It was your typical family vacation: lots of fighting between my sister and I in the backseat. Not enough snacks. Frequent bathroom stops. I learned I have an extreme fear of heights and propensity to motion sickness when driving in the mountains. My mom learned that "historic hotel" is code for "no air conditioning" (and we all suffered that night). My sister learned to stay away from her annoying little sister who throws up a lot. (Perhaps Kelly's future success in a career in nursing was born from my car sickness.) I don't know if my dad learned anything. Maybe next time, fly?
But it wasn't all bad. We saw some amazing sights, like Mount Rushmore and Old Faithful. We went on beautiful hikes and rode horses. We stopped at the world's oldest (largest?) pharmacy, Wall Drug, ate a lot of food, and took lots of fun family pictures.
One night in Wyoming, my parents signed us up for this chuck wagon supper. I was in that "I love horses" phase of little girlhood, the one where I just couldn't get enough of the animals. After we rode out out in the horse-drawn carriages, the staff started a fire to begin dinner while the rest of the group relaxed. They kept the horses a field away from where dinner was going to be served.
I remember going over to the horses with a large group of children. They let us pet them. They let us feed them hay. Then, to my incredible delight, the man in charge said we could sit on a horse as long as we had our parents' permission. Sit on one of these magnificent creatures? I didn't swear at the time, but hell yeah. I don't know why this was such a big deal to me, since we had spent half the vacation on horseback, but I was in. All I knew was that in my little 8-year old mind, I had to sit on that horse. And I had to be the first kid to do it.
So I took off across that field of tall grasses, my parents directly in sights. They were all sitting at picnic tables, probably no more than 100m away. I ran hard. I had a goal: to sit on that horse. Must. Get. Permission.
Then - boom. Totally wiped out. My foot gotten lodged in a prairie dog hole, concealed by the tall grasses. The surprise of hitting the Earth hard jolted me. That wasn't expected. I looked down - nothing was broken or bleeding. I was a bit dirty, but no matter. I took off again.
And wiped out immediately.
Another prairie dog hole.
Annoyed, I got up again. Now my hands were skinned. Whatever; my mom will clean them up.
I didn't see any kids behind me (I later learned they went around the field, not through it) so I kept going. And I kept falling. That stupid field was literally littered with holes every few steps. It wasn't just one prairie dog hole; it was an entire colony of them.
I have no idea how many times I fell or how many times I got up. Every time I fell, I got up in a hurry, convinced one of the other kids was going to beat me. By the time I got back to the picnic tables, bloodied, dazed and dirty, they broke into applause. I looked around, shocked, and realized they had been watching this chubby little kid with a terrible unflattering Dorothy Hamil haircut flounder through a prairie dog field for what felt like eternity. One man actually commentated on the whole thing, yelling out the crowd, "She's up! She's DOWN! But she's UP again!" There were whistles and cheers. I'm sure my parents were mortified (but amused).
Their applause wasn't meant to mock me, but it was their way of congratulating me for chosing the path less taken. For dealing with the unforeseen circumstances encountered along the way. For never giving up.
Or maybe, because it was just really hilarious watching a fat kid with a bad haircut fall down a lot.
In the end, I did get to ride the horse. I wasn't first, but I made it.
I think about this story occasionally when I'm out for a long run. I fall, I get up, I keep going. Isn't that what this is all about? I don't think my 8-year old self had any keys to unlocking the secrets of life, but I do think she possessed the tenaciousness, competitiveness, and just overall stubbornness that still help - and occasionally hurt - today.
I don't know what's going to happen this weekend, but I do know I'm going to give it my all. Maybe I'll fall. Or maybe I'll fly. I will get to the finish - regardless of the number of prairie dog holes out there. Just this time, with a much better haircut.
See you on Monday.