This week a photograph of Jamaican runner Usain Bolt’s huge smile made international headlines—as the man dubbed the fastest human made his way around the track in the 100-meter dash in the Olympics.
Bolt won the race, and has a sack full of gold medals to his name, but it’s the smile that I like the best. I’m not alone in that. In just a few short days, the image by Australian photographer Cameron Spencer has become an internet meme.
My youngest brother, Joshua Harriman, always runs with a giant smile on his face, something I found baffling for years. I mean, running hurts, right? Especially if you’re going full tilt, or running for a long time. Josh runs long distances, too, including marathons; he doesn’t think a 10-mile run is very hard.
Last week I took my 5-year old grandson to Edgewood’s Run, Rally, Rock celebration. There was a big blow-up slide there, with a nubby “ladder” made of the same plastic for the kids to climb before they launched themselves down the very tall and bouncy chute.
My grandson climbed that thing dozens of times, each climb perhaps equal to one flight of stairs.
After about an hour of that, he came over to where I was watching him—not to quit, just to get some water and cool down, so he could go climb the thing dozens more times. Later on that same evening, he ran up and down a hill repeatedly with his cousin as we waited for a fireworks show, throwing his glow stick in the air, then running to get it and throwing it again.
My daughter and workout buddy has caught fire for running—heading to track or trail almost every day, and turning the tables on me. Now she’s the one encouraging me to go farther, do more, go one more day. And she runs with the same big grin on her face that my brother does. “I can’t get enough!” she said to me recently.
That is my goal state in exercise: Pure joy in movement.
It’s one of the reasons dancing in my bedroom is one of my favorite workouts, still. I do it alone, or sometimes with my grandsons. I don’t think about what I look like (which I’m sure is quite silly and would have high entertainment value for any spectators), I just think about how good it makes my body feel. I pick up weights and wiggle around any way that seems like the way to go. My aim is having fun while moving my body around.
I still have a goal to run one mile, and my future goals include running a 5k race. I still haven’t gotten there, but I’m not giving up.
My daughter and I headed out to a local park yesterday. It has paths for running along with workout machines spaced throughout. So we run, go to a machine, do some stuff, run some more, repeat. I’m at the point with running where my legs are willing but my lungs are weak. That’s a good feeling, because I think I’ll be able to build my lung capacity.
After we finished our workout, we were still at the back side of the park. To her surprise, I wanted to run back to where we had parked. “Run like a little kid!” she says. “Run like you’re 12 on the playground!”
So I did. I couldn’t see myself but I’m sure I had a giant grin on my face when I passed her by. When she turned on the gas and passed me back, I had to push harder—those lessons from the playground, also from being the oldest of five kids—are hard to quash. My heart was racing. I was gasping for air. And I was smiling.
Even when I discovered that somewhere in that mad dash my cell phone had dropped out of my pocket onto the trail, my enthusiasm was not diminished. And that feels like a big change.
I’m a woman and a product of a culture that teaches us to be ornamental, to be concerned with looks over substance. It teaches us to put our own needs behind the needs of the kids, of the spouse, of the job. This journey toward fitness for me has been multi-faceted, but one of the biggest things has been learning to love and care for myself.
I had been accustomed, like many people, to hating my body. I hated the way it looked, and I hated the way it felt. I would get out of breath with the littlest amount of exercise. I was flabby and my clothes didn’t fit me well. Hating it seemed natural.
So learning to enjoy the physicality of my body has been an earth-shifting experience for me, although people who are physically fit and little children take it for granted.
Later this week I’ll be heading to ladies’ night at Stone Age rock climbing gym for another activity that is so much fun I can hardly stand it. It will leave me with trembling muscles and arms so tired I can hardly move them, but I know I’ll be grinning like Usain Bolt the whole time.
Do you find joy in movement? Contact me at 505-286-1212 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or join the ongoing conversation in my Facebook group, “I’m Losing It!” I’d love to hear from you.