A glorious autumn morning meant only one thing -- a run at Chestnut Ridge Park. The lower loop is just under four miles and includes lots of hills, including the locally infamous "Mother" or "Big Mother" or another juxtaposition with profanity if you're having a really bad day.
Running a rather easy pace with my friend Sue, we chatted and she brought up an article she had recently read about an marathoner who was struggling to overcome injuries after being hit by a car in a crosswalk. Her recovery has been painful. A good day is when she can walk 50 feet, let alone run a mile, and a brain injury causes her to go from normal one day to withdrawn and repetitive the next.
As I looked at the clear blue sky, drank in the crisp air and noticed the artistic patchwork of colored leaves, a sense gratitude enveloped me. Yes, I struggled mightily up "Mother" and felt slow and fat. But my outlook quickly changed. How lucky I was to be able to run at all. Yes, we would all like to run faster. We'd all be happy to win our age group and some of us would be happy to win an overall race. In the end, none of that matters if you don't have the basic physical ability to participate -- whether its a fitness run for fun with friends or the the Turkey Trot or training for a marathon.
Filled with gratitude, my bike was calling me. Time to get in my hour on the bike trainer, doing one-legged drills in my basement. I slapped on my iPod and caught up with an old episode of "Only a Game" -- sports talk NPR radio style.
The final story on the show featured the organization Right to Play and it's work in Palestinian refugee camp in northern Lebanon. This particular piece featured teams for girls-only. There was an under-12 girls soccer team but soccer and a basketball team for those over 16. The girls in this particular camp wanted to play soccer (or football as it's called every other place in the world). Why? Because they loved to play. They loved the game. And they faced a number of barriers to just playing. We're not talking about winning any championships here. Not even talking about winning many games. The girls wanted to play.
The group Right to Play describes itself as a humanitarian organization that uses sports as a way to improve health, education, skills and foster peace for children in countries affected by war, poverty and disease. They work with boys and girls and see sports as a way to help children grow in multiple ways.
For the girls in the story, they have physical limitations of space. They also have cultural limitations where many parents are nervous about their daughters playing sports, fearing injury both physically and socially, where modesty for women in public is partly a religious tenant.
Right to Play is sensitive to those fears and creating safe spaces for girls to do what all children should be able to do -- play.
As I peddled away on my bike trainer, again, I felt fortunate to be able to create my own space to explore the joys of movement and reap the benefits of exercise and physical activity. I know that I am a better version of myself because of running, swimming and cycling.
And so I begin the new week in gratitude, for the health, the freedom and the space afforded me in order to participate in the sports that bring me joy, passion and peace.
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