Twenty years ago I'd see 3 or 4 runners doing circuits and intervals around one of the city's large parks as I walked home from work. They were the nerdy sort of runners who never consider "active wear." There used to be a daughter with them, an intense stick on legs, but already showing the physique of a distance runner. The men adored her, always including her in the bunch, even though she was barely twelve. For her part, she was determined not to need accommodating, and ran with an intensity and passion which, I suspect, meant her Dad had to pace her down.
I've seen her grow up. Those men were soon running with a young woman who was the runner of the bunch. Occasionally I see her flowing way out along the linear park on her own.
A little while back, I saw her holding a sharp pace with her dad, around the same park. He's too old to keep up with her now, and was pacing her on a bike, relaying stats, as they circled the park with the same old intensity. She runs with the loose grace of the cheetah you see in the slow motion video of documentaries except, somehow, this cheetah has learned to become an ultra-marathoner.
They reminded me of another twelve year old I slowly overhauled up a long slope "in the middle of nowhere" in regional Queensland. She was running with an easy grace I had never managed. I matched her pace for a few metres and told her how impressed I was by her style. "I loved running," I said, "but I could never run like you do."
She glanced at me with a small "Thanks," and turned back to the road. She had the same intense focus as the other girl, and even at twelve, sadly, the same practised reserve that has had to learn to armour itself against us men.
Another kilometre and a half up the hill I found a woman parked in the dusk by the roadside . I asked if she was Mum to the lass behind. "She makes Cathy Freeman look awkward!" I said. Mum laughed, shaking her head at the same time, knowing the grace of her runner, but mystified by the passion. "It's the last long run before the regionals next weekend."
Grace, says U2, makes beauty out of everything. All of us have a place, a part of us, where we run with a grace and ease which swells the heart of the Cathy Freemans of our particular world. If we would give ourselves to the passion that tugs within us instead of running away from it; if we would focus on, even obsess upon, that gift, then perhaps our souls could run with an easy grace which would fill our hearts with joy and tears.
Andrew Prior (2020)
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