Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Tue, 2 Oct 2001 08:51:40 -0400

Right Turns


Life's turns taken innocently can lead amazing places. In the mid-1980s this happened both to me and to a young man who might be called my stepson, though I think of him simply as a good friend. Chris Hazen and I might never have known each other if his mother and I had chosen different courses.

My last several books had flopped, along with my marriage. I needed extra work and might have looked for it the usual way, by seeking more speaking at races around the country.

Instead I answered a newspaper ad for part-time teachers of journalism at the University of Oregon in my hometown of Eugene. My tryout was to guest-lecture in a class about writing books.

I passed this test and taught in that department for the next dozen years. But that wasn't the best outcome of the trial. After this talk a bright-eyed woman came up to see me.

She might have taken a different class, skipped this day's session, or chosen to leave early. But here she stood.

"My son is a runner," she said. "I think he'd like to read one of your books."

"Here, take this one," I told her. "What's his name?"

"Chris. He's 17."

I signed the book and handed it over while asking, "And what's your name?" She said, "Barbara... Barbara Shaw."

We saw each other around the J-school hallways for more than a year before our first date. We've been together ever since, and married for almost 10 years.

The year Barbara and I teamed up, her son Chris made a chance choice that changed his life's course. He asked himself while a student at Boston University, Where do I go for my junior year abroad?

France was his likely choice, since he spoke French. But everyone goes to Europe, he thought, so where can I go that's more exotic?

He chose Hong Kong, though he didn't speak any Cantonese when he enrolled at the Chinese University. He would learn the language so well, along with Mandarin, that he would spend seven years working in Hong Kong and China.

Chris's running also took a great leap forward in Asia. He'd run the Boston Marathon, as a bandit, during his B.U. years and had become intimate with the marathon's great wall.

A few years later he qualified for Boston under its toughest standard, running 3:07. He completed a pair of 100-K's in Hong Kong and often ran with the local band of Hash House Harriers. He later would co-direct an ultra in Mongolia.

The extended stay abroad had an even better outcome. Chris met Hong Kong native Cindy Chan during their stay at the Chinese University. They were slow to move beyond simple friendship, taking almost 10 years to find romance.

This proved inconvenient, though, when they found themselves on opposite sides of the Pacific. Cindy moved to the States in the last days of 1999, and they announced their engagement while Barbara and I visited them during last year's Olympic Trials in Sacramento.

They were married this month in Vancouver, British Columbia. (Chris relaxed during the wedding week with an hours-long trail run.)

Life had another unexpected turn awaiting them. The day they were to leave for a Hawaiian honeymoon, Cindy called us from a hospital. Chris had a ruptured appendix, required midnight surgery and faced a long recovery.

Almost everything still turned out right for him, and for them, and for us. We'd innocently made the right choices long ago.

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