The Case for Continuing Education: a story about running, and birthday socks

by | Sep 3, 2014 | Things I Think | 15 comments

At my high school in San Diego, you could see the ocean from the upstairs classrooms and if the surf was good, there were a lot of open desks in my math class after lunch. The coolest guys in school weren’t football players, they were on the water polo team. Water sports were the way to go. So, I went out for the swim team. I was always more bookish than sporty, but I surprised my coaches and myself by being pretty darn good at pre-season conditioning. This was going to be great. I was going to be awesome at swimming. Right up until the actual swimming part started. I. Was. Terrible.

Finally, after about a week of watching me flounder about in the pool, the swim coach called me in to his classroom. There were no cuts on the swim team. But, in a first for high school sports, I got traded. The swim coach told me I needed to report to the track coach, because that’s the sport I’d be doing now.

I was pretty mad. I only showed up for practice because I didn’t have a ride home until 3:30 anyway. But, the swim coach was right. I was a good runner. It was the first time I could remember being actually, noticeably good at something. Better than other people who were trying just as hard to do it.

Running became what I did and who I was. I was no longer, “That skinny girl, what’s her name?” NOW I was, “That skinny girl, what’s her name, who won the cross country meet.” (Which is about the level of notice I’m comfortable with anyway.) I got recruited by college programs, and went to USC to run track and cross country.

That was a whole new scene, of course, and against DI opponents, I was more of a mid-pack runner in cross country. I did have some success at the 400 hurdles, though. Mostly because no one else wants to run that race. But, by the end of my junior season, I had to let on that I’d been dealing with tightness and pain in my calves, and numbness in my feet, for most of the season. The team doctors sent me to an orthopedic surgeon, who diagnosed me with compartment syndrome, and I had two surgeries on my legs. That ended my collegiate running career and I watched the Olympic Trials from the couch, with bandaged legs (and a perm). Sad face. I consoled myself with the knowledge that if I had run my best time, I would have been Not Last.

I recovered from surgery, but it hadn’t worked. I still experienced the same tightness and numbness as before. I learned that Mary Decker Slaney, of fell-down-at-the-Olympics fame, had had that compartment release surgery eight times. I would have taken falling-down-at-the-Olympics, if it meant I could go to the Olympics, but I didn’t want to have six more surgeries, so that was it for my competitive running career.

I tried other ways of getting exercise, but nothing ever took. Running is the thing I can do, so I kept doing it. As long as I didn’t go too far or too fast, the compartment syndrome was manageable. But it’s something I’ve been dealing with for eighteen years.

Until today.

A couple of weeks ago, the husband and I saw a girl running in knee socks. I’d seen various knee-sock-running-girls before, but they often also have braids and sweatbands and vintage t-shirts, so I figured they were just wearing them ironically. But this time, I wondered aloud if keeping my calves warm would help at all.

if you want to know who’s winning, remember the stagger :0)
also, it’s me, on the right. I am.
Then I promptly forgot all about it. But the husband didn’t. And this weekend, when we went down to San Diego to visit my parents, he snuck out to our favorite running store. There, he discovered that those knee socks are actually fancy compression socks, designed for ailments like mine, and he bought me a pair as an early birthday present. While the little kids were napping, we went down to the boardwalk to try ’em out. And, I know it was just one run and I shouldn’t jump to conclusions . . . but these (ridiculously expensive) socks
instantly, magically solved the problem I’d been dealing with lo these many years.

I got to run farther and faster than I had in years, without dealing with discomfort or having to stop and stretch. I ran past a guy on a bike who said, “Hey! Slow down!” But I didn’t. It was amazing.

If it lasts, and I hope it does, I will be thrilled. But also mad that I gave up so easily on finding a solution to my problem. A solution as easy as A PAIR OF SOCKS
. Eighteen years ago someone told me I was stuck with this, and I just accepted it. If I had done more research, if I had kept up my subscription to Runner’s World, or followed running blogs, or asked at the running store . . . probably I would have learned about the existence of these socks years and years ago.

It makes me think of all the other things in my life that I just put up with. Like when my day fills up to the point that I don’t make time for prayer. Or when our week fills up to the point that we’re not spending time together as a family. Or when a school book that worked for one kid isn’t working for the next one. Or when the toddler isn’t sleeping or the brothers are constantly fighting.

Maybe I AM stuck with those things. Maybe. But PROBABLY, if I didn’t just resign myself to gutting through it, I could find a solution. If opened up to my husband or my mother or my sister or a spiritual director or a friend, I could get some advice. If I read a book or consulted a website or a blog, I could get some techniques. If I called my homeschool educational specialist or asked a more experienced mom at parkday, I could find a new strategy or a new way of looking at the problem.

Redemptive suffering is a beautiful thing, and pretty much every saint there is assures us that, if we can embrace it, our suffering in this life will fit us for the next. But give-up-i-ness is NOT a virtue. We can and should strive for perfection in our homes and in our spirits and in our bodies. Mostly we won’t reach that perfection, of course. But all things are possible with God. And sometimes it’s as easy as an offhand comment and some birthday socks.


