Original Jogger

February 11, 2011

On the importance of the individual spirit

Just for fun, I used to tell my kids that I was the original jogger. It wasn’t until later that I realized it might be true, and it wasn’t until now that I realized there was something to learn from my silly jogging story.

What you do matters. It can even change the world. By now, we’ve all seen Mahatma Gandhi’s quote “Be the change you want to see in the world.” This little story shows the truth of his message:

The basketball bounced off my head when I briefly entered a game during my sophomore year in high school. Not allowed to be a quitter, it wasn’t until my junior year that I blessedly ended my abysmal participation in the sport. A passable field hockey player and swimmer, winter became my fallow season as far as exercise was concerned, and it wasn’t long before I noticed my weight starting to creep up.

So several days a week I began running laps around the circle of streets in my neighborhood, gradually increasing my distance to a mile, and then to two very slow miles. My mother told me the neighbors commented to her about seeing me in my solitary pursuit, because in the winter of ’70-’71 I had the pavement all to myself. I was serious enough about my endeavor that I bought myself some running shoes, the original Adidas Gazelles, track shoes with very flat soles because they were designed to be light weight, the only running shoes available at the time.

Indeed, when I continued my running around campus in college, people often suggested that I join the track team, because those were the only runners back in those days. In college I remember one girl friend who, like me, ran on her own; over the years a trickle of others started kicking up their heels.

In 1977, a year after I graduated from college, I was joined on an elementary school track near my apartment in Atlanta by several other joggers, all of them wearing some strange-looking shoes–the first wide-heeled waffle trainers! Jogging as a national fitness craze had been born. By then I had been running for 6 or 7 years.

Do I really think I was the original jogger?” Of course not. Did I unknowingly play a role in bringing about jogging as a popular activity in America? While waffle trainer inventor and Nike founder Bill Bowerman is widely considered the primary apostle of American jogging, early joggers like me played a role too by bearing witness to the sport on the streets and country roads around America. Who knows who I might have inspired to tie on a pair of sneaks and hit the road? As Olympic runner Jeff Galloway said about the running revolution in his 1984 Galloway’s Book on Running, “it seemed to be a natural evolution.” My early jogs were part of “the spirit of the times” that Galloway says were “reflected and magnified” by Bowerman and others like him, catalyzing a fitness running phenomenon that continues to this day

I want to point out that my original jogging was my own idea, drawing on my own sports training experience to respond to my own weight gain. Why does that matter? Because the creativity of our individual spirits is a divine spark waiting to be ignited within each of us so that God’s evolutionary  plan can unfold. Each one of us is responsible for helping to light the world with personal action that sets our own individual souls on fire.

Most of us aren’t going to set the world on fire. But it pleases me that I was part of the cultural evolution that brought an important healthy activity into the mainstream of American life at a time that was ripe for just such a change.

South African activist Desmond Tutu spoke at my son’s college graduation a couple of years ago. His exhortation to the graduating class still resonates in my ears. “Help me, help me,” he repeatedly chanted in a child-like voice during his speech. This, he said, is what God needs for each of us to do, “Help me!”

How does evolution happen? One creature, one person at a time. We all matter. How simply divine.

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