million, much less than universities, governments of other nations, businesses and donors offer to maintain the Fulbright program.

I was once a young man who dreamed of studying and living in a German-speaking country to embrace my heritage and language of my forefathers and foremothers. To my great shock, I received a Fulbright to study in Austria for two years. I stayed for a few after that to work in an embassy. I still have poems from that time that I wrote in English, German, and French. Receiving the Fulbright changed my life. It made me strive to be a citizen of the world and inspired me to make a career of helping young people achieve their dreams through education.

There are thousands of former Fulbrights who have a more important voice than I, but I want to add my words to their efforts to lobby for full funding of the program, perhaps for even an increase, so the world has a better chance to advance.

The Ballad of Amelia Earhart

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All I wanted was to fly higher,
to find endless skies.

Men determined too much of my life:
a father, giddy from flights of wine
who came crashing down
from his career and then we had to leave
one town after another until I found
more promising horizons and offers
to soar into the unknown.

But why did fame always greet me
with men who wanted marriage
to keep me safe and home?

I had to prove them wrong,
to fly higher and solo,
to hold my own and not drown
if I came too close to the sun.

All along, though, I knew
someday I would come down
so far that I would never
again leave the ground,
and men who ground me forever
except when they decide to tease me
about my one last flight
as if perhaps I’m still around
like a myth who never leaves
with wings intact or broken,
whose final act is interrupted,
tragic and unspoken.

Written by Rüdiger Rückmann
on 8 July 2017

I’m Back!

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Ellen und PapaHappy Wednesday everyone!

Today is a restart: the beginning of year two of this blog that thanks to all of you I knew I needed to continue; the first week of Wimbledon; reentry into the world after four days away with my family from our normal routines; a reconditioning of my body for a surprise marathon in a few weeks; more urgency for my husband and me to prepare our daughter for second grade as summer weeks leave us with greater rapidity (school begins in Hawaii in early August); and a stark reminder with recent world headlines that every day, actually every hour can bring us gratitude rather than being taken for granted.

I personally love routines, but it’s easy to get stuck in them and realize too late that those nearest and dearest to you are maybe not so enamored of them. Even a little break from familiar but at times too entrenched habits is an opportunity to hit the restart button.

But before I wax a little too philosophical, especially for the first entry of year two of Tennis, Trisomy 21 and Taking in Life Together, I want to thank all of you for your support of my unconventional family, of my writing, for cheering me on as I get ready for my 19th marathon in a few weeks, for savoring life together!

 

Friday Picture Post: When Your Heart Melts

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Ellen und ihre LehrerinI know I have a (large) sentimental streak, but to see my daughter embrace teachers who have helped her become a Mrs-Heckmanbetter writer, reader, thinker, learner, person who will use her best heart and mind, well, I can only express gratitude.

Have a safe, wonderful holiday weekend, Dear Readers! I’ll see you back on Wednesday.

Gratitude

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Ruckmann-by Kubota!Dear Readers,

Guess what? It was my goal to write this blog for an entire year, every day except weekends and major holidays, and tomorrow, 30 June, is one year!

That’s 254 posts viewed 3071 times (which does not include me!) by 1442 visitors in 35 countries.

And here my original goal was to have a kind of journal I would share with family and a few close friends!

I also thought I would focus primarily on tennis and Trisomy 21.

This blog started out that way, but I soon found those themes opened pathways to others I wanted to explore, including Civil Rights, advocacy, angels, gratitude, my heritage, family, marriage, parenting, friendship, community, marathon training, faith, teaching, early education, poetry, Mary Tyler Moore, and growing up gay. I’ve striven to find the balance between raising awareness, being an advocate for change, and quietly trying to move the needle. I’ve shared a lot more than I ever expected to in one year. I’ve always hoped to be authentic, Dear Readers, but this blog is more about building connections and bridges with you than about me.

To my surprise, your response has been phenomenal. Your kindness is greatly appreciated. Your invitation to read your beautiful writing or learn about your interests has broadened my way of looking at the world. It’s been fun and inspirational getting to know you. Because of you, I’ve become a better writer! You even helped me change the original title of this blog!

I’ve been a little sad this week with the year coming to an end with tomorrow’s Friday Picture Post. So I’ve decided to keep the blog going: not every day, but two days a week. Over the holiday weekend I will consult with my best advisor, my husband, about those days and let you know in Tennis, Trisomy 21 and Taking in Life Together – Year 2!

A thousand thanks to all of you!

 

Body Issues

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Ruckmann-by Kubota!Serena Williams is proud and pregnant on the cover of the new issue of Vanity Fair.

In this age where everyone can have his or her views instantly known, quite a few people are already taking issue with Serena’s cover, but the greatest woman tennis player of all time embraces her body with confidence.

Serena’s good friend, Danish tennis champion Caroline Wozniacki, also graces the cover in her birthday suit of a new publication, ESPN’s 2017 Body Issue as does NFL running back Zeke Elliott in an alternative cover.

An athlete first and foremost, Caroline has stated that she does not feel the need to look like a supermodel. She has a healthy attitude about her body, her weight, about being judged by people she has never invited to judge her. She is also candid about the toll sports can take on a body.

Gaining self-esteem and self-confidence can be quite a marathon. Growing up gay, I was bullied. I had a face my mother kindly said I would “grow into some day,” a pretty indented sternum (pectus excavatum), a deformity that made me embarrassed to be in front of others for swimming classes, and a good dose of teenage acne. I loved sports, and even with the sunken chest and diminished lung capacity, I became a good tennis player and runner. Most people describe me as thin. Occasionally, in the thick of my training for a marathon, the adjective is “gaunt.”

Yet two of the guys I first dated (and who broke up with me) when I came out of the closet in my early 30s told me I was fat! Yikes!

Fortunately, I met the love of my life who for 15 years has accepted me for who I am and how I look at all times of day, who embraces me when I’m a sweaty mess after a marathon, or tells me how nice I look when I get ready for work.

Our gorgeous daughter was born with an extra chromosome. She is stunning and I want her to know that at an early age. One family member suggested I tell her no more than once every few months how beautiful she is, that I was perhaps going overboard.

I let her know every day! I can tell she is on a great path to embracing who she is. That will go a long way in helping her get through a few tough miles most of us face in life.