Refuse to Contribute Story 5: Wilma Rudolph

Image result for wilma rudolph family
Wilma and her parents.

She was a premie baby, born lighter than a 5-pound bag of potatoes. It wasn’t for another 30-years or so before premature babies began receiving specialized care – in 1940, such babies were not expected to survive. But Wilma Rudolph did.

By the time she was 4, she had pneumonia, scarlett fever, and polio. Her parents were told she’d never walk again. Treatment options for poor, black kids in Tennessee were limited, and yet by the time she was in high school, she was a basketball and track star. By 1956, she was an Olympic Bronze Medalist.  Entering college in 1958, she was a single mom, and a second time Olympic aspirant. In the 1960 Olympics, and a sophomore in college, she won 3-more medals – all gold – and became known as the fastest woman on earth.

After retiring from competition, she began a career of teaching and coaching – protesting segregation, teaching grade school and coaching track. She was mother to four children and by 1992 she had become an executive in healthcare.  In 1994, she was diagnosed with brain cancer and passed away within 4 months.

She wore braces until she was 8. Her parents were manual laborers without much money, yet they supported each other. And that’s the true story of this refuse to contribute story: family. Wilma became an amazing athlete through sheer determination, and lived an amazing life.  Her family supported her through premature birth, disease, educated her and gave her the supports necessary for a black, single teen mom to go to college in the 1960s.  With so much stacked against her at the time, her family made sure she had the opportunity to thrive. When Wilma was a child, her mom would take her twice weekly – a round trip of 100 miles – for treatment for her legs. Her mom taught her siblings the massage therapy for her legs, and for 5 years she received these 4 times daily. It was her will that drove her to succeed, but it was the foundational supports of her family that put her in position to succeed.

To be sure, Wilma was an inspirational person and amazing athlete – people with more supports and greater hands up do not accomplish what she did, but it’s also clear to me that she would not have had the ability to be the true expression of her ability had she not have the love and caring of her family. One can only imagine what she could have achieved had she had the resources available to her more affluent peers.

Wilma’s story should be an inspiration for everyone pushing their boundaries, and her family should be an inspiration for everyone. There’s no telling where the love you show your family will go. There’s no telling where your achievements will reach.

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Refuse to Contribute Story 3: Bill

One of the guys in my running club, someone I consider a friend, is a very good runner.  Earlier this year, he time qualified for the Boston Marathon, demolishing the minimum time by some -minutes or so. Then came out to run 5-miles the following day with the group on our weekly “fun run.”  I’ve seen him decide that he’s going to run home from somewhere, when his home is some 30-miles away, and complete the track with an average mile of 8:18 minutes.

He seems to live his personal life diving into interests and hobbies with more verve than I think most people dive into theirs. He’s into pinball, and computers so of course he’s got a pinball game replicator – load up just about any pinball came onto the console and play it. He bought a 30-year old truck on eBay.

I think it’s good to know and appreciate interesting people, because they’re the people I’ve found enrich my life the most.  And Bill is an interesting guy.

This weekend, he set out the goal of running the length of a local rail trail up and back twice – I’m pretty sure that if it wasn’t on a whim, then it wasn’t a long held plan to do so. This is a total of roughly 34 miles, not a short jaunt in the woods.

His commentary?

“I did turn around at mile 29 and started heading back to the start, but I said “NO. THIS IS SUPPOSED TO BE HARD.” and I turned around and headed to Glenwood. Let things be hard. No matter what happens this week, I can always reflect that I ran 34 miles on Sunday.”

“This is supposed to be hard.” Pushing himself to run another 5 miles AFTER 29 MILES. It’s supposed to be hard to run 20 miles, 26.2 miles. After 29 miles and several hours (this took him 5 hours to complete by the way), he was willing himself to finish another 5-miles because it was hard.  I wasn’t going to run until I read that; afterward I got up and ran 13 miles BECAUSE I didn’t want to.

“Let things be hard.” Life isn’t easy. Life isn’t about taking the easy way to get things done. Life is about adventure, and growth, and pushing the boundaries of what you think you can do.  Let things be hard. If they’re hard, you’re growing. If they’re hard, you’re expanding your horizons. If things are hard, you are becoming your best you.

