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Tracie Skarbo was motivated to write by her father, who was her biggest supporter. “He was always behind me, rallying me on with my writing. I would always see him with a book in hand. He gave me a great appreciation for the written word, and the power and responsibility that writers have to shape those who read their words. He also taught me to respect nature and to value the beauty within it; my reflections on my environment are just an extension of this.” Skarbo was raised on Vancouver Island and is working on her next two books.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Playing Chicken

When I was in grade school I had one really great friend.  We lived on the same street, liked to do the same things: bike ride, roller skate and build forts in the empty treed lots around our house.

Monica was a tall girl who had moved from the United States up to our little patch of Vancouver Island, Canada.  This made her a star in my eyes.  Minnesota sounded so foreign and aloof, a place where magical things happened.

We became fast friends and were inseparable most of the time, almost as though we were joined at the hip.  When we weren’t actually together we would be on the phone talking about someone or making plans for this or that.  One day in grade four, the strength of our friendship was tested.

As luck had it that year we were put into two separate classes, something that neither of us was pleased about.  We even tried pleading with our parents about the situation but it turned out that our parents were for the separation, saying that it would make us focus on school work more.

I was stuck in a classroom with some of the more “popular girls”, those of a more privileged means.  They had the best and latest clothes, toys and went on big vacations.  I can remember being so jealous of them sometimes, and it would only make me more lonesome for Monica.  I tried to be nice to them, thinking perhaps that once I got to know them they would not be as bad as I imagined, but they just looked down their noses at me.  I knew most of them were brought up in the same neighborhood and that would have been another reason why their bond was so strong, but it didn’t take the sting out of the rejection.

Which is why what happened on the school yard took me so off guard. 

Monica and I were down on the bottom playground where a balancing beam stood two and a half feet from the ground.  The idea was each person gets on either side of the beam, then by balancing along the thin piece of wood, they would come to the middle of it to spar with their arms to try to knock the opponent off of the beam.  The first person knocked off the beam is the “Chicken”. 

We were having a great time trying to knock each other off when all of a sudden we heard “Well if it isn’t Laurel and Hardy.”  Jennifer, the most popular girl in the school always referred to us like this.  I had to ask my Dad who they were and he told me about the classical comedians of the black and white era of American television.  I looked them up.  They were two men who dressed up in suits and did slapstick comedy.  One was tall and lean—that was in reference to Monica, and the other was short and stout—in reference to me.  The names at first didn’t bother me at all because I didn’t understand the insult, but once I knew who they were and watched some of their acts I got what Jennifer was laughing about. 

Monica and I stopped our mock “Chicken Fight” and hopped down.  “What do you want Jennifer?” I asked, knowing full well she hated being called by her full name.  She came over to me and smiled, her friends circled and crowded around.

“We’ve noticed you.” She said pointing at me.  “We want you to join our group.  There is a sleep over this weekend at Stacey’s house and you are invited, but only if you give up your friendship with Laverne here.”  She finished pointing at Monica. 

I started to get really angry by this point; she had just insulted us again about our height differences and insinuated that Monica was somehow flawed.   Why would she think I would give up my best friend for her and her band of rich—I’m too good for you—girls that clung to her every word?  I wanted a friend of equal footing, not some girl who wanted to reign queen over her subjects. 

I looked at Monica and tears were welling up in her eyes, she had this look on her face that said I should do it and she would not be mad.  Like she would understand if I went with the others, and then she turned to leave.  I looked at Jennifer who, by now, had a huge grin of victory on her face.

“Wait!” I called out to Monica, “Where are you going?”

“What do you mean?  You can’t be friends with me if you want to be friends with them.” She stated.

“Who says I want to be friends with them?” I smiled at her.  It grew larger as I saw the shocked expressions on Monica’s face and on the faces of the other girls. 

“I would not take a thousand of them over our friendship, they have no idea what true friendship is, if they did they would never have asked the question.”  I told Monica.  The smile was restored on her face.

