My memoir on falling in love with running …. on my own terms

Have you ever seen your mom or dad get “a talking to?”

It is an unfamiliar thing, especially for a younger child to witness. Programmed from birth to assume our parents are the ultimate authority, watching them in a place of sub-ordinance, being taught, or being disciplined by their parents, is a peculiar phenomena. A poignant moment in my relationship with running involved such a memory. It is etched in my mind not because of any drama or trauma; there was neither of those things, to be sure. No, I think this moment came to my mind as being critical to the subject of this title because of what I now realize it represented and accomplished.

“Oh come on now, Jane,” my grandma said.

That was all I heard and all I would hear.

Dressed in concert attire, I hauled my trumpet, athletic bag, spike bag, and heavy backpack out of the car and started walking into our house. The weight of these items exceeded my own, but their toll was not only physical. Like most days, my emotional, mental, and psychological strength had been taxed by their other form of weight.

Get straight A’s – should be automatic.

Play a perfect solo? Better do that, too.

Run your absolute best with the logical result being a new PR? Person vs. self and person vs. person pressure there…

It had been a long day at school, complete with an evening band concert which was literally sandwiched by an afternoon track meet. These events were on opposite sides of the Fargo-Moorhead area; one was at Fargo South and one was at Horizon Middle School. I’d end up spending almost 90 minutes traveling there and back and there again. In addition to high jump, the only event in track I considered ‘fun’ at the time, I would race an all out 400 in the medley relay – which in my mind – and this should say a lot – meant I pretty much “got the meet off.”

My logic in thinking this was due to the fact that since I was the fastest mid-distance athlete on our team, I was typically tasked with the anchor two lap (800 meter) leg at most meets. This was often in addition to an open 800, a 4×400, and the high jump.

Every time I stepped on the track, it felt like my very worth was being put on the line. In order to pass the test, I needed to give everything I had. Considering that internal battle was the lone requirement speaks to my maturity, even at the time, towards competition and sport. But, meeting that requirement was a burden I couldn’t handle. In order to do truly give my best, I knew I would need to hurt, at least in the 800. Not high jump, which is probably why I found some solace in that event. It was actually fun to hop around and fly through the sky.

Alas, I did not like the prospects of physical misery and pain. All non-runners reading this are probably doing the slow clap and saying, “Thank you! And how can anyone ever come to like this sport, seriously?” I could sympathize with that sentiment, but I knew, having been raised in a running household and experienced the joys myself, that the feeling of pain was temporary, but the satisfaction which came afterwards was lifelong. Yet, the pressure of external performance – needing to win or notch a new PB – sapped me of any joy in the moment of competing in the sport of running. I can’t say I felt this way in basketball, especially in high school. Maybe it really was the absence of physical pain, because I was always eager to exert a mojo and a competitive confidence while on the court.

Really, this whole article and any that follow are about me dealing with that problem. How could I manage myself – how could I reconcile these issues – and come to a place of freely partaking in the sport. Thankfully, I would figure this out … eventually. I just am wired in a way that required me to do so on my terms.

I remember going sub-59 seconds in my split on the relay, placing us safely in first with a large cushion as I handed off to my twin brother, perm and all, to finish the deal. Dan always has oozed quite a bit more physical running talent than myself, though it is unfair to make a statement like that without qualifications. After reading and studying sports science and sports pyschology and all things that go into performance, I know that I have been gifted in certain elements which give me a distinct advantage over him. But in 8th grade, he had completed 85% of puberty to my 2.1%; that alone probably meant he should have been our anchor leg more often than not. But, he also had the closest thing to “Dad’s stride,” which made him look a lot more like he floated on the track compared to my seated posture, heel striking running style.

The other event in the meet went well for me. Despite having less fast twitch fibers in my body as there are democrat politicians in Washington who believe in securing the ideals of the Constitution and Declaration of Independence (so … almost none if you did not get that political jab/joke and don’t listen to Ben Shapiro) I somehow managed to pop over the high jump bar at 5’6″ – meaning I was still 1:1 with high jump to body height ratios. That was good – if I could continue the trend, maybe I’d be able to actually do the event in high school. I just assumed I’d grow to 6’1 or 6’2, both heights that could contribute and maybe, on a down year, qualify for state (my PR was 5’11” but I ‘cleared’ 6 feet once in practice).

You have to know, however, that even though I liked high jump, having a Sederquist take that event seriously was a little bit like if Lebron’s kid grew to be 6’8″ and decided he wanted to take up marathon running.

The sun was heading down as I left the meet after two events to quickly change into concert attire, drive from south Fargo to east Moorhead, play a Jazz concert and a concert band concert (which I remember having multiple solos in). Sadly, there was a piece of me that felt like I hadn’t ‘done enough’ at the meet. Most kids probably wouldn’t even blink an eyelash at going home after the band concert (or skipping one or both altogether!!!), but I had already planned on returning to the meet after our concert to watch the last event or two. A pit in my stomach formed, even at that point, and it grew as I sat in the fourth row, playing my horn with all of my heart…

“I’ll bet I’ll get asked to do the 4×4,”

The reoccurring self-talk droned in the background as I tried to focus on my music, count rests, or stand up with the band to receive applause.

