6. To Kingdom Come

6. To Kingdom Come

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Runners

To Kingdom Come

Running made me feel like a bird let out of a cage, I loved it that much.
 ~Priscilla Welch

The Back Forty, I called it. I claimed it as mine.

Actually, the underdeveloped, underused property was part of the city’s parklands and skirted the inside shoreline of the lake that belonged to the Greeley Irrigation Ditch Company. There wasn’t even a discernible footpath when I first discovered it nearly three decades ago, but that didn’t deter me. I made it my own.

Dodging tobacco-spitting grasshoppers, I pioneered the course and tugged a wagonload of toddlers towards the open arms of spreading cottonwoods and the Promised Land: a damp, deserted beach. Over time, the red Radio Flyer, with its jumble of spindly legs and flapping ponytails, flattened the thigh-high weeds and rutted a trail.

We romped along the lake, the kids and I, flapping our arms like the Canada geese that took umbrage and frantic flight at our intrusion. We waded the shallows; we wandered the shore; we built tea-party castles in the coarse sand. The only running I did was to chase and corral kids for the tiresome trek home.

But civilization encroached in the Back Forty at the same rate as the burgeoning population along Colorado’s Front Range. Right before our eyes, a playground sprouted. A soccer field seeded. A sculpture park blossomed. And tendrils of a newly-poured concrete sidewalk wound through it all.

Although school now claimed all four of my children, I still heeded the siren call of the trail, more tempting than ever. I began walking two miles, every day, no matter what.

I walked whenever I could comfortably escape the demanding schedule of an active family. Sometimes, dewy dawn greeted me. On other days, falling dusk settled around my shoulders. The solitary ramblings nourished me and my pace quickened along with my enthusiasm.

I discovered a kingdom nestled against the parapets of the pristine Rockies, and I reigned as queen. I reveled in a bucolic realm of flowering crabapples, fragrant Russian olives, and lush lilacs. I nodded at the regal blue heron standing sentinel on a jutting boulder at the edge of the lake and giggled at court jesters — ebony coots sluicing the shoals, as endearing as wind-up toys. I measured the seasons and the years by comical goslings stumbling up rocky outcroppings, the annual roil of carp spawning in the spillway, and yawning ice holes drilled by hopeful fishermen.

Year after year, my speed-walking excursions kept me on track and in shape. Meanwhile, my kids raced out the door and on to college. Then, with an abruptness that shook me to my core, everything came to a halt.

My oldest child, a newly-minted college graduate, was critically injured by a drunk driver and on life support. Dazed, I sped to his side. I traded the wonders of the walking trail for the terrors of a trauma unit.

Distrustful of the rickety elevator system in Los Angeles’ decrepit yet imposing County Hospital, I breached the battlements of dank stairwells to huff nine flights up — and counted each step that brought me closer to my comatose son. Day after day. Week after week. Then, one glorious day, I was sprinting up them to greet his re-entry to awareness.

A few months later, we returned home, my son and I, to face rehab and a hopeful future. Ready for some time alone, I slipped into my cross trainers and headed to the familiarity and comfort of the foot trail.

My own awareness sharpened in new appreciation. Had the lake always been so blue? The squirrels so frisky? The cottonwoods so towering? My steps quickened in eagerness — so quick, in fact, that I found myself jogging.

Loping.

Running.

Toned by the hospital stairwells and with a newfound leanness honed from stress, my body insisted on more than my old walking pace. More speed. A longer stride. A steady gait.

Flushed with exhilaration, I emptied my mind of the worries I’d accrued over the past several months. I freed myself from the dungeon of despair to focus on my breathing. I listened to my heartbeat. I felt my hamstrings stretch and the muscles in my calves elongate.

My arms pumped in automatic rhythm. A rhythm sure and even. A rhythm that consumed all thought and demanded a delightful focus. A rhythm that belonged only to me.

And so it began. An instant love of running.

Oh, a kernel of recognition rankled: I knew I wasn’t cut from the same cloth as the marathoners who clogged the streets at the annual Lake-to-Lake event. I couldn’t compete with the high school team that pounded the pavement to shape up for track meets. Even so, I ran. A middle-aged housewife, legs pumping, pulse pounding, sweat beading my brow — having the time of my life. I discovered a new, joyous pace. I reveled in the novelty. I understood the possibilities and delighted in the potential.

I ran.

I ran towards a hopeful future and the promising kingdom that beckoned.

~Carol McAdoo Rehme

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