Walking (and running) in a new friend’s shoes

I had to laugh when they blasted “Walk a mile in my shoes” over the speakers at the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life Saturday night, because I really was walking in someone else’s shoes — a “gently used” pair of K-Swiss something or others that a new online running friend had sent me a couple of days earlier.

When I first saw her e-mail, I thought, “Oh no! Here’s someone who hasn’t been reading my blog very long, and she probably saw that reference to my high-mileage road beaters and felt sorry for me. Maybe she thinks that’s my only pair of running shoes!”

But that was just the residue of an unpleasant evening reverberating in my head. Once I shook that off — as I‘d been hopefully but unsuccessfully suggesting from the sidelines of an increasingly agonizing ballgame — I saw her message for what it was: a friendly gesture.

The idea of going for a run in her shoes made me smile for the first time in several hours.

This friend, who wishes to remain anonymous, refused to dither over reimbursement.

“This would be for fun,” she wrote. “I’m giving them away anyhow, so why not to you!  Just pay it forward (ever see that movie?) as I know you will.”

The shoes arrived on a day that tied the heat record for northeast Indiana: 106 degrees. I put them on and walked around the house to see whether they fit well enough to warrant a test run. They did. But the thermometer never dipped below 90 that night.

By 6:30 the next morning I realized the only “coolness factor” worth considering on this inaugural run was the temperature. Seventy-five degrees had never felt so delightfully chilly. Besides, there was nowhere I could conceivably take these shoes that would surpass the much more fascinating places they’d already been.

Heading out on my most standard neighborhood 4-miler — a venue in which I spend way more time inside my head than I do paying attention to my surroundings — I found myself wondering whether there was anything of interest here to someone who lives several states away. I kept wanting to snap cell phone shots: of a forlorn windmill, the neighbors’ horses,  the deer that crashed into the woods just ahead of me. And then there was the angry red sun already glaring through the trees. Did it look as hostile from the vantage point of my new shoes’ previous owner?

Eventually I got distracted by thoughts of the coming day. And that’s when I knew these new shoes were keepers: For a few minutes, at least, I’d forgotten I had them on.

A storm swept through that afternoon with 91 mph winds that yanked the temperature into the 60s. By Saturday night, so many people were still cleaning up storm damage and cobbling together power outage strategies that the Relay for Life became somewhat of an afterthought.

We’d been busy enough even before the storm that we didn’t get our Charlie’s Angels team entered this year. I’d hoped to work in some running games and possibly a walking challenge even though we’d just be operating as freelancers.

But by the time we got to the track Saturday night, I’d abandoned the idea of running. We wouldn’t be staying long. The only reason I happened to be wearing my new K-Swiss was that they matched my blue Swiss Days T-shirt perfectly.

I was just happy to get in a few laps walking with my dad, the Charlie for whom our team was named after he was diagnosed with lymphoma almost exactly five years ago.

Then Traci showed up, and the three of us walked together. I teased them about that walker’s duel I mentioned on the blog the other day. Dad, who hasn’t been walking much lately and is, unbelievably, less than a year away from turning 70, called dibs on the inside lane — but only if he got a reverse staggered start as well.

Traci moved to the outside lane while Dad took off. I don’t know what she was thinking, letting him get such a big head start. He kept looking over his shoulder, and when she finally launched into her speedwalk, he panicked and started trotting — the first time I’ve seen him attempt anything resembling running since his marathon days, back before his knees gave out.

Traci never did catch him. He had too big a lead. If we’d had more time, there would’ve no doubt been much dickering over a rematch.

But I couldn’t help thinking — as I walked to the parking lot in my new friend’s old shoes, still so obviously full of potential – how grateful I was for the extra time we did get: The “second life” of a cancer survivor.

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