  1. Cristina

    I too was traded to the track team in high school when my basketball coach had the misguided idea to make me play softball (which he also coached) only to realize he had made a huge mistake. I got the pull aside after practice and he told me that I wasn't being cut–there were no cuts–but he thought I'd be happier on the track team. Of course my running career was not nearly as successful or dramatic as yours. I did learn the life lesson that mediocre runners do not need to continue running on a sprained ankle because they are really not indispensable to the team nor are they proving anything to anyone except themselves which won't seem worth it when said ankle still has a tendency to swell up years later. I did love the 400 hurdles though–they always made me feel like I was flying 🙂

  2. Mary @ Better Than Eden

    "But give-up-i-ness is NOT a virtue. We can and should strive for perfection in our homes and in our spirits and in our bodies." YES! I love this story and where you went with it even though I hate running 🙂 Thank you for the motivation that we all need when it's so easy to let things slide (hello, zero accountability when you're a SAHM) or just give up. Also, I'm pretty sure you should start training again. You'd have a whole Catholic blogosphere cheering you on, if that makes a difference!

  3. Wendy Klik

    Yay….I am so glad the running socks work for you and that God has spoken to you (and to us through you) about perseverance in all aspects of our life. Thank you.

  4. Amanda

    I'm so glad you can run without pain! That's amazing! (I mean, one less thing to offer up…) Also, thanks for the great pictures.

    And some helpful commentary. That too 🙂

  5. Amelia Bentrup

    I'm so glad you found a running solution that is a simple as fancy socks!!

    I definitely agree that we should always be looking for solutions to our suffering or problems. Life is hard enough as it is and there are enough oportunities to practice grace through suffering without neglecting to find solutions to problems which COULD be solved.

  6. Tammy Hahn

    I am so glad you found something that works. I pray I find something too. I hurt my hip at that same track at USC 19 years ago, just running for exercise not even close to awesome enough to be on a team. Could barely walk the rest of that school year. Thing still slows me way down.

  7. Elizabeth

    I also was a competitive high school runner, running year round in cross country, indoor and outdoor track. I was also the "injury queen". We spent years treating and consulting. We finally figured out that I was fine as long as I stayed under 50 miles a week in training. All that time of ups and downs and ups and downs, and I could have avoided most of the downs if we had just kept my training schedule to under 50 miles a week instead of trying to cram me into the team schedule, which was often between 75 and 100 miles a week for long distance runners. So we found my solution, but I never got to fully shine. I was burnt out of running and went on to do other outdoor sports, like white water kayaking, in college. At least I *know* we saw running to its end and found our answers, I guess.

    I just had a similar give-up-i-ness experience the other day. For years, we have been living with water stains on our couch, because "we have little kids" and that stuff happens even when you don't allow food in the living room. We tried to get the stains out, but they seemed permanent. When my husband mentioned getting a new couch, I did a quick Google search, found a vinegar/water solution for water marks, used it on our couch…and now it's as good as new. Years of unsightly stains gone in minutes. Wish I had googled it a few years ago.

    • Kendra

      That's great! We have been trying to do some maintenance stuff around the house like re painting the trim and patching holes, it seemed like we only ever did stuff like that to prepare for a move, so we never got to enjoy it ourselves!

  8. Kris

    Here in Georgia, running sports are the big thing and water sports, not so much. Except year-round swimming – there is a good bit of that. However, some intrepid souls have been working on getting water polo going here and we're up to 31 teams. In the entire state. But both my older boys play and they LOVE it. They eat and breathe water polo. My oldest son is now playing college. Love it!

  9. Kendra

    Al Gore hadn't invented the internet (or at least he said he did) at that time so there was no blogging at that time. All you had was the running store down in Mission Beach with no place to park and the "running doc" chiropractor after the ortho surgery didn't solve the problem. You failed to mention your nickname at USC given you by the ladies on the sprint team which includes the 400 hurdles….Beau'quicha. These girls all had punctuation in their names and la or da before. They were terrific gals but cheering them on was an exercise in vocabulary. We considered you a champ! We have your TV appearance from the Pac-10 championships in the 400 H on tape.

    • Kendra

      Thanks Mom! (Hey, looks like I forgot to log out of blogger at your house!)

  10. Katie

    I LOVE compression socks!! I never thought I would like to run in them, but if I run anything over 10 miles, they are a must! So glad they are helping you.

  11. Kate

    There's also something to be said for God sending us these hurdles in life (pun intended) to help learn valuable lessons, or to bring about His will. I was an aspiring post-collegiate runner, trying to make it semi-professionally when I developed anemia. It took a long time to diagnose why I was so tired ALL. OF. THE TIME. By the time recovered, I had lost months of training. However, during the down time, I met the man who would become my husband. I was able to spend time (even date nights!) with him because I wasn't training. We got to know each other, fell in love, married, had kids 🙂

    Who knows – maybe if you hadn't gotten injured, you'd be a famous Olympian with your own Wheaties box, but you wouldn't have had the joys of your husband and children. Glad you found the compression socks. Happy Running!

  12. Stefanie

    Compression socks are so great! I started using them when I was pregnant and flying (per my doc's advice) but now they have crossed over into my running life too. Good luck!

  13. teresa

    La Jolla High!? My old rival! I ran track and x-country for UC from '93-'96. I'm guessing by the socks and hairstyles that you were a few years ahead of me, but maybe we overlapped a year or two and raced against each other.

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