Over the past six months or so, I’ve noticed something.
On my daily commute to work, I drive through a part of town that isn’t exactly what one would call wealthy. The local hospital is located firmly in the middle of this neighborhood filled with blue collar, hard-working types. The houses are all small, built in the 60′s and 70′s on lots barely two cars wide. Front lawns are strewn with old cars, children’s toys, deflated lawn ornaments, leaves that haven’t been raked in years.
Between the cheap, plentiful housing and the proximity to the hospital, it’s a place filled with those of low-incomes and poor health. A place where you can regularly see a heavily overweight woman riding her electric scooter the four blocks to her doctor appointment so she can get more cholesterol medicine and pills to help with her nausea.
My daily drive through has afforded me the opportunity to get to know the daily characters. There’s the guy that walks 5 dogs every morning, rain, sleet, snow, or hail. The kid that always skateboards home from school. The older heavyset black guy that sits on his front porch in a broken couch trying to sell bicycles to anybody who walks by. The couple that has two of the largest pugs known to man they walk in the afternoon.
But occasionally, I catch a glimpse of somebody else in the neighborhood. Somebody who clearly stands out. Somebody who I can’t help but notice.
The first person was a lady who looked to be in her late twenties. She was probably 50-70 lbs overweight, a rather rotund miss, who was sweating profusely as she attempted to jog down the sidewalk. Every step created a wince on her extremely red face. Every arm pump was one of extreme effort and discomfort.
She was also wearing short little booty shorts and a sports bra. Nothing else. Body fully on display.
Her face carried a look of extreme determination. She was GOING to do this. She clearly gave two shits what anybody thought of her. It was a nice day out, she was working up a serious sweat and, damnit, she didn’t feel like wearing a shirt or longer pants. She was NOT a runner.
She was awesome.
The second fellow of note was also spotted on my drive home. He was a gentleman who appeared to be in his late 50′s, easily probably 80 lbs. overweight. He wore sweatpants and tennis shoes that had probably been in his closet since 1989, a heavy winter coat, camouflage ball cap, and the thickest pair of work gloves he could find in his garage.
You see, it was 15 degrees outside on this particular day. The wind was gusting in the 30-40 mph range. The freshly laid sand on the road had a wicked habit of kicking up and sandblasting one in the face.
It was not fit for man nor beast outside.
This guy was much like the other girl. Bright red face, arms pumping. Trying his absolute best to maintain a steady pace, but failing with each 35 mph wind gust that hit him square in the chest. Each time, he’d put his head down and slowly work his way back up to his previous pace. His breath could’ve doubled as a smoke machine in a dance club, clouds pouring from his mouth. He was DEFINITELY not a runner.
He was determined.
He was awesome.
You see, in both cases, most people would tell them that they had zero business doing what they were doing. Too overweight, too ugly, too cold. Slow down, don’t you want to stay inside?
In both cases, they had clearly made up their minds, told the rest of world to kindly sod off, strapped on whatever gear they had, then went outside and put their money where their mouth was. They didn’t have $150 running shoes, sweat-wicking jackets and $200 heart rate monitor GPS watches. They didn’t need them.
They had the inner drive, that elusive bit of willpower to be summoned that said, “Get your fat lazy ass off the couch and go make yourself better.” They had heart, they had drive, they had determination.
And here’s the thing I noticed: Even in the brief seconds that I passed them on my drive, I immediately became immensely interested in the rest of their story. Why were they out running? Had they gotten a bit of bad news from their doctor? Had they just decided to make a life change? Was the lady trying to fit into a dress for her sister’s wedding? Did the guy want to be able to play with his grandchildren without getting tired?
Then something else occurred to me. Let’s be honest, nobody in the world gives two craps if you run a faster half-marathon. Nobody other than maybe your mother cares if you shave 10 minutes off your marathon time, if you can do 50 pull-ups, have 6-pack abs, or if you can sprint a 4.3 40-yard dash.
People care if you feel good about yourself in the clothes you wear. People care if you’re able to help them move into a new house without keeling over. People care if you can play a game of hide and seek with your grandkids.
I have no way of knowing if either person ever went for another run. I haven’t seen them since. Maybe they just ran that route one day, or maybe they got sore and went back to the safety of their homes, done with that whole “fitness” nonsense.
But even if they did, for that one day they were resolved. They were focused. They were going to get through it, cold weather and judgement of passing cars be damned.
For that, they are awesome.