I spoke with him at one point in the past week and he was reflecting on a recent run. He couldn’t understand why people would run a hill, stop and walk for a half-minute and then run again. “Just keep pushing,” or something to that effect. “I run behind them and keep pushing silently.” I know why they do that, I *DO* that. Or I did. Since that conversation, I’ve had his words in the back of my head at each point I encounter a hill and I imagine him sidling up behind me, staying there, willing me to keep going.  I’ve not stopped since.

Bill is an interesting guy. I’ve never once had a negative conversation with him. He’s a survivor, and he is one of the few people I know who consistently pushes those around him to be better, through both example and word.

Do something today BECAUSE it’s hard. Not EVEN THOUGH it’s hard. BECAUSE it’s hard. Don’t give yourself an excuse not to do it, because it’s supposed to be hard. When it’s done, no matter what else happens, you’ll be able to look back and know you’ve accomplished it.

Refuse to Contribute Story 2: Charlene

Going back almost 35 years to 1984, I met some of the people who have been the most important in my life – if not consistently, certainly in intervals, and absolutely over the course of time. The boys I met September 1984 were and have remained some of the most important people in my life since.

The important people in their lives have also become important in mine. We’ve been their for the births of our children, the deaths of our parents, the weddings, the divorces. There have been times of strain in our friendships, and there have been revivals. Guys I have reconnected with as a middle aged adult whom I could not have imagined having considered my friend all those years ago.

And then there is one mom. The mother of  of my classmates, and another schoolmate. Dave and I were close in school – good friends up to and through college – but as things go, we’ve gone through ebbs and flows in our friendship. As time goes on, we exchange text messages, but have gone years between actually seeing each other. It’s just time and laziness coming between us, nothing more, but it’s that inertia – the same inertia that has gotten in my way of accomplishing of my fitness goals. He’s not on social media, but his brother and his mom are, and they and I are connected.

His mom was always pretty cool. Younger than most of the moms of our classmates, so of course the object of some consideration: she was (and frankly still is) very pretty. But she’s also, as I’ve come to find, a good soul.

Quietly, over the course of time, she has captioned a series of beautiful pictures with a hashtag, #RefusetoContribute. At one point I asked her about it – perhaps even teasing about the origin, because a quick Google search suggests that no such hashtag has trended. Actually, that same search yields results almost the opposite of the intention:

“What about those who refuse to contribute…”

Dec 5, 2016 – I began to reply and quickly realized that my response was spinning out of control, far beyond the bounds of a socially acceptable Facebook …

“Fin Aid: What if No Help from Parents”
http://www.finaid.org/otheraid/parentsrefuse.phtml
The US Department of Education has published guidance to financial aid administrators indicating that neither parent refusal to contribute to the student’s …

“My wife doesn’t want to contribute to any bills/mortgage payments …”
https://www.quora.com/My-wife-doesnt-want-to-contribute-to-any-bills-mortgage-paym…Makes you wonder, if she isnt willing to contribute anything when things are good, … Then again, if she continues to refuse your request, you’ll have to decide …

Donate – Refuse Fascism
donate.refusefascism.org/
Only the people taking to the streets in mass, nonviolent, sustained political mobilization can stop this nightmare!

So, what is the intention? Months before I got fed up with the Manufactured Outrage, she was simply posting pictures of paradise, simple tableaus of treasured scenes. She works that hashtag like a boss, and truly her whole feed is family and love.

Here are a few of her #refusetocontribute pictures

Image may contain: plant, flower, nature and outdoor

Image may contain: 1 person

Image may contain: ocean, table, outdoor and indoor

Usually captioned only with the hashtag. A small, silent protest against an increasingly polarized world. Cherishing the small, beautiful moments. One voice in the vast interwebs calling for beauty and peace.

No commentary. No judgement.

Let’s all take some time and refuse to contribute.

Refuse to Contribute: Story 1, Olando

I take a lot of inspiration from various social media running clubs, groups, and individuals I’ve met – both “virtually” and “IRL” – from these clubs.  I’ve overcome – and continue to work on my goals – a multitude of obstacles to fitness. I’ve had an easier path than many.

