Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Get It Done

This is for all you runners, joggers and no-talent sloggers who've ever fantasized about winning an Olympic Gold Medal or accomplishing something else unbelievable as you ran down the sidewalk in a torrential downpour for the only reason being that you loved what you were doing. Remember those nights when you were the only one splashing down the sidewalk? You would get home and as you peeled off your sopping rain gear you would remember "man I was out there all by myself". But so what, does anyone else care? I don't think so. You were bumbling down the road in 30 degree weather with the sleet pistoning your sorry face for the basic reason being that you loved it. Most people would never understand what you were doing out there; as in "what's the point"? You can work up a sweat at the Y.M.C.A. or some toney exercise palace that costs a $100 a month to run on a treadmill with plugs in your ears, listening to wimp rock and watching fat boys like Will Ferrell and Hugh Black on high def. What I'm talking about are dreams that we all have that might not become real but so what, dreams are a big part of people's lives; dreams for yourself, dreams for your family, dreams for your kids. Some you attain, some you don't, but you don't give them up.

What I'm really talking about are the dreams you know you never had a shot at. Yah, right, you're going to be an N.F.L. quarterback like Peyton Manning in the Super Bowl driving down the field for the winning touchdown or you're going to invent a cure for a deadly disease or yeah it's you and Tiger Woods walking toward the clubhouse at Augusta on the 18th hole with all those fat-cat corporate hackers cheering you on. If you are going to dream it might as well be something big. Right, and it never happens for 99% of us does it? So what, we get on with our lives and everything is alright but we still have that fantasy of doing something amazing or heroic. Something that people will never forget.

Well so you're just a no talent fantasizer who's never done anything athletically or personally on the world stage, much less the national, local or neighborhood stage. What do you do about it? You don't have a clue do you because you're not only a no talent unathletic schmuck, you're too lazy to take the obvious next step of what.....? Let me spell it out for you! You use what discipline you might have to write a book! If you've got the intestinal fortitude to be out running in God-forsaken weather in the middle of the the night you can get it done! I'll guarantee you something has been inspiring you to be out there in the dark all by yourself. Something has been winding it's way through your imagination as your steamy cold breath billows in front of you and your running shoes send exploding geysers of icy water up your legs. Sure why not? Because anything can happen in a book, because it is what is in your creative mind that ends up on those pages and if it's your main character winning the World Series with a walk off grand slam in the bottom of the ninth or piloting a rocket ship to Mars or tracking a vampire through the sewers of London or climbing Mount Everest in a brutal storm you are only limited by your drive and imagination; it's what has pushed you out the door for all those years.

Yah, I know what you're going to say because I said the same wimpy stuff to my lazy/slacker self too. Whine, whine: I don't have the time, I can't spell, I never had good grammar, etc. etc.; in other words I don't have the guts to even try... to even give it a shot. Then you realize, yeah I've got a pretty good idea for a book that people might like (whether it's family, friends or people who feel sorry for you.) So what do you do next? You write a chronological outline of what is going to happen like you did back in school a hundred years ago. That's where it all starts because then you have something on paper which is more than you had last week. From there it's a matter of every day expanding that outline into scenes and chapters and amazingly your book will grow and develop before your eyes! It's not going to happen over night but if you keep at it someday you will be finished.

Hey it doesn't matter if one person likes it, the point is is that you put it on paper and it's there forever; you took the time to do it. You got up an hour early every morning or you spent an hour writing at lunch instead of socializing or when the rest of your family was in bed you were pursuing your dream. You were putting pen to paper. That's the only way it's going to happen and it happened for me! It took a few years but I got it done. And you know what? I don't know anyone in my life, as in family, friends, schoolmates or coaches who has written a book.

It's true, I haven't found anybody in the mainstream publishing world to publish my dream (although I'm still working on it.) Nobody in that rarefied industry seems to be interested. That's OK because no one can take away the fact that I did write a book. Maybe only twenty people have read it, but I don't care because I know my novel is a damn good story! I know because I read all the time; as in I have a book going every day. I know a good book when I read it and if I don't like it I'll give it a few more pages, then if I still don't like it I'll dump it and go on the the next one. In other words I'm not some rookie who reads their one book of the year and says "oh my goodness it's so relevant" or "what great characters, they are so unique and sympathetic!" My book is a terrific story with people whom I brought to life! My imagination introduced them to me and it was great to meet them! Just like you will know your characters in your story. You might not know them all at first but they will magically come alive with a joyous surprise and you will wonder where they came from. They came from you!

My story and the people who inhabited it were part of my life! I had something inside me that had to be written and I brought it out. (Like you can.) The very cool thing is that when it was all done I didn't feel embarrassed to read it. My story had good and bad people, it had humor, it had drama, it had individual and family love and it had failure and redemption. When I would proof read my novel one more time I would be amazed at the emotion that was inherent in the story. These were events and people that I had created that were based on reality and they would never cease to warm me with the recognition of what I had written over a whole lot of years.