I went over to where Jennifer was standing.  “I thought at one point that it would be cool to be part of the in crowd, but today you have made me realize something.  You aren’t happy.  You might look happy on the outside when others are watching you, but that is only so they won’t know how lonesome you truly are.  There is nothing like a good friend to turn to when things get tough, or when you have something great to celebrate.  Hopefully sometime soon you will find this out.”

Then Monica and I left them standing in silent streaming sunshine, and headed back to class.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Stretching Further

Making the transition from Elementary School to Junior High was no easy time in my life; new kids, new rhythms, how would I fit in? 

There were so many changes to get used to, a new school, with a whole new system of learning.  Now I would have a different teacher for each subject taught and I would be responsible for finding the class and getting there on time instead of the usual one teacher one class routine.    

My friends and I had heard of many horror stories about what the older kids would do to us younger ones if they got the chance; stuffing kids in lockers, stealing clothes out of gym lockers, dumping cologne and baby powder over the unsuspecting new student.  We were warned by older brothers and sisters not to take directions from elder students seriously because they would send us on wild goose chases to make us late for class.  I learned pretty quickly to keep my eyes forward and my head down so to speak.

Once the school year started I found out it was not as bad as what we had all feared.  As I became familiar with my schedule and my teachers, even my nightmares about losing my combination to my locker and my way around the school subsided. 

I began to flourish in my new environment.  English, Art and Drama, helped me to channel my creative side, and gave me self confidence along the way, pushing me out of my shell as time wore on.  I even performed in a play in front of the parents and the school faculty and then the entire school in the gym, something I would never have considered before Junior High.

In English I had Mr. Dobson who inspired me with his classes; it was his teachings that fostered my love of literature.  The written work opened up my world to things beyond my wildest dreams.  Great authors of the past made me dreamy with thoughts of breaking through my ordinary mold and taking a risk on stretching myself into someone better, making me strive harder to accomplish my dreams.

I joined the teen crisis line as a counselor to youth in trouble, and became involved with getting recycling programs introduced in the school.

High School was more of the same, but with a different group of friends.  I joined the school newspaper, the photography club, and still had lots of time to get into mischief.  Looking back, it was a pretty good time once I got the hang of it.  Sure there were some mistakes here and there, things I might think about changing.  Perhaps not.  It is in the bad times where we learn the most about ourselves and what we are capable of.  We can’t appreciate the good times if we didn’t have to be challenged now and again.  Every sunset has a sunrise, but we wouldn’t know the difference if there was no darkness in between.

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Laced Up Confessionals Part Eight

At the end of every running clinic there is a goal run.  It gives us something to work towards and for me it helps me to stay on track and keep focused.  It gives me strength to quell the excuses as they arise and it makes me stay accountable to the trails and to my weekly regimen. 

This clinic was no exception.  The race was down Island in beautiful Chemanius B.C.  I love any time I can spend in this coastal town, with its murals on the sides of buildings and quaint shops and galleries.  It is a great stop at the best of times for tourists, but when paired with a great 5KM fun run and the wonderful people involved it becomes even more fetching. 

The four of us piled into the car and car-pooled down.  One of the wonderful women in our group headed down earlier to pick up the running packages.  Most times the running package will consist of a running bib, (The tag with the numbers worn on the chests of runners for identification.)  and Safety pins to attach it with.  A shirt too if there is one and you requested one, but this time there was something more.  Every runner in this race had the option of purchasing a shirt; most times they are regular cotton t-shirts with the name and location of the race and the sponsors involved.  This time however the woman’s shirts were of a better quality and of a more “yoga” style.  I was thrilled when I looked at mine, it was a pink coral color and the logo of the race on the back of it was well done. 

This was not my first race or competition run.  It was actually my forth.  I had run two in the winter, the New Year’s Resolution Race which occurs on New Year’s Day (This race is one of my favorites because it always has a great colored pullover for it.), and the Santa’s Shuffle (shirt).  Then there was the “Run for the Mountain” which is a race to save the city side of a local mountain from being clear cut; thus saving the beauty of the trees and more importantly the habitats of many animals.

