Silent Hero

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One of the great joys of life, I think, is finding a sneaky lesson concealed deeply within a personal ordeal.  As you probably know, I am currently enjoying the pleasure of an orthopedic boot on my left foot.  How could you not know?  I’ve bitched about it to anyone who will listen.  Recently I have discovered a new-found respect for my right leg, for quietly abiding the shortcomings of my left.  With quiet humility, it patiently awaits the left when it starts to lag behind.  When my left bangs into a chair, or catches on a door jamb, my right quietly ignores what might otherwise serve as a source of embarrassment. My right never complains.  It just does.  My right is a silent, humble hero that does great things without ever requiring recognition.  It has triumphed through adversity and has displayed tremendous character.  And it has earned my unyielding respect.

My friend Jackie Johnson is a lot like my right leg.* Jackie has a laundry list of her own physical maladies.  She was born with one leg shorter than the other.  (Which I believe qualifies her for circus freak status.)  And she has asthma.    Yet despite these setbacks, Jackie quietly finished her first half marathon this past Fall in St. Louis.  Jackie has other challenges in her life as well.  Her son, Lanny was born with Spina Bifida.  Most of us will never know the amount of work that goes in to caring for a child with special needs.  In my world, the routine daily tasks required to raise my daughter may, at best, cause me mild annoyance.  But the simple and mundane take on a whole new meaning for Jackie, and require a herculean amount of strength.  Most recently, Jackie has embarked upon a new challenge– going back to college in order to pursue her nursing degree, which she expects to receive in under two years.  She’s gonna make one helluva great nurse.  And it would be any hospital patient’s privilege to be the recipient of Nurse Jackie’s care.  Jackie is a pillar of patience.  And she uses it to silently slay the reasons in her life for why she should never succeed.  Jackie doesn’t talk.  Jackie does.  And she is someone whom I admire tremendously.

Humility is a lesson that I have learned too late in life.  And I’m not even sure it’s something I can learn, either.  But I sure do admire it.  With power derived by the fact that it’s so subtle and understated, it reminds me of white space in a magazine ad.  It also strikes me as possessing the sort of courage and confidence that might ordinarily be awarded a chest full of medals.  I’m making it my mission to seek out more silent heroes like Jackie.  And they are all around us, silently setting examples on how to pursue a meaningful life. 

*Jackie, you are free to make jokes about this analogy.  I know I would as well.

Timeless Duet

ImageSaturday marks the fifteenth year of continuation in my life’s most beautiful duet.  Our song started in 1997, but the first note was not played on a sandy beach in Cozumel, like most might think.  Our song began as a simple one, in a Boone County courthouse.  Because I didn’t have health insurance and Suki worried that my Mexican exploits might warrant some pre-emptive caution.  Good idea, IMO. 

Honestly, in those early years I pretty much acted like the front man, and that Suki was my mini-skirt clad hottie backup singer belting out high note harmonies sung to lyrics that I was pretty sure I would always write.  And then, six years later, we made life.   Suddenly, the lead singer excuses himself, prefering, instead, the role of a stagehand performing occasional sound checks.  And then Suki stepped up to the mic and rocked our world with a solo that bounced off of the moon with a powerful and reverberating echo that would have given Adele chills.  The show is now hers.  And her name is prominently displayed on the marquee at any venue we play. 

The essence of our playlist has been as varied as the many adventures we have shared.  Many times, a blissfully sweet melody.  And, on a few occasions, mournful requiems that would forever change the way we would listen to music.  But, regardless of the nature of our songs, we always managed to find a way to give its lyrics everlasting meaning.  And to also find a way to gleefully greet the next song, even when the last one fell flat.

Fifteen will mark the year I think we finally nailed our genre– somewhere between adult contemporary and flashback 80s.  Proof of our effortlessness is the studio time needed to produce our songs– a mere fraction of what it once was.  And we now have our own backup singer. (No, not you Hubbs.)  In BRACES no less!  And already her solos are taking on the sort of perfection possessed only by the diva that once delivered her.  Our career as musicians has only just begun.  And our best concert is still way ahead of us. You are my favorite singer.  And you will always be the poet in my heart. 

