It was a week after “Boston,” and a sweet, simple email appeared unsolicited from him, reminding us that we are all loved and appreciated. It sparked the flame the lit the fuse.
The replies flew into my inbox, fast and furious with grand plans and a great idea. Naturally, the idea of a reunion was nearly instantaneous. A physical reunion presented more obstacles than solution; by its very nature it would not be all inclusive. Then her email came, and I paused a moment when she said “Maybe what we need to do is pick a theme and all blog about it on the same day. That would be a reunion of sorts, non?”
It would, I thought. And it would be so much more than just a reunion. It would be a homecoming too.
Then he said “I think each of us posting something about the impact of community on our lives would be a good theme. I say let’s pick the completely arbitrary date of June 21st to all post something.”
Community. A word that was instantly observable without need for coordination, evident in the moments after the first explosion. A word that I found myself pondering, chewing on, whenever I was alone with my thoughts in those first few weeks after Boston. A word that popped into my head when I found myself on a group ride with stronger riders who were willing to take me under their wings and help me find my legs. A word that showed its strength when I was surrounded by swimmer-friends in the lanes to the left and right of me, urging me on when I was breathless and red-faced, taking on a new challenge. A word that I embrace on a weekly basis, when my running partner – whom I met through our cycling club – shows up at on my door step at 6:30 a.m. for our 6-8 mile therapy sessions.
Of course, this word is not new to athlete-me. The idea of community first revealed itself to me when I became a runner with a blog back in 2004. Adult-onset athleticism had set in…I started running…then I wanted to learn more about it. I stumbled across the whole blogging phenomenon and became part of something amazing. At first, the idea of a community that existed virtually but not physically – despite the very physical nature of the shared interest – seemed odd. But then, it didn’t. And then, we started to meet in person. Before I knew it, the support of my running blog family had shaped me into a confident athlete. I had found a place where I belonged.
Within these athletic communities – virtual or physical – we are drawn together by a similar interest and become bound by a shared passion, seemingly homogeneous. The diversity among the members on the surface seems lacking, but scratch the surface just a little and the depths are quickly revealed. The political views are as varied as the nutrition/hydration choices; religious views differ as much as the choice in footwear. Demographically, our profile is not as predictable as marketing experts would hope. Despite our different backgrounds, there’s an unspoken pact of mutual respect. (This continues to fascinate me.)
This community exists outside of the formal groups, away from the running and cycling clubs, and miles away from the community center pool. On race day, there’s this inherent sense of camaraderie between participants. Being surrounded by other people who Get It, who truly understand the willingness to suffer (on purpose), who respect the distance, who offer unsolicited but always needed encouragement. Even at races where I have not known a single person when I arrive at the site, by the start of the race I have been offered an extra Gu, warned of The Hill, and been given a wetsuit wedgie by a stranger. Instant membership has its privileges.
This athletic community “cross trains” – seeing a running friend in the grocery store, a cyclist friend (or two) at the local brew pub, meeting a blogger friend in-person at a race. The happy double-honk of a car horn when an athlete-friend drives by us on our weekly Wednesday run. Admittedly, it sometimes takes me a moment to recognize my friends out of context while dressed in their normal, non-spandex, non-dri fit clothes (this is the only time when I understand how Clark Kent got away with his lame disguise). But once I do, I have that sense of what a “home town” feels like. I suddenly feel like I belong exactly where I am.