Another cool thing about writing a book is that running seems to encourage the process. As you run you will think about your book and characters and scenes will develop from all that nourishing blood flowing through your body and into your brain. If you reach a point in your book where something isn't working or doesn't make sense just think about it on a five mile run. The clarity that comes from your body functioning at it's peak will find a solution.

So give it a shot. See what can happen when you commit yourself to your own dream. As it's been said: "Everyone has at least one book inside them but it's up to that person to bring it out!"

"Only you can make your dreams real!"

Friday, September 11, 2009

plantar fasciitis

June 28th: Man, what drag having my left heel "blow up" at the Shorerun 5k after 1-1/2 miles and having to walk in, beaten by women pushing baby strollers and porky guys with their running shorts jammed into their butt cracks. It's been a long road back (figuratively and literally) in curing my nagging case of plantar fasciitis but things are looking up. Since August 23rd I have been on nine pain-free runs in increasing distances from 1-1/2 to 4 miles. Today I added a gradual hill on 39th Ave. E. that, although it kicked my butt, my left heel felt OK after 3 miles.

With no medical credentials or podiatric (is that a word) expertise or schooling but having a lifetime (forty some years) of running experience and knowing my body, I know how I acquired this bothersome, hard-to-cure injury. First, I am 62 years old and have been running since I was a junior on the Garfield High School cross country & track teams. That's a lot of miles on the old dogs. Second, during every one of those years I have had flat feet. Third, the sandals I "knock around" in at home, that have an arch, broke a strap and I replaced them with sandals that do not have an arch. Fourth, when that happens the plantar fasciitis, a sheath that runs along to bottom of your foot and is attached to the back of your toes and the front of your heel, flattens out. Fifth, that's bad because then the plantar fasciitis starts to pull at the toe and heel connections. Sixth, that's REAL bad because until that pressure is relieved from those two points all the ice, heat, massage, ibuprofen, exercises & cortisone shots in the world are not going to cure your problem. (Actually my problem.)

What I needed to do was to "knock around" in a pair of sandals that not only had an arch but also a heel strap that kept the sandal attached to my foot. A pair of sandals known as "flip flops" wasn't going to get it done, according to my foot expert Dr. Larry Huppin at the Foot & Ankle Center, because the sole drops away from the foot's arch as you walk. This doesn't give the foot continuous support like mine needed. This information was confirmed by my shoe, arch, sandal expert Larry at REI where I spent $200 on Chaco Sandals, and Superfeet arches for both my dress and running shoes.

My doctor said if these solutions didn't work then custom orthotics (arches)or a cortisone shot were the final options. Yuck! Custom orthotics seem like a "con" because every one I've ever seen looks just like the ones I see on the racks at running stores and REI (but remember I'm not a doctor or a shoe professional) and no way is anyone going to stick a needle in my foot since I had an inherent feeling that action would be just treating the symptom and not the cause of my pain.

I had been following the treatment I outlined above about three weeks before the Shorerun but apparently it wasn't long enough for it to take hold but after "shutting down" my running for two months along with the new sandals, arches, ice and massage I'm back on the road. Also one other treatment I have followed (I was desperate!) was a Futuro foot support purchased from the Pharmaca in Madison Park for about $45. (Heartily endorsed by Steve Wood.) Made of light-weight plastic with soft Velcro straps you put it on at night and as you sleep it keeps your foot locked in a 90 degree position ("therapeutic angle") allowing the tissue in your foot to heal overnight. Normally as you sleep your foot points down and then when you step on it, first thing in the morning, the tissue that has started to heal overnight pulls away. This slows the healing process and causes continuous morning pain in your heel.

After finishing my first run back on August 23rd I noticed in my "Marty Jerome" running log that his "words of wisdom" for the day were: "When returning from an injury, plan about two weeks of retraining for every week you were sidelined to reach our previous performance." Hm-m-m-m eight weeks without running times two equals 16 weeks of training to get it all back. December 23rd, looking forward to an early Christmas present and a 5k in January of 2010!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Trip: 2009 "The Wall"

Just got back from Philadelphia after attending my First Battalion First Marine Regiment reunion, the unit I served with in Vietnam. On the way I stopped in Washington D.C. to visit my brother Terry at the Vietnam Memorial. I had been telling myself for forty years I was going to go see him when suddenly I was 62 years old and I realized that now was the time. Combining the visit with the reunion seemed like a good idea. I had been in touch intermittently with a few of my comrades from Charlie Company and they wanted me to come and my wife Gwynne and two daughters Caitlin and Charlotte encouraged me too. I have dealt OK with Terry's death but I still miss him a lot and going to The Wall was something I knew I had to do to honor him and the other Marines I knew who were there.