Happy anniversary Suki.  I love you. 

The Bermuda Triangle known as Lucy’s… (By Guest Blogger Misty Brawner.)

I know it just doesn’t seem very fair, but my job is actually expecting me to do some work this week.  So today’s contribution comes to you from a very hilarious lady who is almost as funny as me.–  Misty “The Honeybadger” Brawner:Image

I first started running with my friend Craig about 2 years ago.  Amy had told me that he was one of the funniest people she knew and she thought we would get along swimmingly. Oh how prophetic that woman can be. When I first met him, for some reason I cannot fathom now, I thought he was a preacher. About the second time I ever ran with Craig I realized either he is not a preacher or he is a very liberal preacher who thinks that cursing, drinking and talking about sweaty asses is acceptable and even encouraged. So actually he could have been a Catholic priest now that I think about it.
 
We were instant friends. And, although we go back and forth on this like rabid animals, he is one of the funniest people I have ever met. Our battle for title of funniest sometimes, sadly, involves microphones and helpless victims at TSB socials. Not. Pretty. This past TSB social was a real doozy with his brother trying to get air time on the microphone as well. Best free entertainment around..
 
Our run group would meet on Saturday mornings and we would pound the pavement preparing for one race or another. Afterwards we would always descend upon Truman’s, our favorite watering hole with tasty cheap beers and greasy breakfast foods. As the winter months progressed Amy said that we should start doing some Sunday gravel rides. Our little rag tag group would gather in a specific location. All of us were bundled up, riding on bikes that probably had some spokes missing or gear shift issues, ready to have an adventure for the day. My friend Muna had started doing these gravel rides with us as well. Muna, as most who know her are already aware of, is directionally, well, challenged. But she is a trooper for sure. She bought a huge Schwinn bike, bundled up her body, wore her obligatory scarf as she is Muslim and we would all head out. We braved dogs, cold, mud, people mooning as they rode. Our lovely friend Lynn Parshall would come as well. She needs nothing more than her personality to liven up a group and make life worthy but for these rides we had added bonuses. She would bring her little radio and put it in her basket and we would be treated to all different types of music as we rode. 
 
The problems with the bike rides began when our routes started to veer near a little place called Lucy’s. Lucy’s is a tiny restaurant/bar a stone’s throw from the MKT trail head in McBaine. It has delicious ice cold beers, arguably one of the best hamburgers in Boone County, a jukebox with a play list dusty enough to house all of Lycke’s favorite sing-a-long songs and a variety of lively patrons. 
  
On one particularly cold, wet day we started off with our riders, type A people in the front zooming along, type honeybadger people in the back, mooning, laughing, enjoying the day. Let me tell you a wise piece of information though, mooning whilst riding a bike in yuck and mud on a cold day… not the best idea. It took quite a bit of effort to get that frozen skid mark off my ass later.

 
Our fearless leader had ridden on ahead, as she is of the Type A variety. So when we came across Lucy’s the choice was easy. No HC. Kitties will play. We had said we would only go in for TWO beers. Apparently we meant two cases. Muna was a little apprehensive, and deservedly so, because I am not sure there has ever been a Muslim patron at Lucy’s prior to that day. We had decided if we needed to rumble to bring world peace, we were up for the job. The patrons of Lucy’s were more than happy to have our ragtag group there. As it turns out the locals were very welcoming to all of us. We were there so long that day we even got invited to partake of their Thanksgiving meal they do every year. Everyone brought sides and meats and they were placed on a large table. And there we were, scarfing some of it down although Muna passed on the baked ham. We had only gotten one plate so we didn’t seem “greedy” and then four adults grabbed and pawed at the plate trying to get the food into our mouths. At one point we attempted to head home, on the bikes, but that was quickly aborted. Not because our biking skills were completely missing BUT because we knew we didn’t have enough beers with us to get us back to our point of origin. So we turned around and headed right back in to Lucy’s. All told we spent about 8 hours there that day. We had to get a ride back to the gym to retrieve our cars. We jammed out on the way home listening to Dr. Dre and watching Muna go Philly gangster on us. When we pulled into Wilson’s we had a couple of extra beer bottles we had to get rid of so we left them. I am proudest of us for pulling into a gym where healthy lifestyles happen and depositing empty beer bottles. Awesome. We made lifelong friends (not really, seeing that we barely had even one eye open). But most importantly we learned a big lesson.. people are just people. We brought cultures together that day. And Muna even survived there being a dog. In the bar.
 
