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

Sat, 22 Oct 2005 22:24:59 -0400

Letters from Camp


Dear Friends:

Sorry that I haven't written much lately. I was away camping a lot this summer. Here's what I didn't take time to write at the time.

These are letters from three very different running camps. They came at the rate of one a month, with one each in the West, East and Midwest. One catered to high schoolers, one was for marathoners who adore Dick Beardsley, one for runners who worship Jeff Galloway.

SQUAW VALLEY, California, July. Jeff Galloway hasn't called this a "camp" since its early years, and those reach back into the 1970s. To avoid any confusion with rough and tough camping, he once called this a "Vacation for Runners." Now it's a "Retreat."

I use a another term: "family reunion." I've joined the Galloways every summer since 1980, so long that Jeff and I each call the other a "second brother."

He's a strong family man. One summer at a time, I've watched his and Barbara's two sons, Brennan and Westin, come into this world and grow into their 20s. Jeff has brought both of his parents to camp, plus two sisters and his brother's son.

The Galloways first welcomed my children, Eric and Sarah, to Squaw Valley when they were six and two, then watched them grow. Other honorary aunts and uncles did the same, often while bringing along kids of their own until they outgrew this gathering.

Larry Sillen matches me in longevity here. He's known as "Major Video" (he says, "I was promoted from captain a few years ago") for his camera work. The only year he missed being here since 1980 was after a 2004 mugging on the streets of New York City.

Two others, Joe Cote from Nashville and Dexter Grindstaff from Atlanta, have attended this Retreat/reunion for 20-plus years apiece. Almost two-thirds of the attendees are now repeaters. They came first for the running, then they return for the "family."

GLEN SPEY, New York, August. This had been my longest, hardest trip of the year -- 14 hours from my door in Oregon before dawn to the Five Star Cross-Country Camp late that night, Eastern time. But had the travel been this tough?

At the office a man a few years senior to me, but no taller, introduced himself as Steve Lurie. Outside, a few minutes later, a man of about 40 who still looked like the college football player he once was, introduced himself. "Hi, I'm Steve Lurie."

Not until the next morning did I learn this hadn't been a jet-lagged dream. I'd really met two unrelated Steve Luries. The first is the camp director, the second his senior coach here.

Lurie I's camp is in its 25th year. It draws high school runners from as far away as Arizona (where this Steve now lives in semi-retirement), but mainly from New York and New Jersey.

It's the type of camp I never got to attend as a kid, and had never visited as an adult until now. Now the age of these campers' grandfathers, I never felt older.

While walking to the first of my talks, I overheard two young runners. One asked, "Who is this speaker?" The other said, "He used to be a writer for some magazine."

They all must have wondered what I was doing here and what someone so ancient could tell them. But they sat quietly and seemed to listen. They'd been well coached, both here and back home.

This didn't mean, though, that I did much talking with these runners one by one. Teenagers rarely start conversations with adults they don't know.

An exception was a young woman named Aislinn (pronounced "ASH-lyn") Ryan. We talked over breakfast my first morning at camp, where she struck me as mature beyond her years.

Aislinn runs that way too. She won the Footlocker National High School cross-country title last fall as a junior. Her future results will come alive for me now that I know the person behind them.

WAUBUN, Minnesota, September. A first sighting of these campers could have been both odd and misleading. That first day, several of them sat in the lodge at Rainbow Resort, hunched over their laptop computers, apparently doing vital business by remote control.

This was odd because the resort rests in the north woods of Minnesota -- a marathon's distance away from the nearest town of any size, and outside the reach of cable TV and the range of most cell phones. Yet Rainbow offers wireless internet.

Several of us tapped into this service. But it was less to do with business than with checking running news or playing fantasy football. Most of the campers left their work at home and shut off the real world at the airport.

One woman didn't fly here but drove in her pickup truck. Her first impression: "These are jet-setters, and I worry about not fitting in."

She thought of herself as different from everyone else. She would soon learn that we're all different in some way, but alike enough to get along.

The Dick Beardsley Marathon Running Camp attracted some business executives, attorneys and medical professionals. We also included a retired teacher, a massage therapist and a part-time jailer.

Rarely in the outside life would such a diverse people come together and get to know each other so well. Rarely here did the question, "What do you do?" even come up, unless it could be answered, "Fifty miles a week," or, "A 3:40 marathon."

Job credentials meant far less to us than the fact that we had two recovering addicts, three cancer survivors and man recovering from recent heart-bypass surgery. Everyone has problems, everyone can have successes.

Because Dick Beardsley himself has made such a great comeback, and talks about it so freely, this camp isn't just about running marathons. It's also about coming to terms with personal problems and finding ways to get better.

Runners often take home more than they expected to find at a running camp. I always do.


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