Still a Runner

A Blog by Mary Lou Harris

Freddi’s Different Marathon

Are you one of us who go through life completing milestones in a slightly different order than most? If you veered to an alternate route somewhere on the map of your life, you will find a like mind in Freddi.

I first heard the name ‘Freddi Carlip’ in the early ’90’s when I joined my local running club. Freddi was a well-known runner and Eastern Director, then President of the RRCA. You may know her as the publisher/editor of Runner’s Gazette.

Miss RM

Freddi – Miss RM (Road Manners)

I found Freddi to be a kindred spirit when I read her recent column. Although she moved on from our Age Group 65-69, she will complete her journey to become a woman later this month. She shares her journey below.

On the Verge of a ‘Different Marathon’

The image of a woman I used to know is burned into my mind. She’s the foundation upon which my life has been built. She helped me get to the starting line of the run that has become my life. Let’s see if I can describe her…

She entered college as an Elementary Education major in 1962 at Temple University. The joke on campus was that any college girl studying Elementary Ed was really going after her MRS. Degree. Her parents thought teaching was the best plan for the girl’s future. She really wanted to be a writer.

The young woman’s life was mapped out by her parents, by the Northeast Philadelphia Jewish community in which she grew up, and, of course by Doris Day and Donna Reed.

An aside: She had no interest in anything athletic, except her hometown sports teams. She was forever being told she was terrible at sports…and she believed the words she heard. Her classmates laughed when she had to run during gym. She was always chosen last for neighborhood pick-up games of any kind. She laughed when the kids laughed, but she hurt inside. She dreaded gym the way most kids dread calculus.

All proceeded according to plan – engaged in here senior year of college, married a month after she graduated, taught school, pregnant, first child, second child…Stop!

Here’s where life’s plan, as arranged by everyone but the young woman involved, had a mid-course correction, thanks to the Running Boom of the 1970s.

You guessed it. That non-athletic Donna Reed wannabe is now an athletic independent woman of – wow – 70. She has developed into the person I’ve become; a person I never dreamed I could be.

Freddi in 1981 - Run for the Diamonds with Andy Anderson

Freddi in 1981 – Run for the Diamonds with Andy Anderson

Running has given me the opportunity to explore my limits, to test my body, and to push myself. My running roots are planted in the first Boom. They’ve grown deeper and stronger over the years.

Through running I experienced the joy of my body in motion; I felt the sweat drip and reveled in it. It’s a cleansing, cathartic experience. I learned courage; courage to take risks, both in races and in life.

Our runs give us time to connect with friends or time for some much-needed solitude. We can look in the mirror and say to ourselves, Look at me. I’m strong. I’m fit. I’m ready for anything.

Ready for anything…I’m on the verge of a different kind of marathon which will take place on May 23.It all begins with the first step. Once we conquer our fear of that first step we are ready for anything. The life mapped out by my parents included going to Hebrew School and studying to become a bat mitzvah at the age of 12. A bat-mitzvah ceremony is similar to a bar mitzvah. It’s the girls’ version and, although it’s common now, it wasn’t when I was a kid. That was one stop on my parents’ map that I chose not to visit. My parents were disappointed, but didn’t push me.

Fast forward to maybe 10 years ago. The wisdom of age softens how we see the past. My parents were gone and the thought of a bat mitzvah played in my mind. I never followed up. The dream became dormant…until last summer. That’s when I began my “marathon.” This one, though, was about taking the first step—learning Hebrew, one letter and vowel at a time. It was as scary as committing to running 26.2 miles. As with all training, we proceed slowly, learning to run the distance a few miles at a time.

I can now see the finish line. I’ve learned the Hebrew alphabet (aleph-bet), the vowels, and the prayers I need to know. I’m now working on my Torah portion and Haftorah (accompanying reading).

It’s been difficult at times. I became frustrated when I would stumble or forget the letters or vowels, and when I lost focus. Then there were the times I would read the prayers almost perfectly. My rabbi and teacher, Serena Fujita, a dear friend, has been understanding and patient. We meet once a week. I study almost every day.

Sometimes the thought of standing in front of friends and family, leading prayers, and reading from the Torah overwhelms me and I can feel anxiety kicking in. Other times, I revel in how far I’ve come and how close I am to making this dream come true. Anxiety and excitement—I felt that for my first marathon in 1983. I’m now preparing for a different kind of marathon. There’s a saying that when a boy becomes a bar mitzvah at 13, he becomes a man (“Today I am a man”) in the Jewish tradition. When I finish my “Bat Mitzvah Marathon,” I’ll become a woman…at 70.

Running is what prepared me to go after my dreams and conquer my fears, for all the marathons of my life.

(Credit: Freddi Carlip, Runner’s Gazette March 2015)

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