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(c) 2010 Christiana Lambert

(c) 2010 Christiana Lambert

Many years have passed—over thirty-five in fact—since I was the only female of any age running in a small town race that led onto gravel roads hushed by the cornfields growing along the sides. Several years earlier our family had moved from this community where pre-Title IX women did compete in track and volleyball—if nothing else, few were surprised that farmers’ young daughters had the strength to participate in sports during school years. Still, neither school girls nor older farm women joined me in that particular hot, dusty 10K held in the early years of Title IX participation.

Most of the race volunteers were male, but I do remember the encouragement I received from Marie as I made one of the turns. She might have been a young mother in the community by then, but to me she was a fierce volleyball player and one of the top hurdlers at a very competitive state track meet some years back.

Other than Marie, I only remember one other volunteer—the one who wanted me to jump in what can only be called a “sag wagon” because I was a good ten-fifteen minutes behind the last (male) finisher. It took my heat-addled brain a little more than a minute to realize I was dealing with sexism—I wasn’t excessively slow, I just wasn’t fast enough to keep up with the men in the race. That last mile was killer, but I got to the finish line on my own.

I personally lacked for older female role models, despite seeing many young girls and women out running distances. I was proud that my mom had enjoyed intramural sports during college and had competed in track in high school—using the skills she swore she gained by hurdling barbed wire fences with a (stolen) watermelon under arm. But she, like all the other mothers I knew, was now sedentary and overweight.

Not so when I arrived in Denver over six years later. A couple of “mature” women interning at my work place—think forty years old—introduced me to the Columbine Classic race, a women’s event in those days. It took me a few more years to get up the nerve to check out the Colorado Columbines, but once I did I was hooked. As a twenty-something, at first I was often one of the youngest women in the group. These women were old enough to be my mother, babysitters, and/or big sisters, yet they were often quite a bit stronger—and faster—than I was. They showed me that running was not just for the young.

I’ll never forget Alice Bagley, a woman in her 70s when I joined. My favorite “Alice”quote from just a few years before she died is this: Why do people always give me gifts of writing papers? All my old friends are dead. Why don’t they instead give me something practical, like running tights? Here’s a woman whose friends were old enough that many were dying and she wanted running tights? Now that’s living.

I’ve been gone from the Columbines off and on over the years due to health concerns, family obligations, and my own aging injuries, but I would rather be a woman who needs running clothes in my later years than one who has stopped moving. And that’s why I’ve been doing my physical therapy exercises religiously and modifying other habits to get back to running and to the Columbines.

Today, after a two and a half year absence, I made it back. Seeing faces again that I’ve seen from time to time for over a quarter of a century tells me I’m back on the right track. Here’s to women who knew we didn’t need to run alone anymore—whether while young or old. Long may my mentors run. Long may those of us run who have grown into “mentor” age—and long may those fresh-faced twenty-somethings run.

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