“….they couldn’t, could they? It is a random, early season meet – there isn’t even anything on the line (not that, at 8th grade … or any grade for that matter … there ever is anything truly at stake).”

Back at the Crestwood ranch, the sun was setting, and I was finally home. It seemed like Grandma wanted a word with just my mom. So I walked away.

But, I bet I can guess what was said.

My mom is a lot like me – I’ve realized that more and more the older I’ve gotten. My mom’s mom is also a lot like me – though that is probably something she has realized the older I’ve gotten.

We share a resilient, determined, and disciplined drive. All three of us are notorious for placing immense expectations on ourselves. We display high levels of initiative in putting ourselves and our passions to good use. We want to be seen as valuable contributors. We want to be given praise and to feel a sense of worth because of our abilities and passions, and as a result, we sometimes dangerously place too much of our identity into these things. We are prone to developing compulsive behaviors, and although we have generally channeled them towards fruitful ventures in our lives, whether it has been sports, child-rearing, or being a spouse or grandmother, at times, they have controlled us, too. The latter three items, I am obviously not able to relate to, but I am linked to my mom and my grandmother by the fact that at some point in our lives, all three of us have put all of the aforementioned character traits towards an athletic ambition or two.

My grandma was ‘quite the athlete’ as I’ve been told, while at Casselton High School in rural North Dakota back in the 1950s. In fact, I think she sunk some clutch free throws in a big game once … maybe even a state championship if I recall. My cousin Erik and I, teammates for the Spuds in 2008 and 2009, occasionally reflected, almost humorously, on that story whenever we would notice Grandma’s seriousness in watching us play for the Spuds. It was almost as if we were trying to connect the dots from her career to ours – like we were making sense of the reality of our Grandma taking our stats, hollering at us, over large, boisterous crowds, to shoot more, and always, no matter what, meeting us outside every gym (home or away) with a quiet Grandpa, with the words, “That’s the way Ryan/Erik. You played well.”

I think most of my understanding of her passion for watching us was seen as being a derivative of her love for us as grandkids. But, even as a junior in high school, and much more now, I realize she had an eye on our passion and drive for excellence in sports. She clearly could pick out my obsessiveness, and maybe it was because at some point, she had experienced those feelings as well.

She was fortunate, perhaps, to have lived in a time where sports was not that big of a deal. You could be a farm girl, go to school, read books, have hobbies, and for three months of the year, get together with friends and play a game. Nowadays, deciding to play many team sports is a life altering decision that takes place when you are four years old, is followed by a 17-year commitment to 11.5 months-a-year training, camps, tournaments, and seasons. During my senior season, I played basketball every morning, with my team (so, this is in addition to the 90 minutes a day I spent dribbling and shooting by myself in the driveway and 60 minutes four days a week lifting weights by myself) from June until the end of July. I played in 30 full games that summer. During the season, it was another 30. I was told, even then, that most of the people I played against in Minnesota 4A basketball had played 80-100 games in the summer, thanks to a rigorous AAU circuit. I had invested everything I could to the game, and by comparison, I hadn’t even really sold my soul entirely.

So, unlike my grandma, who, when the time came, easily walked away from her sports career, avoiding being engulfed by the potentiality of placing her identity in her success on the field, court, or any other competition field, I had a harder time simply closing the athletic chapter. In fact, I still haven’t closed it, and, much to my Grandma’s chagrin, I probably never will. Either way, despite the generationally-based societal differences, Grandma must have still been aware of the dangers of taking sports “too seriously,” as she would probably word it. My evidence? I can only point to her calmly lecturing my mom that evening in the driveway as she talked about something I assume had to do with those points. (Note: my mom, a loyal subscriber, will probably read this. I hope she knows that she isn’t some sort of villain, though I likely have failed to convince her otherwise through the dramatic reading of this memoir. She is far from it, and for all I know, Grandma’s ‘lecture’ was more simply a reminder of what my mom already knew to be true.)

Probably thanks in part to her wisdom, which I assume was imparted or at least reiterated to my mom that day in our driveway, I have a good relationship with sports. In all honesty, I’ve experienced coming to this ‘good’ place in my relationship with sports as being the result of divinely decreed events, good and bad, and a constant introspective approach to dealing with through mental and emotional, as well as physical, growth. I’m at a place which would make Grandma proud, I think. One where I’m aware of the dangers of misplacing my identity in sports and not in Christ, the one place where my identity is secure and safe from absolutely everything. No amount of failure or success can touch who I am in Christ. And, perhaps not as important eternally, but just as critical from an “on earth” standpoint, I’m at a place where I genuinely enjoy the various aspects of sport. I have discovered what it means to be playing everything. That is why my website reads, “Play with a purpose.” The childhood joy of a pretend football game exists when I write an article, plan a lesson, or work on my master’s thesis. When Brett Favre was caught during a mic’d up clip back in 1997 saying, “It’s a kid’s game,” he hit the nail on the head: whatever we spend the majority of our time doing, pouring our heart into, and applying ourselves to, should feel like a kid’s game. Oh, how much of that, though maybe not directly attributed to my Grandma, is a staple core value I have which I think she would find to be perfectly appropriate and maybe even noble when applied to running, skiing, and sports in general.

