Last week, my husband and I went out to dinner with an accomplished ultra-runner* and his pregnant wife. Over our meal of Carne Asada tacos (for me) and relleno vegetales (for my hubby), we joked about the ever-present topic of idiosyncratic endurance athletes. It was a therapeutic and comical venting session for us pregnant spouses to laugh and commiserate over our similar lives. Amidst our conversation about the unfortunately cumbersome nature of body hair, the unfathomable lateness of 10pm and the necessity for specifically-timed bowel movements, our ultra-runner friend confessed that he had recently handed his two year old daughter a caffeinated gel to quell her snack demands while driving home from the park.
“Hey, it was the only thing I could find!” he justified in his calm, soft-spoken manner as his wife and I exchanged eye-rolling glances of disapproval and amusement.
My husband nodded his head in empathy and agreement with our ultra-runner friend. (It has not been uncommon for our daughter to ask for “Daddy’s Blue Drink”., AKA a post-workout, somewhat caffeinated electrolyte beverage.)
We all decided that this comedic-but-potentially-catastrophic event could have only happened to the child of an endurance athlete. We then began discussing how strange it must be to grow up with an endurance athlete parent, joking about the scaring nature of walking in on your father carefully applying nipple guards in the mirror, or having the warped view that running a marathon is no big deal because hey, it’s only 26 miles.
Our conversation made me realize that I’ve spent so much of the past six years reflecting-on and wrestling-with what it means to be an endurance athlete’s wife, but I haven’t given much contemplation over what it means to be the child of an endurance athlete.
This week, I’ve thought a lot about how Harper’s life will be inevitably shaped and influenced by being her father’s daughter, and in what ways. Sure, she may be embarrassed as a teen when her dad walks through the house in front of her friends wearing padded bibs and a beard looking more like a Mexican luchador than a cyclist, but my conclusion is that her life will benefit exponentially from being the child of someone as passionate, dedicated, active and peculiar as her father. (I’ll have to remind myself of this realization when his 5am alarm wakes me habitually, or when I squeeze my pregnant belly into our economy sized car to make room for Shadow Fax, his carbon fiber time trial steed.)
In reflecting over her life, I’ve realized that from the moment of Harper’s birth, she has been exposed to nature and feats of physical exertion in a manner unparalleled by most children her age – or of any age, for that matter.
As a newborn, she spent her days strapped to her daddy’s back as they hiked through the Costa Rican rainforest, while I sat in graduate school classes at a small Central American university. She saw toucans and monkeys long before blue jays and squirrels.
By eight months old, she had been portaged a good portion of the way up the highest peak in Costa Rica in a Kelty backpack while her dad did ethnographic research on the life of coffee farmer who supplemented their minimal income through porting.
By age one, being placed in her bike seat made her giddy, elated to be at the helm in accompanying her dad on miles-long runs along Hawaiian bike paths or beside Alaskan streams swarming with Salmon.
At two years old, when she was old enough to go with daddy on his weekly long run, the sight of her blue running stroller made her jump with excitement, as she knew that a 2-3 hour adventure was likely to ensue.
As a three year old, she took 5 miles bike rides alongside her dad on her pink Huffy bike with training wheels while he rolled alongside her on a giant 29er.
By the age of 4, she had hiked two miles and 2000 vertical feet up Mount Elden on more than one occasion. After tagging along on one of their daddy-daughter hikes (or more like mountain-goat runs), I was kindly told my by preschooler that I wasn’t allowed to come next time because it “slows down me and daddy.” Point taken.
At such a young age, our daughter has already been a part of so many incredible experiences that could have only been presented to her by someone as dedicated and active as her father. She may one day tire of the hours-long runs, or bemoan the fact that her dad will ask her to accompany him on a 50 mile bike ride. She might even develop a fleeting rebellion against all things athletic, but I am certain that she will be instilled with an irrevocable passion for following her dreams, whatever they may be.
It is one thing to write fanciful memes about pursuing dreams on your walls, but if the words aren’t backed by actions, they will remain lifeless script. The best way to teach a child to chase their dreams is to let them be a part of chasing your own.
There is something intrinsically motivating about watching a parent defy physical limitations, push through grueling hard work and accomplish unfathomable feats of human fitness. Giving a child the opportunity to see the people they admire the most do difficult things in the name of passion, dedication and determination is the greatest gift. Not only will they be privy to participate in amazing outdoor adventures and develop an intrinsic closeness to nature, they will (more importantly) learn firsthand what it truly means to do what you love, no matter how taxing, tiring or difficult.
Being the child of an endurance athlete is arguably stranger than being the wife of one. Our children will probably eat the occasional caffeinated Powergel, or be teased that their dad is seen habitually shirtless wearing booty shorts around town. They may develop a somewhat distorted view on fitness (i.e. “Oh cool, your dad just jogged 5 miles? Well my dad swam 2.4, biked 112 and ran a full marathon. So yeah…”) But what I am almost certain of, is that they will never lack a motivator for self-determination. And in all honesty, I would trade Saturday morning family pancakes every week for the rest of my children’s life for them to have a role model such as their endurance athlete father. Plus, the pancakes taste way better after a 24 miles push in the stroller.