I’m a solidly middle class, reasonably well-educated middle aged guy who has some means with which to pursue some extra-curriculars. I spent entirely too long sitting on my butt, letting my cholesterol and my weight get too high. That was my obstacle: the inertia of sloth. Literally. That was it.

Every day, I see stories of the people whose paths I’ve crossed on obstacle courses, or at my running club that make me realize just how privileged I am. Injury, illness. Life getting in the way.  There’s the instructor at my workout bootcamp whose credit is crap, and whose car was a victim of a hit and run, trying to figure out how to replace/fix her car while maintaining her ability to commute to her various paying jobs while caring for her son.

So, not long after posting my post on “Manufactured Outrage,” one person I’ve come to know only via social media had one of the most powerful messages I’ve read in some time.  He’s a union bridge painter. He paints bridges for a living. He’s also a veteran and an immigrant to the United States and from what I can see an amazing athlete. He’s been at various times laid off, due to the seasonal nature of the work, and as recently been working through injury.

Obviously social media is a highly curated version of reality. I don’t know Olando, I don’t know his day to day. I do know what he puts out into the world, and I’m consistently impressed with his positivity and attitude.

His message to the world via status update was this:

“The best part of my day is knowing that i did enough to provide for my wife and kids.”

I don’t know what his day looked like that caused him to write this, I don’t know what his struggles were, I don’t know if today was a great day for him. I do know he is consistently positive, and this message spoke to me. He is proud that he is providing for his family. We should all be so proud as to shout from the roof tops that we’re providing for our loved ones.  I’m consistently impressed with his devotion to his family, his dedication to improving every day.  The world could use more people like Olando.

Manufactured Outrage

About a month before the last Presidential election, I decided to opt out of the nonsense, opt out of the manufactured outrage, opt out of the negativity and use the remaining days through election day to instead demonstrate reasons why we should be inspired by each other. As you can see from the history of this blog, I’m not always the most inspirational person, not always the happiest, not always the sun-shiniest. I am, however, hardheaded. I refuse to succumb to the manufactured outrage I see everywhere from Sports Illustrated, to the Wall Street Journal, to my Twitter feed.

We’re all angry with each other because we live in our own little echo chambers, we consume the news that confirms our world views. We’re angry with all the things that should be and aren’t; we’re angry with all the things that are that shouldn’t be.

We’re angry that Colin Kaepernick disrespects the flag and military, we’re angry that Colin Kaepernick is out of football because he was protesting racial injustice.  We’re angry that Nike has made Kaepernick part of their ad campaign. We’re angry because “they’re” cutting off the Nike Swoosh off the socks that have already been purchased in protest.

We don’t stop to listen and really consider the transformation of the protest: it evolved from sitting during the anthem to kneeling – because it wasn’t about disrespecting the military, it was protesting police violence against minorities. Has there been an increase in violence? Are minorities disproportionately targeted? We don’t get that far into the conversation before we start yelling at each other. Even more than that, though, Kapernick wasn’t going to be the starting Quarterback.

He was going to be benched in favor of Blaine Gabbert; he wasn’t going to be released – the cap hit to the 49ers payroll would have been prohibitive – and he wasn’t going to play. A reasonable person could conclude this could be a  ploy to be released more than a social justice statement. As it turned out, he would replace Gabbert 4-weeks into the season, a season in which his team went 1-10 behind him and he sported a 49.5 QB rating…which was actually a slight improvement over his 2015 play.  Should he have a place on a roster? Perhaps, but then again there are plenty of second string quarterbacks that don’t ask for the same money – CBS reported before the 2016 season that he was looking for $9-10 Million and a chance to start. Not too many backup QBs make that kind of money and no wonder he didn’t get too many calls. So conspiracy to keep him out of the league, or over-reaching for salary?  Perhaps a bit of both – no one side is the carrier of truth here. Sports Illustrated suggested that should his asking price come down and still not get a contract, then there would be questions. Note the if/then: if he lowered his salary expectations, based on his mediocre play the previous couple seasons, THEN the questions about other than football considerations would be valid.