Of course, she then raised a child, my mom, who gave everything she could to her sport (running). My mom did not always get what she deserved, from an awards or recognition standpoint, in return. She was a star at Moorhead High School, but she was also in the trailblazer generation for women’s athletics, showing a seriousness in sports that was not understood by other members of her sex …or the other sex. Girls weren’t really supposed to be as good – and certainly not as driven – as my mom was. Then, she went on to Moorhead State and ran a career that ironically, was not completely unlike my own. You could summarize them both like this: trained incredibly hard to be the best they could be, but ultimately, never got to run “that” 10k in a fast race in good conditions. As a side note, I have no problem, if we are keeping score, in saying that my mom’s collegiate career, despite having some things ‘left on the table,’ was far more successful than my own. But that is somewhat beside the point.

If she was a better performer, a more willing competitor, and a tougher runner, I realize now I surpass her in the “no one is going to work harder to maximize their own potential than me” department. To word it positively, I am more loyal to my John Woodenesque principals of “giving 100% effort to be the best I can be.” To reword it in a negative light, you could argue I am simply more obsessive than her. Neither iteration is meant to boast, but only to make the point of realization this whole entry is about: maybe my Grandma knew that if she wasn’t careful, my mom might do something that could scare me – personally … emotionally … mentally …. psychologically .. that could have massive repercussions on my feelings towards not just sports. It would damage how I viewed my gifts, my work ethic, and most importantly, the basis for my identity.

If you are still reading this, you may be wondering what happened at the meet that caused this conversation between my mom and my grandma. Additionally, it would be fair to question the possibility of the 8th grade version of me growing up to ever love and appreciate endurance sports at all. Both are valid questions.

I returned to the meet after my concert and assumed a place in the bleachers, dressed in all black concert attire. There was one event left – the 4×400 – and our team was fielding about 2.4 million different teams. Well, at least they were supposed to. As I know realize, having been a middle school track coach, you use that 4×400 to get every kid one more event. The result? A heat sheet that looks like this:

Heat 1

Moorhead A, Moorhead B, Moorhead C, Fargo South A, Fargo South B, Fargo South C, ……Dilworth

Well, as it turned out, most of our athletes had gone home (funny, huh?). But, the straight A student, section leader trumpet player, anchor relay member, and coach’s son had decided to spend his evening returning to the track to support his team (there’s my moment of self glorification….I’ll bask in it, thank you very much).

I remember, even then, having absolutely no business running in that event, and certainly having no obligation – this meet would not be scored, and if it were, I could argue I had accounted for 20 points with my two event victories – I still could feel what was coming.

Basically, what happened was that Moorhead Q – or one of the teams – needed a fourth runner, and my mom came to the 14th row of the bleachers to find me to fill the spot. When I declined, adamantly, it probably embarrassed my mom and definitely disappointed her.

How could I not put aside my selfishness for the sake of the team.

That was the lesson I needed to learn. It was a good lesson, to be fair. In one sense, my mom was totally right. In another sense, though, she was totally off.

She was right because in theory, no matter what was making me apprehensive about stepping on the line – personal pressure, fear of failure, or lack of my own athletic equipment and therefore “ideal” conditions (I had also downed a full subway footlong after my concert …probably hadn’t eaten since lunch!) – I should have been selfless and just sucked it up and ran.

On the other hand, I was in a tender spot. The weight I was talking about earlier – trumpet, music, running, school – it was real. I could manage it in school, totally. With trumpet, there were things I could manage, but there were things then and certainly down the road that would prove to be substantial ‘man-making’ moments, trials, and obstacles (talk about a topic for another memoir!).

With running, though, I was losing the battle, completely. I was the best runner on the team – heck – I was the best junior high distance runner in the whole FM-area, which was not a small thing at all. External victories and great performances did not define the important battle I was losing. I was losing because each day I was enjoying running less and less. I was losing because I was being overwhelmed by the pressure, by the expectation, and by the fear – of everything … pain, failure, probably inadequacy, too. Who really knows. What I do know is I was headed on a fast track towards being done with the sport forever, right there. And that would have been tragic in so many ways.

Luckily, that didn’t happen.

And in answer to that second question – how I ever came to love it … well, I guess you’ll just have to come back next time…

The Seder-Skier

Realizing the point of it all

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