I started reading Kathrine Switzer’s Marathon Woman, one of several books about running I ordered not too long ago. I’m only up to the section on her childhood, and I’m enjoying it so far. I love how she got into running: as a teenager, she told her parents she wanted to try out for the cheerleading squad, which she only wanted to join for the popularity aspect. Her father encouraged her to try out for field hockey instead, telling her it was better to be in the game than on the sidelines. He told her if she ran a mile a day until tryouts, she’d be guaranteed to make the team.
So Kathrine took that as a challenge, and started running around the perimeter of her backyard every day, seven times around for a mile. She got better and better and, months later, made the team easily. But she had already fallen in love with running.
She mentioned doing a 600 yard race as a kid, and it reminded me of the 600 yard dash I used to do in elementary school gym class. I know I’ve written about this before because it was so pivotal, so forgive me if this is old news.
I was super competitive and always wanted to be the first girl to finish. Sometimes I was, sometimes I wasn’t. But what I really wanted was to beat the boys. I never beat all of them – there were always a handful who were faster than me – but I loved trying, and I got such a rush out of beating all the other boys. I don’t know why. Maybe growing up in a family of all girls made me think of boys as an alien “other,” and the only way to truly feel a sense of power over the unknown was to best them. Or maybe I just liked winning. Either way, it’s the first time I can remember not only liking running, but realizing I might actually be good at it.
So with that on my mind this morning, I decided to take a little detour on my 6 mile run and go past my old elementary school. I think I’ve only run past it once or twice since moving back to Northport – it’s not all that much out of the way, just not along any of my usual routes. It still looks the same, except for the nice updated signage surrounded by a protective moat of rocks.
My mom was a student here too, after her family moved to Northport from Manhattan in the 50s. She spent the first 8 years of her life running around the neighborhood currently known as Kips Bay before her artist parents decided they wanted more space and what I can only assume was a cheaper way of life. I’m not exactly sure what made them choose Northport, Long Island, as their new place to call home, but I’m glad they did.
Here’s where we used to run the 600 yard dash. We started where the trees are on the left, running diagonally across the field, around the backstop in the far corner, then back along the straightaway on the right, making a right around the backstop in the foreground, and back to the starting line.
I don’t know if gym class students still run this route, but I do know that my nephews play soccer on this field now. There were some dudes playing soccer on it today. They are tiny in this photo.
I was never a star athlete in school – music was more my jam, especially by high school – but I was a pretty active kid, always playing kickball or running bases or SPUD with the other neighborhood kids, riding my bike everywhere (no helmets back then because 80s kids were tough), or tossing a ball around with my dad. One of my favorite weekend activities was when my dad took me and my sisters to an empty field and he’d kick a ball as high as he could and we’d try to catch it. Come to think of it, a lot of my childhood memories involve being outside. In the summer, I always had dirty feet.
Anyway, these are the types of thoughts that go through my head when I encounter a relic from my youth. Can buildings be relics? Sure, why not.
I still have that competitive streak in me, only now, I’m competing against myself more than anyone else – unless it’s a smaller race and I think I have a good shot at winning an age group medal, then every woman aged 40-44 better get the HELL OUT OF MY WAY.
I do think my love of running all started on this field, competing in the 600 yard dash, and realizing that I was fast, I was strong, and knowing without a doubt that I could do anything I set my mind to.