It feels great to be out there with a bunch of runners with the same goal but it is even better when you are running for a great cause and bringing awareness with you.

On Tuesday’s race day I was worried because during the whole day there had been pregnant storm clouds squeezing out their tears.  I didn’t want to run in the rain if I could help it, but I would take the cooler weather and the rain over the heat of summer any time!

When it was time I laced up and headed out the door to the prearranged spot where we were meeting to head down.  We opened our packages with the bibs, shirts and information, but there was a surprise for us too.  None of us had run a race with the electronic foot tags.  These were long plastic orange strips with electronic chips on the back of them that would track us as we went through the route and got over the finish again.  I had only seen these in the bigger races such as marathons, and the presence of the tags made this race seem more serious and important.

We arrived and found where we were supposed to start and took the time to check out our fellow runners while music played in the park for the event.  There were runners from all ages, sizes, and walks of life; tall lean sprinters doing practice speed laps to warm up, others were stretching and conversing with friends, novices were mixed in with the pro’s and it didn’t seem to matter.  Some were decked out in the latest gear and others were just in t-shirts and shorts to have fun.  It was great to be mixed in with such a variety of runners from all over the island. 

Then it was time to gather at the start area of the route.  I knew from experience in the other races that I had to watch my speed at the start.  It was so easy to get caught up in the moment and exhaust yourself by heading out to fast.  This time I put myself in the middle of the pack, making sure I was behind all the sprinters.  It can be so demoralizing to be in the front lines with the top runners and have them leave you in the dust!  I think it is better to start out in the back and pass some people then have most of them pass me.

It wasn’t long and we were off in a surge of bodies.  The route went through town and then wound over a dirt gravel road and around again.  All of us in my group didn’t like the gravel part of the track, it slowed us down and I personally felt as though I was doing a Bambi impression when he was on the ice, like at any moment my ankle would go over or I would be doing the splits down in the dirt.

The track looped back on itself so I could see the faster runners as they completed the loop and passed me in the other direction.  The fast sprinters looked like gazelles, bounding effortlessly over the ground.  Again I was struck by the diversity of the group, but there was a common thread throughout us all; we had sweat on our brow and smiles on our lips.

I finished the race ahead of my goal, and it was great to hear the crowd cheering for us as we came in.  There were awards in the ending ceremony for the fastest in each age group for men and women and then some fabulous door prizes too.  Then there were the treat tents to visit and more socializing afterwards.  The girls and I had a great time, and even though this clinic is finished we are committing to the next one which is starting on July 11th, 2011.  Until then we are still going to run together in different places in the city.  I look forward to the time with the girls, the new tracks and forging evermore friendships.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Laced Up Confessionals Part Seven

So the other day’s topic of discussion was Fartlek speed bursts.  The first time I heard the term “Fartlek” in a clinic I almost burst out laughing, (sounds like Fart Lick) and all I could think about was some poor guy with this last name going through life. 

In reality though Fartlek is a Swedish term that means “speed play”, it is a form of interval speed training for runners. 

When Fartlek training a runner will run hard for bursts of 30 seconds to a minute and then double the amount of cool down time at an easy pace.  This is repeated for a set of ten and can vary in length due to the runners needs.  You can use them on all different types of terrain or in hill training.  If a runner incorporates these into their weekly regimen they are sure to see a reduction in their race times.

Other ways of increasing speed are shortening your strides and quickening them up. When I want to do this I imagine that I am on hot asphalt in bare feet, and that always gets me moving at a quicker pace. 

Tempo runs are another great way to get some new speed out of routine runs.  These are interval runs like the Fartleks, but they are for longer periods of time, and not as fast.  Instead of running at top speed, you would just bring it up a notch or two, and hold them for longer periods of two to three minutes then recover and repeat.

