The Silver Streakers

The Silver Streakers

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Say Hello to a Better Body!

The Silver Streakers

The year I turned fifty-nine was a terrifying one for me. My mother died of breast cancer at fifty-nine, and as irrational as it is, I never believed I would live past fifty-nine. The entire year I couldn’t focus, was depressed, and was overweight. I had lost some weight but hit a plateau. I kept saying, “I can do this on my own,” but I just kept cycling through various unsuccessful weight loss attempts. I hated my body.

During that year, I began a sporadic walking routine. In May, I walked in the Race for the Cure in memory of my mother and in September I ran in the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation race in honor of my son-in-law. That was where I met Marjie.

She was a tall blonde in red, white and blue running shorts slightly ahead of me the entire race. I just couldn’t catch her. After the race, I asked her to run with me. Marjie was a longdistance runner, nine years younger than me and quite a bit faster. She had been running for many years. In spite of all that, we became running partners. We started meeting twice a week in the park at 7 a.m. Marjie taught me a lot about running. She taught me that the first mile is always hell until your muscles warm up. She taught me to dress for ten degrees warmer than the actual temperature. She taught me that you run even if you don’t feel like it because afterwards you will be glad you did.

But more than teaching me tips and tricks, she became my reason for getting out of bed in the morning. Marjie was waiting for me at the bottom of the hill twice a week at 7. I knew she was there so I had to get myself up and going because Marjie wasn’t going to be the one to call and say it’s too hot or too cold to run. Rain or shine, ice or snow, hot or cold, Marjie wouldn’t give up and she wouldn’t let me give up.

One December morning I woke up and checked the outside thermometer — it was eighteen degrees! I was sure that Marjie would call and say it was too cold to run. But the call never came. Not wanting to be the wimp, I dutifully donned my tights, woolen pants, thermal underwear, woolen socks, warm sweater, heavy jacket, hat and gloves, and jogged down the hill. Sure enough, there was Marjie wearing a light windbreaker and leggings. The snow on the ground meant we couldn’t run our usual dirt and gravel route in the park. Instead, we slowly made our way up the hill where a path had been cleared for cars. We laughed and joked the entire time, marveled at the beauty of the snow-covered trees, admired the breathtaking, top-of-the-hill view of the city garbed in white and giggled at our insane decision to run in eighteen degrees. (And yes, I was overdressed.)

On our runs we shared experiences, hopes, dreams. We talked about books, current events, our jobs, and our husbands. Those forty-five minutes together were quality time. There were no phone calls, interruptions, or distractions. All through that cold, dark winter, Marjie dragged me out for runs.

Then, in April, I turned sixty. I felt like the death sentence had been lifted, like I could start life all over. Outside it was spring; inside my heart spring also came. I promised myself I would do everything I ever dreamed of but hadn’t yet. I hired a personal trainer; I entered more races.

Marjie and I continued running through several seasons. One March, at the opening race of the year, a woman flew past me to place first in my age group. I was impressed and asked her to run with us. Thus Pearl joined our running group.

Pearl, white-haired and petite, is three years older than I, and a long-distance runner. Between Marjie and Pearl, they have sixteen marathons under their sneakers! Pearl is always searching out ways to become a better runner. She e-mails us articles on how to breathe from the belly or tells me about great running socks that will solve my foot problem. Pearl suggests different routes or new routines to shake things up a bit.

Pearl is also a breast cancer survivor. I learned from Pearl that your self-talk can make you or break you, that you run with focus and determination, and that while your physical problems may limit you, they don’t define you. Whatever happens, she finds the good in it. She has an indomitable spirit.

On our runs we often talk about the joys and sorrows of raising children and grandchildren. Pearl is a sympathetic listener and a woman with the wisdom of experience. When the husband of my dear friend passed away, my running friends were a sounding board and a comfort as we talked, ran, and shared tears and laughter. Sometimes we playfully call ourselves The Silver Streakers!

Some years before I met Pearl, I ran a half marathon in Philadelphia. It was a horrible experience. I declared I would never do another. Over the course of a couple of years, Pearl and Marjie convinced me to try again. They said they would see to it that I not only got through it but enjoyed it. We picked a training program and for the next five months we trained — hard! In May of 2009, we three Silver Streakers lined up at the starting line (well, okay, we started at the back of the pack) for the Pittsburgh Half Marathon. Crossing the finish line full of exuberance and energy, I was grateful to Marjie and Pearl for enabling me to have an awesome experience.

Several years ago, I decided to enter a triathlon. I was a fearful swimmer and a timid biker. Though by then my running was stronger, I had to complete the swimming and the biking prior to the run. I feared I would pass out on the racecourse! I confided in Marjie and Pearl, and their immediate response was: “We’ll meet you on the trail and run you in.” I was surprised and moved by their unexpected kindness.

The day of the triathlon arrived, bright and early. Marjie and Pearl were there by the pool, cheering me on. Marjie and Pearl were there by the bike course, yelling and applauding. And Marjie and Pearl were there as I jumped off the bike, and with rubber legs, started out on the trail for the race. They ran with me to the finish line. I came in last in the triathlon, but they came in first in my heart.

Marjie and Pearl are my role models. They have challenged, supported, motivated, changed, and inspired me.

I’m very rarely depressed now. I’m trim and fit. I am happy with my body. But I couldn’t do it alone. I am only able to succeed through the kindness and caring of my Silver Streaker friends.

~ Simone Sheindel Shapiro ~

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