The Case for Continuing Education: a story about running, and birthday socks

At my high school in San Diego, you could see the ocean from the upstairs classrooms and if the surf was good, there were a lot of open desks in my math class after lunch. The coolest guys in school weren't football players, they were on the water polo team. Water sports were the way to go. So, I went out for the swim team. I was always more bookish than sporty, but I surprised my coaches and myself by being pretty darn good at pre-season conditioning. This was going to be great. I was going to be awesome at swimming. Right up until the actual swimming part started. I. Was. Terrible.

Finally, after about a week of watching me flounder about in the pool, the swim coach called me in to his classroom. There were no cuts on the swim team. But, in a first for high school sports, I got traded. The swim coach told me I needed to report to the track coach, because that's the sport I'd be doing now.

I was pretty mad. I only showed up for practice because I didn't have a ride home until 3:30 anyway. But, the swim coach was right. I was a good runner. It was the first time I could remember being actually, noticeably good at something. Better than other people who were trying just as hard to do it.

Running became what I did and who I was. I was no longer, "That skinny girl, what's her name?" NOW I was, "That skinny girl, what's her name, who won the cross country meet." (Which is about the level of notice I'm comfortable with anyway.) I got recruited by college programs, and went to USC to run track and cross country.

That was a whole new scene, of course, and against DI opponents, I was more of a mid-pack runner in cross country. I did have some success at the 400 hurdles, though. Mostly because no one else wants to run that race. But, by the end of my junior season, I had to let on that I'd been dealing with tightness and pain in my calves, and numbness in my feet, for most of the season. The team doctors sent me to an orthopedic surgeon, who diagnosed me with compartment syndrome, and I had two surgeries on my legs. That ended my collegiate running career and I watched the Olympic Trials from the couch, with bandaged legs (and a perm). Sad face. I consoled myself with the knowledge that if I had run my best time, I would have been Not Last.

I recovered from surgery, but it hadn't worked. I still experienced the same tightness and numbness as before. I learned that Mary Decker Slaney, of fell-down-at-the-Olympics fame, had had that compartment release surgery eight times. I would have taken falling-down-at-the-Olympics, if it meant I could go to the Olympics, but I didn't want to have six more surgeries, so that was it for my competitive running career.

I tried other ways of getting exercise, but nothing ever took. Running is the thing I can do, so I kept doing it. As long as I didn't go too far or too fast, the compartment syndrome was manageable. But it's something I've been dealing with for eighteen years.

Until today.

A couple of weeks ago, the husband and I saw a girl running in knee socks. I'd seen various knee-sock-running-girls before, but they often also have braids and sweatbands and vintage t-shirts, so I figured they were just wearing them ironically. But this time, I wondered aloud if keeping my calves warm would help at all.

if you want to know who's winning, remember the stagger :0)
also, it's me, on the right. I am.
Then I promptly forgot all about it. But the husband didn't. And this weekend, when we went down to San Diego to visit my parents, he snuck out to our favorite running store. There, he discovered that those knee socks are actually fancy compression socks, designed for ailments like mine, and he bought me a pair as an early birthday present. While the little kids were napping, we went down to the boardwalk to try 'em out. And, I know it was just one run and I shouldn't jump to conclusions . . . but these (ridiculously expensive) socks instantly, magically solved the problem I'd been dealing with lo these many years.

I got to run farther and faster than I had in years, without dealing with discomfort or having to stop and stretch. I ran past a guy on a bike who said, "Hey! Slow down!" But I didn't. It was amazing.

If it lasts, and I hope it does, I will be thrilled. But also mad that I gave up so easily on finding a solution to my problem. A solution as easy as A PAIR OF SOCKS . Eighteen years ago someone told me I was stuck with this, and I just accepted it. If I had done more research, if I had kept up my subscription to Runner's World, or followed running blogs, or asked at the running store . . . probably I would have learned about the existence of these socks years and years ago.

It makes me think of all the other things in my life that I just put up with. Like when my day fills up to the point that I don't make time for prayer. Or when our week fills up to the point that we're not spending time together as a family. Or when a school book that worked for one kid isn't working for the next one. Or when the toddler isn't sleeping or the brothers are constantly fighting.

Maybe I AM stuck with those things. Maybe. But PROBABLY, if I didn't just resign myself to gutting through it, I could find a solution. If opened up to my husband or my mother or my sister or a spiritual director or a friend, I could get some advice. If I read a book or consulted a website or a blog, I could get some techniques. If I called my homeschool educational specialist or asked a more experienced mom at parkday, I could find a new strategy or a new way of looking at the problem.

Redemptive suffering is a beautiful thing, and pretty much every saint there is assures us that, if we can embrace it, our suffering in this life will fit us for the next. But give-up-i-ness is NOT a virtue. We can and should strive for perfection in our homes and in our spirits and in our bodies. Mostly we won't reach that perfection, of course. But all things are possible with God. And sometimes it's as easy as an offhand comment and some birthday socks.