After that our ride routes included less and less chances for us to even get near Lucy’s (Amy is a very smart woman). But we did better about finishing a ride. Life is about lessons. And we have certainly learned quite a few with our adventures to Lucy’s.

Peanut Butter Kisses

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A day or so ago, I watched Madeline frolicking with her dog, Stella.  It was a joyful, carefee sight.  As Stella eagerly lapped at my daughter’s face, I was instantly transported back in time.  To a gloomy, overcast day in very rural Covered Bridge, in Belleville, Illinois.  My brother and I were in third grade.  My sister, Tina (did I mention I have  sister?) was in seventh.  Our parents were in the process of getting a divorce, and my mother had some sort of an interior designer over in order to make the house more presentable/saleable.  We were told in no uncertain terms that kids were verboten inside the house while this VIP fluffed pillows and stacked magazines on coffee tables.  This left the three of us with a bit of quandary:  Ordinarily we’d have motorcycles or fishing poles or basketballs or, in Tina’s case, books, to occupy our time.
But a lack of preparation time left us healthy distraction neutered, so our only pastime was throwing rocks for our dog, Bourbon*, kicking dirt and my brother and I exchanging the occasional Texas Titty Twister.

This went on for about an hour before my brother decided it was time to crack a log.  And the level of his excitement indicated that this would be a possible breach delivery.  I may go into greater detail in a future entry, but let’s just say Curt’s digestive rituals were “unique.”  As I recall, my sister and I watched with delight as my brother implored the mercy of my mother’s court so that she would open the door and permit my brother access to modern era plumbing. To no avail. Did I mention we lived in the country?  This fact is significant.

My guess is this VIP interior decorator was an hourly person, and my mother’s Belgian sense of thrift forbade this person from being distracted.  So my brother did what any barely literate countrified hick would do– He dropped trow and crapped right there in our front yard.    By this time, my sister and I (in a rare act of solidarity, BTW) are nearly pissing ourselves from laughing.  As we teetered over on to our sides, enter the dog.  And before our collapsing bodies could touch a single blade of grass, Bourbon gulped down that turd in a single bite.  Like it was rib-eye.  If you ask any of us, none of us can recall ever letting that dog lick our face again.

A smile on my face marked my return to the present.  We know, for a fact, that Stella relishes deer poop.  So I decided to pass along a sanitized version of this story on to the next generation of Lyckes.  We should know in a few days the results of this decision.

*Unrelated side-note– EVERY pet I have ever had has been named after some form of booze:  Bourbon, Whiskie, Rummie and now Stella (Artois.)

Interesting Characters

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Emil Joseph Lycke had about as much business coaching a youth soccer team as Craig Joesph Lycke has leading a Women’s Christian Temperance Union.  As a matter of fact, my brother Curt and I are quite certain the job application had but one question on it: “Hables Ingles?”  It certainly wasn’t EJ’s athletic history.  His best (and only) athletic accomplishment that he ever boasted about was getting kicked in the stomache by a football kicker and being able to walk away from it unscathed. Looking back on what my Dad’s motivations were for being a duly unqualified soccer coach are pretty simple:  He definitely wanted to get out of the house.  He’d occasionally sneak off for a few snigglers.  And the fact that his then soon-to-be wife #2 was often seen sitting in the stands is probably also significant.

