Monday, May 9, 2011

He's the Bee's Knees

It’s less than three weeks until the Ottawa Marathon and I am low on both time and confidence; a potentially toxic mix of ingredients. An unexpected combination of illness, family emergencies and work commitments have put me behind in my scheduled training regiment and the ugly monster of self-doubt is raising its ugly head. I am currently in pursuit of a healthy dose of confidence. Let the search begin.
I can’t help but remember when my daughter, Charity, was little, she was approached by a vendor at a fair, “Want to race a frog, young lady?”
She couldn’t stop laughing. She thought he was nuts. She didn’t answer him but turned to me and said, “He’s crazy, I could easily beat a frog in a race.”
Confident, true. Misinformed, absolutely. Not the kind of confidence I am seeking.
Then there was the night I had to go to the banking machine and my family drove me into town. After making my deposit, I walked out to the parking lot and tugged on the car door. It was locked. How dare thye! I shot an evil glance toward the driver’s seat at my family. Only, it wasn’t my family. A stranger had hijacked our car. How dare he! He, he…he was giving me the dirtiest look ever. What nerve! I turned in anger and outrage, facing the parking lot… and saw my family in another car laughing hysterically at me. I turned back to the car I was trying to break into, “I’m soooo sorry…” I waved apologetically at the man in the driver’s seat as I ran to our car, hopefully before he had finished dialling 911 on his cell phone.
Embarrassingly confident, not the type that will serve me well. Then there is the kind of fair-weather confidence my neighbour, Heather, told me about.

When Heather plans her running route, she makes sure that near the end, she runs uphill past Fire Station #4. This is done by design, because, she told me, that no matter how tired, achy or miserable she might feel, she perks up. Fire Station #4 is exactly what she needs to temporarily boost her confidence. Her posture is perfect, her stide is strong and her lips are always smiling for those 200 meters. She imagines all the fit and feisty fireman inside staring out the windows commenting, "Wow, look at that runner. See how strong and fit she is." Although a great temporary motivator, I don't think even the thought of Station #4 could carry me 42.2 kilometers.
No, what I need is good old fashioned, humble, I know my limitations and I know my aspirations, true-to-reality, hard-work incudced, self confidence. The type I always saw in Walter Low.
Walter Low was a Chinese man who was born in Guiana. Eventually, he and his wife, Stella, ended up living in Canada for a time and became very good friends with my parents. As long as I can remember, there was always a Mr. & Mrs. Low.
They were incongruous, like reading the map in a candy box, biting into what you think is caramel candy and getting cherry. On the outside they looked Asian, but when they spoke, it was with an almost west Indian lilt, unexpected but endearing.
I have a theory. I believe that interested people are the most interesting and Mr. Low was both. Growing up and even into my adulthood, he would always ask about my newest adventures, whether it was writing, teaching, business or even this blog. My dad told me a couple of months ago that Walter had called him from California where he now lived to tell my father he was reading The Moose Pyjama Chronicles and interested in my running. This was a perfect example of how he was always keenly interested…and interesting.
As a young adult, I remember mentioning that my favourite author was Chiam Potock, someone most adults in my circle had never heard of. Not only did he hear of him, he owned and read all his books too. Mr. Low had so many interests. I knew that he went camping, read, kayaked, canoed, hiked and cycled just to name a few. Then, while in his 60s he began to jog and discovered his deep passion for running.  
Now if people came with ingredient labels, warnings and statements like grocery store items, Walter Low would read “Low Fat” (no pun intended) on his forehead. In fact, he could make Olive Oil look like a Jenny Craig poster child. The most striking feature of his slender build was his legs. The straight and clean lines of his skinny architecture only emphasized the protruding orbs of his knees.  I’m sure his knees were not any larger than normal, just the skinny legs seemed to emphasize the point. And those twiggy legs took him running, confidently, at the age of 60 and beyond.
Not only did he run. He ran races in lots of places – Toronto, Buffalo and California. When his daughter Mary ran her first marathon, he joined his at mile 12 and ran with her for a while for moral support. He loved races that had categories over the 60 year group. He loved it so much, he kept racing into his 70s and even 80s. In fact, he won his age group in a couple of races. (Rumour has it he might have been the only one over 80 years old to complete the races, but that doesn’t diminish the honour any less in my opinion.)
Now that’s true confidence. The kind I aspire to. The kind that will carry me over the finish line in Ottawa, the kind of positive energy to dig deep and move forward, knobby knees or not. In his amazing example, how could anyone not regain their confidence and joie de vive?
Last month, Mr. Low passed away in his home in California at the age of 93. If he could start running at 60, run races at 70 and win his category at 80, I have no excuses. I will be thinking of Walter when I humbly but confidently attempt my first marathon at the end of this month.  His example showed others that the best training for any type of race or challenge isn’t the regiment, but in how you live your life. And, he lived it well.
In memorandum
Walter James Low
18 August 1917 - 14 April 2011


  1. Your daughter sounds cute, of course she could beat a frog! lol

  2. Hi Heather,
    Thank you for letting me know that Walter has passed away. I am sad to hear that. He was one of the people who got me started into running. We often trained together and also went to a number of races together, where he usually placed in the top three of his age group.
    I wish you well in your first marathon. Don't get stressed out about it. You will probably have to walk some, so what, the object of your first is just to finish. I have run about 10 marathons and was never able to run the whole distance, always had to walk some of the last few miles. I'm still racing shorter distances and in my first 5 Km. race as a 70 year old I came in first. Not many of ole boys still racing!
    Hope the weather is good and you have a great marathon.