After getting off the Metrorail near George Washington University I headed down the gradual incline of 23rd St NW and could see the Lincoln Memorial in the distance. I didn't look for a taxi because I felt that the half mile journey I was taking should be walked; like a man, like an ex-Marine, like a brother should do. True I was dragging my suitcase on wheels like a wimp but it was hot and I didn't stop for a water break or a rest in the shade. At the bottom of the hill, at Constitution Ave., I stopped at the light and knew that through the trees and across the street to my left was my destination. After crossing the street then heading left I reached Henry Bacon Drive and I turned right.

I often wondered what I would do when I got the Memorial, would I circle it as if scouting on patrol? would I stand and watch the other visitors, putting off the moment until I felt comfortable? or would I turn away like a coward unable to face the truth? I knew the panel Terry's name was on and the line number. I immediately turned left and descended down the ramp with the Wall on my left and the people around me invisible. 12W, 19W, 23W. I was at Terry's panel and my eyes ran down the names until they stopped. -RALPH T.LOMEN- (His middle name was Terence) I knew his name was there and I wasn't trying to kid myself that it wasn't. I stared at his name for awhile lost in my thoughts, strangely calm and at peace. Then I crouched down, level with his name, and took three photographs from slightly different angles not sure how the afternoon sun would reflect off the black granite. Finally I reached in my pants pocket and removed items that I placed at the base of the Wall, underneath Terry's name.

Ralph Terence "Terry" Lomen

Prior to going on my trip I knew I wanted to leave something to mark that I had been to visit my brother but I couldn't think of the right memento. Finally the night before I was to leave I sorted through a collection of family items and found the perfect thing: a dog tag of Terry's from Vietnam, one of my dog tags from my service there and an American Red Cross dog tag belonging to our mother Rosanne Coyle from her service in Europe during the Second World War.

How did I feel reading that undoubting name on the Wall? Confirmation and relief are the the only words I can think of that registered at the moment because I had already been through all of the other words and emotions since June 7th 1969. I won't list them because there are too many but seeing his name made me realize that I had completed a journey of love for my younger brother and there would never be a day that I wouldn't remember him.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Trip: 2009 1st Battalion 1st Marine Regiment Reunion

AUGUST 29, 2009 1:30pm - Because of an amazing coincidence I hit the ground at the Capitol hours before Senator Kennedy's memorial and as I stood at Constitution Avenue there was not a taxi to be found. Having been delayed at the DC airport and since my walk from the Metrorail station to the Wall had taken longer than I had expected I was "under the gun" to get to Union Station in time for my train's departure at 2:20PM. Walking the three miles was not an option as it was already 1:45PM.

Suddenly a taxi passed me on Constitution Avenue heading westbound but the station was due east. I didn't care as I ran into the street and raised my arm. "Taxi", I shouted. The yellow cab continued a few yards then it's brake lights flashed on, the driver flipped a yooey and headed back my way. After popping the door I shoved my bag in and announced "Union Station" to my driver, Muhammad from Ethiopia. I thanked him profusely and he picked up on my urgency in a moment and said I would make my train "with no problem". I breathed easier as I was already ticketed for Philadelphia and didn't want to deal with rescheduling fees, missing my train and not making it to the Reunion on time.

Muhammad was a good guy who was glad to be living in America but traveled back to his homeland yearly to see his family. Arriving at the station I tipped Muhammad well, found the Quik-Trak machine, scanned the bar code on my confirmation form and found the gate for my departure. Standing in line, I met a couple who were traveling home to New York who confirmed that I was waiting for the right train and heading in the right direction. Once aboard the #156 Northeast Regional I figured I would break out my newly purchased neck brace, kick back and snooze for the 2 hour trip to Philly (I've been told it's not presumptuous to use this city nickname). But I was too keyed up and I realized that the emotion of the moment was what was going to get me through the day. I welcomed it and pulled out my reading material: the latest novel from one of my favorite authors Michael Connelly titled: THE SCARECROW.

Before I left Philly I called my nephew Tyler at whose home I would be spending the night. His mom Mary Beth, dad Dale and brother Travis were visiting from Tacoma, WA. and they were all going to the "Jersey shore" for a few days. Another amazing coincidence that we would be "passing ships in the night" the only time I had been on the east coast in thirty years. (I ran the Boston Marathon in 1979 back when you had to qualify by running a sub three hour marathon. Another story.) He confirmed the key was underneath the white pot on the back porch and that his three roommates probably wouldn't be around until the next day. (It WAS Saturday night in Philly and they were all in their mid-twenties.)

I also was in contact with my Marine comrade, Mike Newton, who was going to pick me up at the 30th Street train station in Philly. Conveniently, Tyler's house was north of the city and on the way to King of Prussia Sheraton where the reunion was being held. Mike, when he worked for PBS, visited us in Seattle a couple of times so the girls had met him and he entertained Caitlin and her friend Nicole one night in Boston when he worked for the Boston Ballet. They were having a special performance for some "high rollers" so Mike invited them but didn't require them to make any donations.

