Getting Out of A Nightmare
In the summer of 1972, a young American named Frank Shorter won the gold medal for his performance in the Olympic Marathon in the city of Munich. I had just started being a runner that year. I am not quite sure why I started, but I do remember watching Frank Shorter run and then wanting to copy him. Whenever I emulated his style, I felt better and could last longer. In the summer of 1971 I had left the US Air Force Academy after three years of struggle with a system that was so not me. In a way running represented the exact opposite of the Academy. At the Academy my life was about following someone else’s life plan for me, following and endless set of what often seemed like very unnecessary rules, and having discipline forced down your throat. With running I was able to set my own course, use my own inner discipline, and feel free in the open air.
This morning I opened up the Runner’s World site on my web browser to find a 14 page article on Frank Shorter about his abusive childhood. http://www.runnersworld.com/article/0,7120,s6-239-567–14056-0,00.html
In this article he talks about his abusive childhood with beatings that were quite horrendous given by a father who was very well respected and honored in his community. What is clear from reading the article is that somehow Frank got out of the nightmare of his abusive childhood in no small measure because of his running. So the question that I asked myself this morning as I was reading the article was can running actually heal? Can it bring you out of a nightmare?
I am not sure that every runner can heal themselves, but I do think that the way Frank Shorter learned to run, which was passed down to me, has a healing aspect to it that came through his true self, his true spirit. When you watch Frank run, it has a special quality to it. It is particularly gentle on the earth, a quality of humility to it. It doesn’t surprise me at all because when you are treated so harshly by a cruel father you need to find a way to be gentle with yourself. Running with a soft touch repetitively has a healing effect because it allows for gentleness to replace the harsh treatment. The remedy for harsh treatment is gentleness.
When I was living at the Air Force Academy, we were treated harshly. When I left and took up running like Frank, I learned how to be more gentle with myself. After I read the article this morning, a remembered a very strange thing about Frank Shorter which I don’t find coincidental. I actually remember that at times when I had very difficult administrators which led to me being fired from my job, I always had a hard time remembering Frank’s name. I would actually spend an hour or so trying to figure it out. This was before Google.
Now it is so clear that remembering Frank Shorter means remembering to be gentle on myself, to get out on the road for long periods, to be free. Both times that I have been fired I have trained for marathons the year after the firings and both times I found myself balling my eyes out uncontrollably when I went across the finish line.