T-minus one month until the start of the Transcon

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This morning I woke up in the back of my small travel van at a rest area somewhere in Texas about five hours north of Austin. I’m en route from my home in Denver to Austin to run the Austin Marathon, throw a post-race party with NadaMoo at Cheer Up Charlie’s, and retrieve the van that will end up towing my crew’s pull-behind camper for the Transcon. For the 2.5 months that it will take me to run from Los Angeles to New York City, this camper will act as our home away from home.

As I woke today, my first thought was that I was exactly one month away from starting this big run. The next thing that entered my mind was the song “Bad to the Bone” by George Thorogood. If this is a sign of what awaits me on the road, things are looking up. I very vividly remember listening to this song as a child in my mom’s white 1989 Transam Firebird, long before I was even able to see over the dashboard. I was sure that my mother and I were bad to the bone. 

This memory sent me down a nostalgic path contemplating how I ever arrived at this juncture in my life in the first place. I thought about what it was that possessed me to even dream about running across the U.S. I wasn’t thinking about it in such a literal sense, though. In my last blog post, I already told a story about my development into becoming a runner. I was reflecting from a much more fundamental perspective. Who in my life instilled in me the confidence and/or insanity to think it was a good idea or even possible to set my sights on something so extreme?

For now, I’ll explore my early influences: the people who provided me with the foundation of how I became me.

When I was 2.5 years old, my father drowned in a boating accident on Lake Lanier outside of Atlanta, Georgia, leaving my mother to raise me alone. I can only imagine the pain and suffering that all those around me must have felt around this tragedy. I was so young. Young enough that I barely remember it except for the sadness felt by those around me. What I do remember is the family members that came forward to fill the void left by my father’s absence. The pillars of my childhood, the most impactful figures of my youth, were my mother and my two grandfathers. 

My mom was always there and did everything she could to make sure I didn’t go without. I owe everything to her and can only imagine how scary and daunting it must have been to feel the weight of not only being my mother but also now having to fill the shoes of a father. I could go on for days about all the ways she put me first and taught me the ways of the world, but for sake of this story, I’ll just focus on one saying she used to recite to me often, “You can do anything you set your mind to.” She repeated this phrase all the time. It was empowering in its simplicity, and it has stuck with me always.

My dad’s dad (Papa) and my dad’s mom (we called her... Grandmother) owned a farm in the foothills of the North Georgia Mountains. Many times, Papa would pick me up from school on Fridays and take me up to their farm to stay for the weekend. As we departed on the 1.5-hour drive to the farm, we always stopped by the liquor store. He would run inside and come back with a bottle of Wild Turkey Whiskey in a brown paper bag. I remember asking, “Papa, what’s that for?” and he’d reply, “In case I get bit by a snake.” For years I was convinced that the pastures surrounding their house were full of snakes.

On these weekends he would often take me and my cousin fishing at the pond on their property. Sometimes he would just drive us around to help him check on the cattle, or maybe we’d help him tend the garden. I remember these times very fondly and knew without a doubt that we were loved. He would often cut up with us, pinching me on the stomach. I’d squirm, and he’d ask, “Are you tough as nails?” I’d do my best to stop squirming and take the light pinch, because I wanted to prove to him that I was. I was tough as nails.

My mother’s father (Pa) couldn’t have been more different from Papa, but I loved and respected him equally. My mom’s whole family (Pa, Nana, and her siblings) lived in Texas, outside of Dallas. Though they were geographically far away from where we lived in Georgia, we saw them often. Sometimes they came to visit us in Georgia, and every year, my mother and I traveled to Texas for major holidays and for a portion of the summer.

Pa was a business man. He was well-traveled, good looking, and dapper as hell. Nana and Pa’s home felt like a scene from the hit show of the time Dallas. It was a split level suburban mansion with a billiards room, bar, swimming pool, and massive chain link fenced yard with horses. They drove a Cadillac and a hunter green Jaguar. Pa would often take me along on his business trips to West Texas and Mexican border towns. I would accompany him in meetings and it wasn’t long before I’d intervene to remind him about a detail or point that he had missed.

He was a man of confidence, never short on humor, and was always the life of the party. He enjoyed Johnny Walker Red and was a big fan of old westerns, especially anything starring Clint Eastwood. From these movies of Texas gun slingers he derived a saying, “If you’re going to shoot, shoot.” He of course never meant this literally, but rather with the intention of teaching me that if I wanted to do something, I shouldn’t waste my time talking about it. Instead, do it. As with the other two sayings passed down to me I took this to heart. 

You can do anything you set your mind to. You are tough as nails. If you’re going to shoot, shoot. These three sayings are at the core of who I try to be. They are the cornerstones of virtues I hold dear. 

I can do anything I set my mind to. I am capable of anything. I am tough as nails. I am strong enough. If I’m going to shoot, shoot. I will follow through.