That is a lot to read and process. It doesn’t make for a quick read, or ad slogan.

Of course, Nike has come down on the side of “Social Justice,” by portraying Kaepernick as the warrior truth teller, knowing this would again manufacture outrage on the right. This is a $30-Billion company. This move has been vetted at the highest ranks of the company.  The folks most likely to be outraged would be the golfing demographic…a group that had pretty much abandoned the brand by the time Nike Golf got out of the equipment business. The folks most likely to stand behind the company are the people the brand wants to sell to. There’s no fear from losing their NFL exclusivity – they’re locked in for the next 10 years. It’s not rocket science – its pure naked capitalism.

Then there’s Fear, a forthcoming book on the Trump Presidency where the President is reportedly described as unhinged from reality. We’re angry Bob Woodward says Jim Mattis claims the President has the comprehension of a sixth grader; We’re angry Jim Mattis says that’s fake. Just one more cog in the attack on the press, or is it really fiction driven by an agenda driven puppet of the #fakenews? For the record, I believe Woodward’s account: well documented, multiple sources, and no apparent need to bolster his reputation – he could have done nothing more than “All the President’s Men” (1974) and he would be relevant. Mattis? An honorable man, a warrior, and American hero, but a member of the Trump administration – with loyalty to that President. He has reasons to refute the characterization.  The book hasn’t even been released and we’re outraged.

So here we are. Figuratively at war with each other. Unmoored from facts and understanding even though we’ve never had greater ability to get information. Having the “facts” and “truth” spun around, warped for us. Unable to hear each other over the competing voices. We’re more interested in being pissed off, than actually listening to each other. So I’m unplugging from the noise.

I’m going to make the effort to find inspiration in the every day. To find exemplars of people who have made a difference, who have overcome, who have contributed to our understanding of the world. I’m opting out of the manufactured outrage, and instead I’m hoping to manufacture a little inspiration and perhaps a little humor or love…or something, anything positive that can push back.  Everything does not have to be struggle, Some things do and I’m opting out of the fake ones.

I won’t hold myself to a schedule as I did with my original 28-Days, and I can’t completely opt out and still be a well-informed person. I can, however, call BS when I see it and counter it with something I consider not-BS. I can contribute to a positive conversation.  Wouldn’t it be great if we all spent a little less time focused on why we should be outraged, and a little more time focused on how we can make the world a little better place.

A Little Low

I’ve come to really appreciate an active lifestyle. Let’s be clear about something: I really do not like running — the best part of running is the end — but I really do appreciate being able to run.  Take yesterday’s Spartan: I really, really liked being able to run the trails, hit the obstacles, and accomplish them.  The harder you work in practice, the easier these things are, the more you’re able to do. It’s a great rush to be able to accomplish these things.

And yet today, today I took a vinyasa yoga class, which was wonderful. It was good for the body and the head. I stretched, I bent, I worked the core. For 90-minutes I contorted myself into positions I’m not sure I should have and under most conditions I would have torn something — I’m sure of it.

I had a great day overall: we celebrated my parents-in-law 50th anniversary, spent the day with people I love and came home to a warm home. And yet, my headspace is all off.

Other than yoga, which while awesome for the body and the head, I did something closely approximating nothing today. The yoga is bending and stretching, but it’s not cardio and it’s not moving the body forward. It’s great – I like being able to bend and twist – but I also like to move forward. Somehow today messed with my head. I feel low, and tired, and run down.

I’ve felt this way before, but when I’ve been injured and CAN’T run or be active.  And certainly not after one day of inactivity. It’s been ONE Day. ONE. And my head just isn’t right. Tomorrow’s a new day, a new opportunity to get going and be who I want to be. THis week culminates in a 12-hour ultramarathon. Its not like today is every day, it’s only one day, and a good one at that. I’m in a good place, I mean this is someone who has a reasonably privileged life complaining that his head isn’t right after one day of inactivity. I have a good family, I have good health, I have a good life.

But you know, sometimes we have expectations of ourselves and our life that sometimes just don’t live up to reality. Your head has to accept that as much as your body has to. Just like most things in life, though, it doesn’t mean you have to like it, but it does mean you can’t let it mess you up.