Our team was sponsored by Ron and Anne’s Arcade– Freeburg’s premiere (and only) arcade.  We had some interesting characters on it too.  In the interests of protecting the innocents, I have changed their names.  Lemme start with “Biter.”  The rationale for Biter’s name will avail itself shortly.  Biter’s sworn mortal enemy was “Booger.”  Probably over something important– like Biter was a Gobot man and Booger preferred Transformers.  The reason why I’ll call him Booger is pretty obvious– That kid routinely had more boogers than the back of your average elementary school bus seat.  Unless, of course, that bus seat was being occupied by Booger.  And Booger’s mom must not have believed it was good for him to breathe the fresh St. Clair County air either, as she likely spent a good part of her morning packing each of Booger’s nostrils with a healthy helping of snot spackle.  I’m not sure what happened to spark the kerfuffle on the day that I am about to describe, but Biter had had enough of Booger’s shit and proceeded to bury his teeth in to Booger’s ample right bosom.  He even managed to draw blood.  The rest of the team, coaches included, all stood around in disbelief.  We were pretty sure that Biter had bitten Booger’s tit clear off.  As the dust settled, Booger Sr., (that Booger Jr’s dad was an assistant coach is equally as mysterious as a Head Coach EJ) rushed down to get his son and then quickly whisked him off to the ER, where Booger was literally treated for rabies.  In an act of stolid leadership, Head Coach EJ made sure Biter was not invited back on the team.

The other two characters of note, we can easily call “EJ’s Disappointment #1” and “EJ Disappointment #2.”  Under no certain terms, whatsoever, should my brother and I ever be classified as even sub-par soccer players.  Maybe if we had just tried, but at that age putting forth effort paralleled the impossible.  One particular game provides a poignantly emblematic example on how Coach EJ felt about his little disappointments’ soccer abilities.  Curt and I played the fullback position, which is usually given to husky kids who refuse to move very much.  My brother and I were standing around, pretty close to the side line during a game where Team Ron and Anne’s Arcade were getting crushed.  I don’t recall exactly what we were doing, but it certainly wasn’t listening to my Dad’s excoriation, or even paying the slightest bit of attention to the ass-kicking that was ensuing around us.  As a matter of fact, probability would suggest that we were both consumed with removing accumulations of pulp paper-based products from our own sphincters.  Anyway, Coach EJ had had enough of this and proceeded to come out on the field of play and plant a size 12 running shoe in to the ass of first, EJ’s Little Disappointment #1, and then immediately afterwards EJ’s Little Disappointment #2’s ass received a helping of its own.  As a kid, I was mortified about this treatment, but now, as a pseudo adult, it’s complete hilarity.

I like to tell these stories because it helps keep my memory fresh about my Dad.  And because, in a way, I believe it helps me keep his spirit alive.  So I thank you for listening.

Validation is Painless

ImageOver the first ten miles of my Kentucky Derby Marathon, I listened to one song– “Sara” by Fleetwood Mac.  Only because this was the first song that came up in my rotation.  Ironically, it’s my favorite song– Because Stevie Nicks wrote it for reasons that are very relevant to my own life.  I had over seven hours of music on my Nano to choose from that day.  You might think I should have been tempted to listen to something more upbeat and faster paced.  But, as any seasoned gambler will tell you, when you’ve hit a hot streak you don’t change anything.  Besides, I was drowning in a sea of love.  And this was where I had always wanted to drown.

