Why was I, a 57-year-old man, five months removed from two heart stents, climbing over Marine Corps-style obstacles, crawling through mud, clambering through sewer pipes, sliding down a fireman’s pole, climbing up cargo netting 25 feet in the air, over a six mile long running course?
The answer became clear to me about three quarters of the way in. At that point, our team of largely 20-somethings had gone on ahead. Kevin, my 50-something brother-in-law was with me, along with Drew, my 23-year-old son, and Jim, the boyfriend of Kevin’s daughter, also about 23.
The young boys had stayed behind to make sure the old boys were okay. For much of the course we ran together, chatted and laughed, and enjoyed the beautiful weather as we rounded each bend and discovered what challenge the course would present to us next.
We came to an obstacle consisting of a parallel row of swinging devices. You jump onto the deck of the swing, and you can then make it swing higher and faster, but at some point you need to jump out, and into a large mud puddle, where you sink below the surface.
We all did that, and all came up sputtering and laughing. At the far end, we climbed up the muddy embankment and out of the puddle. And Drew turned to Jim and said, “That was great! Let’s do it again.” And so they went back, got in line, and did the same swing and jump again, this time swinging higher and jumping farther. And still coming up laughing.
Kevin and I stood aside to watch them do it again. We were about 4 miles in, soaked and covered in mud. I had a small cut on my palm from an earlier obstacle – and am on blood thinners so bleed like a stuck pig when cut. But the mud bath had stopped the bleeding.
We would not really feel the scratches, scrapes, aches and bruises till later. We watched our boys having fun. As far as we could see, on a beautiful day, people were running through these open fields, running, climbing, crawling and swinging their way through the course. Encouraging each other. Working as a team. Laughing and joking.
Drew’s statement, “Let’s do it again," immediately brought to mind an earlier time in life. We were kayaking the Perkiomen creek in an August drought when he was about 12. We came downstream to a dam. Climbed on it, threw our kayaks over it, and then jumped off ourselves into the dam pool below. Our life jackets brought us up to the surface, sputtering and laughing. And the 12-year-old Drew said “Let’s do it again!” And so we did. We beached our kayaks, climbed up the small stone dam, and jumped in. Again and again.
When he came out from the Mud Ruckus mudhole, I said to him, “Do you remember saying, “Let’s do it again” before? He knew immediately: “The dam on the Perkiomen!” We both laughed. We both have the memory of that time. And why do we both remember that moment in time?
We ran on, and I thought about the question a bit. At the last obstacle before the finish line, the rest of our team waited for us so that we could all do it together. Kevin’s daughter, my 15-year-old nephew, several other young friends.
We climbed up a muddy hill, sat in a row side by side, and when everyone was in place, we held hands and slid down the slippery tarp covering the hill and plunged into another mud puddle. And once again came up sputtering and laughing.
We climbed out and then ran on to and through the finish line, about 90 minutes after we had started. We didn’t win anything. We weren’t racing. We had raised over $1,000 for a worthy cause, MS (Multiple Sclerosis). Our loved ones were there to greet us and congratulate us. We showered off and then sat in the sun and ate barbecue, drank beer, listened to live music, and chatted with each other. People drifted off, and by the end, it was just my son and I, savoring the events of the day, each lost in our thoughts.
So why was I there? I find joy in participating in life, much more so than watching. I would rather play a game than watch one, even if the players do it better than me. I would rather play music than watch others do it, even though they do it better than me. That’s my nature.
The aging process weeds out many.
Some put their bikes away as a teen and never get on them again. Some stop running when their knees give out. Some stop playing when they go to Little League or youth soccer and begin watching the children do it. But I am not ready to quit all of that. Not yet.
I make concessions to age. I don’t run as long, or as fast or as frequently. But I still run. I hike, bike, swim, paddle, ski. I have had some of the most memorable moments in my life at the end of a play event. Crossing the finish line at the New York Marathon. Completing the MS 150 mile bike ride. Hiking in from the north rim of the Grand Canyon and then hiking out the South Rim. Biking the White Rim Canyon in Utah, and camping for three days – and seeing for the first time what the night sky truly looks like when there is no civilization to diminish it. Cross country skiing in gorgeous New Hampshire this past winter, 10 days after having my heart procedure. And sharing memories with my son, like the time when he came sputtering to the surface with his big smile and said, “Let’s do that again.”
There is joy in life, and it is available to all of us, free of charge. We don’t outgrow our capacity to enjoy play in some form. And there are opportunities for each of us to make memories that will last us a lifetime, if we are so inclined. But we each are responsible for finding our own joy, and making our own memories. We can’t sit at home and hope they will knock at our door. We must go out and seek them.
And on this sunny Saturday in Newtown Square, running through a muddy obstacle course with family and friends, I went searching for it, I found it, and in the process I made some wonderful memories. That’s a good enough reason for me.
Let’s do it again!