As three women stood chatting in a car park, a would-be robber held a knife to the throat of one of them, aged 82 years, and demanded her handbag. She tried to kick him in the groin but could not lift her leg high enough.
Seeing her dilemma, her 89-year-old companion stepped forward and repeatedly hit the robber on the head with her own handbag.
In the meantime, their 71-year-old friend memorised the registration plate of the car he had arrived and later fled in, sans handbag. He was arrested later that day. (This true good news story from Melbourne, Australia, was tucked away on page 9 of the Weekend Argus, May 28 2011. I have a practice of keeping such stories and found this one in my notebook the other day.)
This story inspires me because it is full of courage and fortitude. And it completely contradicts the notion of being a victim.
As you get on in years it does become more difficult to kick as high as you may wish to. Even to groin height. But that didn’t stop these three old ladies’ instinct to resist intimidation or their practical outrage at injustice.
That poor perpetrator picked three pensioners with a finely honed instinct of valour.
I’d like to hear their stories. Not their accounts of what happened on that particular day, but about the choices they made all the way through their lives. They knew how to face down a threatening challenge because they had done so many times before.
And that is a whole lot more important than how high you can kick. Why, there are some yoga practising people half their age who frequently lift their foot to the ceiling but who are so flexible that they can’t face relational awkwardness or emotional discomfort.
I wrote this column for a trail running magazine, not Geriatric Martial Arts. Bear with me - I’m getting there.
I love trail running because it allows me the opportunity to face the frightening, uncomfortable things. Like most people, I am sometimes tempted to try to avoid pain. But I’ve learned that when we do that, we cause ourselves, and others, more pain. The quest for an easy life only produces complication and superficiality.
Trail running exposes me to the earth’s fundamental elements and so gives me the opportunity to face the truth inside and out. It opens for me the honest conversations that put me back in touch with who I am and what I really want my life to be about.
When I take the road less travelled by physically running thin trails, I deepen my ability to make the harder choices inside. When I jump rocks and rivers, I dream intention into my life. As I struggle up steep rough hills, I commit to choices that will bring those dreams to reality.
Thomas Edward Lawrence (16 August 1888 – 19 May 1935) better known as Lawrence of Arabia, did many adventurous things. That was because he understood the power of dreaming with intention.
He said, “All men dream; but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity. But the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible. (Seven Pillars of Wisdom, 1922).
I would add, “And the dreamers who run trails are even more fearsome beings, for they may have discovered that they can go beyond their own limitations and achieve greater heights than even they dreamed possible.”
If you love trail running as I do, then I offer you these practical ideas:
For the first 20 minutes of your run allow your mind to freefall – let it churn and dump whatever it brings. Don’t judge or structure it.
Then ask yourself: “What do I need?” This is a difficult question for many of us. You can’t answer it without an attitude of kindness to yourself. It takes time and patience. So look around you, see the earth, breathe it in and know that you are welcome because you have chosen this trail. Appreciate the choice you have made to come out. Value yourself. What do you need? What does your life long for?
As you run with those needs in your mind, problems and hurdles will present themselves. Reasons why you can’t have what you long for will appear. Just like the tree stumps, streams and splits in the path, you can’t ignore them. But you also can’t get stuck in them. See them as problems to solve because, as you do, you move closer to your dream becoming reality. What solutions can you think of? Each is like a thin trail you will need to navigate. How can you make a start?
Make a decision about something you can do to lean into your life once your run is over. A practical action you will take. It can be small like tidying that cupboard or big like making that phone call. The important thing is to make a commitment to yourself that you will do that same day that will move you in the direction you want your life to go.
As you finish your run allow your mind to freefall again. You have made a commitment. You can depend on you.
I want to be like those three old ladies when I can’t jump a river anymore. Or kick to groin height. I want valour to be my default. I love trail running because it sets the internal dialogue that will get me there.