Okay, I admit it. My admiration for Joan Benoit is a little over the top. To be clear, Joanie has nothing to fear from me. I have never sent her a fawning text and have only seen her in person twice–in Los Angeles at the 1984 Olympics where she seemed a little busy at the time what with winning the inaugural women’s marathon and all that and me firmly ensconced behind barricades in the throng of spectators. And then thirty-something years later we both attended a college graduation in her native Maine. Our sons turned out to be classmates at Joanie’s alma mater.
I was much too shy to approach the woman who held the Boston Marathon record for 11 years. I was whispering inarticulately (Honey, look, that’s Joan Benoit!) when my wife—a prudent woman if not a particularly serene one—shoved me in Joan’s direction and said, “could my idiot husband trouble you for a photo?”
She could not have been more gracious—Joanie that is not my wife, who pointed out “you have your picture, can we please get some lunch before all the lobster rolls are gone?”
Why the extreme admiration for someone whom I am inexpertly pestering at the rate of twice every half century? Not because she still wins the Boston Marathon (in her age group obviously.) Not because she and her daughter run marathons together–although family running events are way cool. Not even because she has brought glory to my favorite sport and best-loved distance. Greatness is great, I suppose, but seeing Tom Brady or Martina Navratilova wouldn’t cause me to murmur incoherently, unable to form sentences. My appreciation for Joan Benoit was cemented by this advert, ostensibly for shoes but in my judgment for consistency and commitment.
If you don’t have time to click the link and watch the 30-second commercial, here’s my summary: The first camera shot is a close up of an alarm clock going off at 5:25 am. The radio announcer is heard briefly talking about the woman who won the Boston Marathon the day before; a woman is seen stretching, a deluge is heard, a hard rain slamming against the house. The camera shows another close up of a woman as she opens the door of her home, sees the torrential downpour. The woman closes the door against the onslaught of wind and water.
Watching the ad, I let out a breath and relax. Clearly the woman will have the sense with which she was born and go back to her warm bed and forget about going outside to train in the storm. Except we learn that instead, the woman has closed the door only to pick up her jacket. Once more into the breach. On the door we see a race number and the inscription “Boston Marathon.”
The radio announcer continues, “…our own Joan Benoit won the Boston Marathon yesterday in a woman’s world record of 2:22:42. Hey, if you’re listening, way to go, Joanie.” But Joanie isn’t listening. She has closed the door and is off running in the rain. Having won the Boston Marathon a few days before, it’s time to get back to her training.
What does my admiration for a person with whom I have interacted for a total of 90 seconds over the course of my life have to do with my usual topic of parenting? Only this: on the subject of raising healthy kids in this troubled world, it’s the day to day, the carpool, the runny noses, the bed times, and the picture books. You’ve got to be in it to win it and you’ve got to bring your best game each and every day. Sure it’s great when they’re graduated from medical school or pitch a no-hitter, but just like in running, the training is the event.
Actors may not mean it when they say “the nomination is the award” but every runner knows that glory is in those desolate, weekly 20-mile training runs. Alone or in a group. In the heat or in the rain. When you’re tired or very tired. Racing and winning is the least of it. Or as Antonio says in The Tempest, “what’s past is prologue” (II, i).
Joan Benoit is a hero of mine. You can be a hero to your kids. When they have a bad dream at 2:00 am, give them a cuddle and some reassurance even though you are beyond exhausted. When they ask you for “one more story” go ahead and read to them even though you have important work emails to return. When your kids need your time and attention, dig deep and find a way to connect. Because doing the right thing as a parent is as simple and as excruciating and as glorious as putting on your jacket and going out to run in the rain.