Preparation for that day began in earnest on January 2, 2012.  The day prior had wrapped up the three day bender to end all benders.  Suki and I had been kid-free for quite a while, and for some reason this always meant that good judgment went straight down the shitter.  I wouldn’t say that I had hit rock-bottom, but I can say with certainty that I had never grown more distant from myself. Were my left hand to have shaken my right, they would have greeted eachother as strangers.  In the weeks leading up to January 2nd, I had become obsessed with a song by James Morrison called “Person I should have been.”  Lyrically, it’s a perfect song.  Here’s a sample:

I’m gonna start again
This world I painted black
Just needs some colour
I’m gonna live my life like the other
Person I should have been

I ain’t tapping out, no no no no
To this dark and twisted dream
That’s kept me living
I pray to my soul
To keep its fire burning
And when it does
I’m gonna let it shine

I’ll make the best of this life I’ve got left
Got no time for no regrets
Gonna show you just what I can be
The person I should have been

In another section of the song, the artist proclaims “I wanna change my perspective of reality.  Be a much better version of me.  The person I should have been.”  So on January 2nd, Destructive Craig and Productive Craig struck an accord:  To apply the same level of intensity I granted injurious pursuits towards the quest to discover this better version of me. And no facet of my life would be spared this transformative process.  And, as a final exam, the results of this agreement would be tested on April 28, at the Kentucky Derby Marathon in Louisville, Kentucky.

The first two months of 2012 were spent almost entirely booze free.  The first four months were 100% refined sugar free.  I had a nine-week timespan where I worked out (either running, spinning, biking or swimming) every day.  And my caloric intake (previously overlooked) became a subject of serious family scrutiny.  Which can be very annoying.  There’s a point to this enumeration:  That my tracking down of this better version of me was no half-assed measure.  By March I was beginning to see some real results.  My A1C (90 day blood sugar average) was now ideal, non-diabetic.  I had dropped over two minutes off of my per mile average when running at a 5K pace.  I was also dropping weight like it was rainwater rushing off of a cliff.  My wife had a better husband.  My daughter, a better father. I was in good physical shape.  And my spirit soared.  By the end of April, I was ready to throw my arms around Louisville– To see what could be accomplished by this better version of me.  And I had a number in mind. Five.

(Finally, he gets to the race.)

The obvious advantage to heading into a marathon weekend with confidence is that you don’t need eight shots of Jameson to calm your ass down.  You sleep better too.  Despite foul weather predictions, Louisville had gifted us the sort of weather about which husky Belgian marathoners could only dream.  I lined up with the five hour marathon pace group hoping that those two men and I would be fast friends by 12:30 PM. As 7:30 AM hit, I shuffled forward with the scrum and shot one last smile at Suki.  I hadn’t ran a race with finish time expectations before, so a fare face served well to quell the uneasiness that rumbled within me.  We poured out of the chute on to Main Street at 7:44 AM Garmin time.  I felt tall.  And strong.  And capable.  I felt my quads constrict inside my compression shorts like they were a python applying a death wrap around its quarry.  My first eight miles will go down as the best miles I have ever ran, thus far.  I was averaging a sub 10 minute mile, so my finish time goal seemed like an inevitability.  At mile eight we pulled up to historic Churchill Downs.  The next mile would take us through the grandstands and infield track, and the anticipation of runners surrounding me was palpable.  As we spilled out on to the infield, we were surrounded by muscled thoroughbreds clip-clopping through the dirt track. Despite Stevie Nicks’ best efforts, I could still feel the weight of their hooves striking in my chest.

The half and the full marathoners parted ways after mile nine.  The full tacked south, towards Iroquois Park, where we would see our first series of serious hills at mile eleven.  Unfortunately the tone for the remainder of my race was about to take a catastrophic turn for the worse.  Nagging me like a bitter old woman was a left ankle that had been progressively building a head of steam.  Regardless, my spirit still soared and was buoyed by seeing the likes of Steve Jones and Trammell racing past me.  Iriquois Park is actually a golf course.  Have I mentioned how much I dislike golf?  I have always considered it a nice walk in the park spoiled by a stupid little white ball.  Now I can honestly say I loathe the sport.  Agonizing pain.  That’s how the six miles that passed through that park will be remembered. It’s also where I took my first walking break.  As soon as my momentum ceased, the reality of my pain set in.  Quickly.  I then recalled a passage in a book a had read a while back called “Born to Run” by Christopher McDougal.  In it, ultra-marathoner Scott Jurek was asked his secret for being able to burn through races that often exceed 100 miiles.  Jurek’s responded that he forced himself to leave his own mind and get in to someone else’s.  So I spent the next five miles thinking the thoughts of some of the people in my life.  Although this is a difficult strategy to master, I can honestly say it works.  Some miles were shear joy.  Most notably, as I channeled my thoughts into my daughter, Madeline’s mind I welled up with pride.  She lives a genuinely happy life.  A sign that her mother and I are doing our job.  Other miles filled me with anger, betrayal and bitterness.  I don’t believe in running with hatred in your heart, so those thoughts were quickly excorcised.    The people in my life carried me through to mile 16 and I had decreed that I would reward them by being more honest with them than I had been in the past.

