Why do I run? Because I can, and he couldn’t

Mark A. Jackson City Administrator
City Administrator Mark Jackson runs a past year’s Rosy Cheeks 5K. Contributed photo

Saturday will be the 20th running, or walking, if you prefer, of the Rosy Cheeks 5k Race.

When we first started our recreation department around the same time, I thought it would be cool to have a 5k race in the middle of winter. That’s how this race got started. Most running events are held during the other three seasons of the year when the weather is nicer and is typically held during a community festival much like our Scandinavian Days Race.

Over the last 19 years we’ve had weather in the 30s and 40s, we’ve had wind chills so far below zero that it froze the timer, and we’ve had snow and ice storms the day before the race.

We also serve a pancake breakfast after the race in the fire station. It’s a way to draw in people from communities throughout central Iowa and even a few from Minnesota. The Rosy Cheeks 5k Race is what small town Iowa is all about — unpredictable weather, a pancake breakfast in the fire station, and coming together to enjoy the camaraderie that comes with running and walking.

Why do I run? For that matter why do any of us run? Let’s be honest. Running is hard work and the joy in it is when the run is finished. I started running cross country my freshmen year in high school for the simple reason that I wanted to stay in shape for basketball and didn’t play football because I didn’t see the thrill of having some 200-pound guy try and pummel me.

Why do I still run 40 years later? I use to think over the years that running was my brief escape from the world. A time for solitude, reflective thought, staying in shape, stress relieve, and perhaps the only thing you can say you accomplished in a given day.

One day I came in from a run. It was cold and windy, it is Iowa where some of the time it is cold and a lot of the time it is windy; my knees were aching and I wondered out loud why I still had that deep desire to run? My wife, Elizabeth, replied that maybe it was because “your father couldn’t.” One of things that I have learned over the years is that much of what we do and who we are is in response to what are parents did or didn’t do.

My father, at the age of 23, a year before I was born, was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. By the age of 32 he was confined to a wheel chair and never walked again, needed to be placed in a nursing home at 39, and died at the age of 47. I have only a few memories of my father walking (with a cane) and a vivid memory of him playing basketball. All of my other memories of him are of a man for reasons beyond his control unable to stand, walk, run, or play basketball.

We take it for granted that we can run or walk. I don’t. I can’t. I am grateful for the gift, this very special gift that none of us should take for granted. I find it sad when I read that we are becoming a nation of “couch potatoes” with obesity as one of our nation’s biggest health problems.

Next time you don’t feel like running or walking because you are tired, don’t have the time, or would rather watch television or play on the computer think about spending a day, a week, a year, a life-time in a wheel chair unable to run or think about someone who can’t like my father. Maybe then we might realize what a special gift running and walking is for each of us.

I run because I can and he couldn’t.