I’m trying to internalize that message, and really, really trying to absorb it. One day is not every day. One day is just that: one step on the rest of the journey. No one knows just how long that journey may be, so it’s incumbent to make the most of every day, but you know you also have to give yourself a break and cut yourself some slack.

Marine Corps Marathon Fundraiser

I mentioned some time back that I was going to run the Marine Corps Marathon as my first (perhaps last, who knows) full-marathon. What I haven’t done is share here what I’m doing with it.

After I decided I would run the race, I decided I wanted it to mean something more – to give back a little bit. The Marine Corps Marathon promotes physical fitness, generates community goodwill, and showcases the organizational skills of the United States Marine Corps. I wanted to do something that would live up to those values and organizational mission.

With that in mind, I reached out to the O’Connell Valor Fund to pair me with a Veteran in need for whom I can raise money and awareness of veteran’s issues.  It was important to me to do this on my own terms – not raise money as part of a fundraising commitment for a charity issued a block of entries where the money goes down a rabbit hole. I’m running this using my own funds, paying my own way, and without a set commitment. I do have a fundraising goal, however, and it’s on the basis of that goal that OVF has done amazing work to vet and pair this fund raiser with a veteran in need.

To that end, The O’Connell Valor Fund, Inc. has presented a Veteran for me to sponsor as part of my Marine Corps Marathon fund raising effort.

He is a current era Army Veteran who was medically separated. He has increasing medical needs requiring frequent trips to the Veteran’s Administration (VA) and emergency rooms (ERs). Before this spring, his wife was full time employed in a good profession and his adult son with special needs also contributed financially to the household.

However, earlier this spring, his son committed suicide in the family home.  Consider this for a moment and really, really let it sink in.

Given the nature of the her job, she is not able to return to work at this time and an already struggling family is now struggling emotionally, physically and financially. Many agencies have worked very hard with the family in the last few months to help them while they grieve. They are at a place now in which they are willing/needing to move out of their current residence. These agencies are working with them to increase the level of support services from the VA in the home and working with his wife around plans for reentry into the workforce. The family will need additional financial support to help them move and leave the home where the incident took place and move closer to the VA.

And THAT is where my little idea to give a little back is going.  These stories are real, this is the story of a very real struggle. I am forever thankful to help make a difference in another life in this way.  The tragedy and greatness of this effort is that the O’Connell Valor Fund has many other cases similar to this one and there are many ways to help – everyone, EVERYONE has the opportunity to give back, sometimes you just need to set your mind to making a difference. You don’t have to give a dollar to a nameless, faceless organization or fundraiser. The OVF spends 99% of all received money on the veterans it supports.  This is literally helping local.

To help in my fundraising efforts, please visit my fundraising page or, even better, donate directly at the O’Connell Valor Fund website. Thank you for your support, even if that is a share on Facebook. What matters is making a difference.

About the Event: The mission of the Marine Corps Marathon is to promote physical fitness, generate community goodwill and showcase the organizational skills of the United States Marine Corps. Annually ranked as one of the largest marathons in the US and the world, the MCM has been recognized as “Best Marathon in the Mid-Atlantic,” “Best for Families” and “Best for Beginners.” Runners from all 50 states and more than 50 countries participate in the MCM and an annual calendar of events including the Marine Corps Historic Half in Fredericksburg, VA in May and the MCM Event Series conducted aboard Marine Corps Base Quantico. Organized by the men and women of the United States Marine Corps, the MCM is the largest marathon in the world that doesn’t offer prize money, instead celebrating the honor, courage and commitment of all finishers.

About the O’Connell Valor Fund: 

Our goal is simple – help our U.S. Military heroes, next-of-kin, and families better cope with daily life so they can heal with some peace of mind knowing basic essentials are covered. This might include a monthly utility bill payment, groceries for the week, making sure their child’s birthday is a little extra special, and many other basic essentials many of us take for granted. Please donate whatever you can using the Donate link above. Thank you! The O’Connell Valor Fund, Inc.

Contributions made to this campaign are tax-deductible.