It’s important to note that at no time during this race did I ever feel physically tired.  My conditioning felt very Kenyan.  But damn that ankle.  So much distress was causing me to become mentally exhausted. By mile 16, my stride had officially descended into more of a  right leg hop, a la Terry Fox in the movie “The Terry Fox Story.”  Quite unlike my first eight miles, miles 16 through 21 will be recalled as my all time worst.  Those miles were the death of joy.  I walked a lot of it.  And my two buddies, the five hour marathon pacers, slid effortlessly passed me with nary a sign of acknowledgement.  Today would not be the day that I achieved my finish time goal.  I wept. 

I don’t know what it is about mile 21, but, for me, for some reason, it always seems to be the Craig Lycke Salvation Show.  In my first marathon, in Austin, it was a solitary Asian woman holding a sign telling me she was proud of me.  In Louisville, it was another sign, but this time one held by a latina.  Apparently my salvation-bearer is very multi-cultural.  Her sign read: “Breath.  Pray.  Run.”  So I did.  I don’t usually pray.  And I’m certainly no Bible-beater, (not that it’s a bad thing if you are) but when your psyche has been beaten down so hard that you would consider anything to escape the pain you’re enduring, you will give anything a try.  So I prayed.  And with every fiber of my being.  I don’t know why I ever associated faith with weakness, but I don’t anymore.  Because I won’t argue with results. 

By mile 23 I got my mojo back.  The day had warmed considerably, but it was still gorgeous and the course was heading back in town.  Here it comes.  I can feel it drawing near.  My legs sensed it too.  They quivered with excitement and lunged me forward.  Claps of thunder and bolts of lightning pealed away in my wake.  An ungainly amble had transformed back into a fluid stride.  At mile 25, reality set in just as I saw the two Karens.  No, Karen Roberts– I was not giving you the hand.  That was a high five, party of one.  And I was afraid that if I stopped now, this Flemish draft horse might not make it to the barn.  After mile 26 availed itself to me, my spirit leaped.  I made the right turn towards the finish chute and who did i see next?  The Sole Sisters!  BOOYAH!  Soooooo glad you ladies came.  On my right were Suki, Rachael, Misty, Angie, Kim, Christine, Tim, James and the Joneses.  (If I forgot to list your name, and you were actually there, just remember that I was delirious from pain.)  Many high fives.  I even heard the race announcer call my name out.  “Craig L., Columbia, Missouri.”  Is “Lycke” really that hard to pronounce?  Man, I did it.  I finished.  Garmin time (the only time that matters) showed 5:29.  What the hell.  I’ll take it.  As I crossed the finish line, my first full sentence to a human being since my race started was “Can I get some ice?” to a race volunteer. 

It was the better version of me that was able to finish that race.  The other version would have quite.  No doubt about it.  Oh, and, I found out this past Tuesday that I finished that race with three stress fractures in my left ankle.  Finishing a marathon with a broken foot is actually a better story than finishing one with a hangover.  We don’t always get the life lessons we want, nor will we ever get them when we want them.  So I don’t begrudge my ankle.  I embrace it.  Destructive Craig isn’t going anywhere.  But he sure as hell won’t be such a frequent visitor anymore.  Productive Craig has recently signed on to some new, interesting challenges.  More on those later.