You won’t achieve great speed by only training for strength.  Speed is not determined by just how strong your muscles are but also by how they react.  What you fuel up with, how you cross-train and if you have skipped any workouts will become a factor as well.  Jump rope, skipping skills and box jumping are good drills to work on, if your knees can bear it try running up steps, or running steeper grade hills.

The best way to bring your endurance up is to be consistent, be patient, build up slowly and above all listen to your body.  Don’t try to do too much too fast, that is only a recipe for future injury or the best way to become dissatisfied with your performance and perhaps with running in general.  Increase one of your runs to a longer run then the other two for the week, so you have an easy day, one a little longer and perhaps with some hill training, then a slower longer run for the third in the week.  Try mixing them up and listening to how your body feels and responds to the runs, if you are getting side stitches you are going too fast and your body is not able to respond or recuperate fast enough.  LISTEN to what it is saying slow down a bit and see if you can run through it, stretch away from the stitch to lengthen your diaphragm, if this doesn’t work after a couple moments take a minute to walk it out before starting your pace again. 

Stay strong, healthy but most of all have fun, it is the best way to keep your soles on the blacktop.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Santa's Secret



When we were young and belief in all things magical had not hit the trails of conflict.  Something wondrous happened one Christmas morning.

“Look!  I told you he is real!”  My brother shouted, flushed excitement making his face ruddy. “Peter told me that he was just something parents told children to get them to behave at Christmas time, but here is the proof!  He’s been here, he’s really been here!”   David ran to the spot where he had been pointing and picked up the white piece of fluff that had been on the floor.   “I knew I heard him on the roof last night!”

I took the piece of fluff from him and looked at it closely.  Turning it this way and that, trying to discern just what it could be.  I caught my mother giving my father a quizzical glance and he only shrugged back at her smiling. 

“Just what do you think it is?”  I asked my brother.  All I could see was some white fluff that was a little denser than cat hair.

“It’s part of Santa’s beard of course, he must have lost it when he came down the Chimney.”  David said with conviction.

“What?  You think Santa lost part of his beard in our chimney?  I thought about how much force that would take, and winced.  It can’t be part of his beard, it’s too soft.”  I said, “Go and feel dad’s beard and you will see that it can’t be part of a beard.”

“Well you didn’t feel the beard of the Santa in the mall; it was just as soft as this!”

“That’s because those guys are fake stand in Santa’s filling in because the real one is so busy.” I told him.

“Why does mum get us dressed up every year and have our photo taken with a fake Santa?” David asked no one in particular.

“Well I guess it doesn’t matter now, you have a piece of the real thing.”  I said smiling, but truth be known I was still not convinced.  Somehow I could not imagine the real Santa leaving parts of his beard behind in people’s chimneys.  Wouldn’t that be a fire hazard?

“Even if it isn’t part of his beard, it is probably some of the white tuft from the lining of his suit.” David suggested.  “Look, the milk and cookies are gone too!”

“The milk and cookies are gone in the morning every year.”  I gently reminded him, I didn’t want to burst his bubble, he was so happy about finding part of Santa, or Santa’s suit.  “Come on, Mum’s calling us for breakfast, we get to open presents after that.  Race you!” 

Throughout the day I came back to David’s discovery, trying to come up with another possible explanation.  One by one I looked at each decoration looking for possibilities.  I was just about to give up my search and accept my brother’s idea when my eye was attracted to the stockings my mother had made for us years before.  Each one was red and had our names written on them with silver glitter.  That was not however what had caught my attention.  It was the faux white fur trim at the mouth of each stocking.  It was not unlike that which my brother had found on the carpet that morning.

“What are you doing?”  My brother had come into the room as I was inspecting the stockings.  I turned to look at him, wondering if he too would make the connection.  I remembered the look of pure delight on his face when he thought the magic real.  I didn’t have the heart to let it end.  I steered him away from the stockings.  “Oh I was just checking to see if I had left anything in my stocking.  Do you want to go and try out our new skateboards?”
That is how Santa’s secret, and all things magical were kept a couple years longer in our family.