Mike said he would meet me at the 30th Street entrance and it was a wonderful surprise to find two other former comrades: John Keeling from Houston and Joe Fulginiti from Fredericksburg, VA. in the car with Mike. All four us had been involved in a memorable battle on Hill 689 on July 6-8 1968 with both Mike and John being wounded and medevaced in a daring helicopter rescue at night and under enemy fire. I hadn't seen John or Joe for a long time and the drive to Tyler's and the hotel gave us time to "hash" over stuff we hadn't dealt with for forty years.

John, Will, Mike & Joe

Unbelievably, I had forgotten John had been wounded and seeing the scar on his cheek that curved down his nose confirmed that good luck is fleeting and unpredictable. He and Mike had been wounded by the same exploding mortar round with me close behind, untouched and suddenly thrust into the role of squad leader. The four of us, with our different perspectives, were able to piece together the events of that chaotic night. With Mike and John gone and after events of the following day and deadly night I found myself as the commander of Charlie Company second platoon. With Joe's recollection of the aborted rescue mission the next day and his revelation that Charlie Company fired over 400 mortar rounds the second night I found a lifetime of questions being answered. I remembered with awe knowing three of my nine lives being used up in less the 48 hours.

With Saturday traffic on Highway 67 backed up like rush hour Joe exited and entered the freeway in what he claimed were short cuts. In fact, like most guys, he would rather be moving in a longer route than crawling along bumper to bumper on a shorter route and taking the same amount of time. If didn't matter as it gave the four of us time to get reacquainted after a forty year separation. Joe is a corporate motivational speaker, married with two beautiful daughters (I know they are beautiful because they were at the reunion dinner), John is a hotel developer with a son and a daughter and a beautiful wife Evelyn (I know she is beautiful because she was also at the reunion) and Mike has a son and a beautiful wife Jenalyn (I know she is beautiful because he told me).

We dropped my gear at Tyler's and after using Mike's room at the hotel, to get squared away, I made it to the pre-function at 6:30PM with a Budweiser in my hand. With a lot of the remaining major breweries located east of the Mississippi micro/macro/specialty beers don't seem to be as prevalent as they are in the West. I settled for a "Bud" because my other choices were Bud lite, Miller lite or an "imported beer" Corona. Lite beer and a beer that can only gagged down with a slice of lemon are pretty sad options but the "King of beers" was cold and I had a designated driver (Mike) so I was a happy boy.

After I met John's wife Evelyn and Joe's two great daughters, George Dougherty Sr. the 2009 Reunion Chairman, sidled up to Joe and said "you're the man". They gave each other a long look and Joe said to our group "he means I'm the master of ceremonies AND the main speaker AND the guest of honor." Apparently because of the current activities in Iraq and Afghanistan our main speaker, a Marine General, had to cancel his speech to our group. We nodded to Joe and said "you are the man!"

Joe was in his element as for the next two hours he told jokes, reminisced about past commanders and cajoled his comrades to the stage to speak. Some of these men had never stood up in front of a group this large (three hundred) but they "spoke from the heart" giving the evening a uniquely personal feel. Sure it would have been informative to get a update on the next "surge" and it is true those are our brothers fighting over there now but it's not our war. Having the mother of Sergeant Alfredo Gonzales, a Medal of Honor recipient from Alpha 1/1, sitting at our table and hearing her speak was an honor and it personalized "our war" and made me proud of having been a Marine and having served with those men.

After the dinner and the speeches I mingled with Marines who had served in Vietnam before me and after me and in the other companies in 1/1 Alpha, Bravo, Delta and Headquarter & Supply while I had been "in country" but I didn't know or recognize any of them. In spite of that we still had at least three things in common; we were Marines, we had served our country when asked and we lived to tell about.

Finally my group ended up back at our table just as a waiter we telling Mike (who doesn't drink) that we were only supposed to have two bottle of wine at a time at our table, not five. Without hesitating, Mike said, "three of them are empty but bring us a couple more when you get a chance." You cracked us all up. What stamina John's wonderful wife Evelyn has! She helped us close the place down and probably listened to a lifetime of boring war stories in on night! She and my wife Gwynne are soul mates. Meeting Joe's terrific daughters, who love their dad so much that they would hang out with a bunch of sixty year olds for one long evening, was a wonderful replacement for missing my two daughters Caitlin and Charlotte. My girls have always been aware of my being in the Marine Corps and my serving in Vietnam and they know they will never meet their uncle Terry so they have been very curious about "dad's trip" and my visit to "The Wall". It took forty-some years to get there but the time was right and I'm glad we all made it. (In more ways the one.)