The Unexpected

It is April in Colorado and sticky wet snow is falling. Yesterday it was 70 degrees, so the snow will melt on the warm ground. But this is what this place is like in the spring, unpredictable, though the weather people try, the same way we all try to control our worlds, with limited success. This morning, on the way to Washington Park, a few trees had popped their white and pink blossoms reminding me of the signs of renewal that spring brings. But they might freeze. The intense yellow green of new spring leaves on a smattering of dark limbs contrasts with the thick gray sky more characteristic of a winter day. Yesterday’s sky was endless blue, the spring sky of revival. Tomorrow, more snow is predicted.

Often, life doesn’t turn out the way we hope it will. Marriages fail. Oil and gas developers drill for oil on spectacular landscapes and in the mating places of birds that are near extinction. Lilacs freeze. Most of the time we feel powerless. Life takes its course, and we go along for the ride.

I wanted to be an athlete. I am an athlete, but I could never have made a living being an athlete. I grew up in Utah in the ‘50s when girls were not athletes. Nevertheless, I was, but not a serious athlete. I had to be something else, preferably a wife and a mother, my society told me. So I became a wife and a mother, an athletic wife and mother. Of course lots of people want to be professional athletes who can’t be. It’s not just girls growing up in Utah. But that door closed early for me, essentially at birth. Or at least that’s the way it felt to me. But now that I think more carefully about it, that’s not quite right. My best friend from high school became a professional tennis player and was a very successful owner of a women’s tennis tournament. So my story is more complicated than simple gender. But what do I do with that story, the disappointment, the feeling that something as out of my control as the weather determined the outcome? I can’t tell you. I suppose the obvious advice would be to “get over it,” to move on, or to fight back in other ways, to overcome the gender-typing in some other way.

And so I battle on, working to overcome the stereotypes that might have limited my path. I became a dinner cook in a kitchen where the chef had banned women. I earned a Ph.D. in economics, a tragically mathematical discipline in today’s academy, the only woman in my class. I worked in the investment business becoming a partner at a highly respected registered investment advisor, the only women on the research team. And I was the first woman to earn tenure at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs College of Business.

But the value of all these the professional accomplishments is beginning to fade. I played a mental game. I worked long hours. I published in academic journals. There was a lot of striving to succeed in male-dominated roles. And I was lucky. My momma taught me gumption, and she had some excellent genes that she passed on. But I still want to be an athlete, though now time rather than social conventions is the barrier. I have been doing triathlons, short ones, off and on for years. It’s enough to make me feel like an athlete. But this year I was thinking even a sprint tri might be too much. I have been swimming and biking, but I haven’t been able to run for months – my left knee just hasn’t wanted to. Now, physical limitations come on unexpectedly like the snow in spring.

The sports medicine doc wants to try surgery – scope my knee to see if that helps. It’s tempting. But is it worth it to undergo surgery when I can still walk, lately without pain, and swim and ride my bike and even ski? How do I decide what kinds of risks I am willing to take to perhaps get the results I want? Am I too greedy? All these questions spiral around in my brain. Then the day comes, after two sessions of active release therapy and some acupuncture, when I can run again, not far, and not fast. But I am running. It’s wonderful. The endorphins crank up again, and I am feeling like an athlete. A lean young woman runs by, gliding just above the path, defying gravity with that effortless beauty of youth and training. At first I am envious. But then I am just grateful to be jogging and to witness the magic of the female form in action.

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