Category Archives: Relationships

Citius, Altius, Fortius

As a person with feelings, it’s hard to watch the Olympics and not get caught up in the emotions of the competitions. It’s hard to NOT cheer for the underdog, hard NOT to tear up when an Olympian tears up on the podium as her national anthem plays, hard to NOT root for and get disappointed when the US doesn’t take the gold. Even before my husband began taking steps towards his Olympic dream, I loved the drama and exhilaration of watching The Games. But now that we’re here and watching other athletes with paths similar to ours, it’s an entirely different thing.

It’s hard for me to watch these athletes’ loved ones in the stands without wondering if it will be me the cameras are panning to in eight years…(well, assuming cameras are there. His sport is the one they air at 2 am because it’s not super popular.) It’s hard to not wonder if I’ll be biting my nails as he approaches the platform, if our families will be with us or watching from home, if his teammates will be representing the US, or if they’ll have been edged out by the competition.

Four years would be pure luck (and, as Tom was told by one of his Olympic heroes Brian Oldfield, “Good luck, and by that I mean work hard, because there’s no such thing as luck in this sport.”) Eight years is the goal…a dream so far out of reach right now that the host city hasn’t even been chosen yet. Tokyo, Madrid or Istanbul hold our hopes, without even knowing it.

I read somewhere today that the Olympics are 95% narcissism and 5% national pride. There’s a grain of truth in that, I guess. I think the percentages are pretty far off, though. But I think that’s a necessary combination. To do what Tom does to his body day in and day out, you have to want this so much for reasons beyond American pride. To spend 4+ hours a day training, 2 hours actively recovering (that means tubs full of ice and painful muscle stripping), and another 3-4 hours watching the Greats, your competitors, your teammates and yourself on Youtube, you have to want this for yourself. You have to be crazy enough to analyze videos from the ’70’s while rolling your muscles out on PVC pipe to reduce the inflammation from today’s workout. You have to be crazy enough to give up not one, not two, but three jobs you love to move across the country to train with the best coach and athletes. You have to be crazy to give up a steady paycheck and a comfortable life for one of little monetary reward and lots of physical risk.

You have to be crazy enough to want the Gold. Or the Silver. Or the Bronze. Or just the chance to march in the Opening Ceremonies, donned in the colors of your country, as millions around the world recognize you for the talent you have and the sacrifices you make.

Or, you must be crazy enough to stay married to someone who wants all that.

To my love: Citius, Altius, Fortius 2020.

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Abnormally Normal.

We’ve been living here almost four weeks now, and I have to say, I really like it.

I feel the same about the environment and the people that I did last time we chatted – everyone is friendly but slow, and the weather here is very hot and humid.

But it’s not that which has changed my mind.

Tom and I have fallen into such a rhythm of comfort here. Long walks with a cool breeze aren’t an out of the ordinary experience here. Spending my lunch break poolside happens twice a week. We share most lunches and dinners together, just for the sheer fact that we’re both home. A lot.

This is in stark contrast to the first 2 years of our marriage, where we’d be lucky to have 2 meals together during the week. Some nights he’d be working until 9 pm or later. A lot of meals were consumed on the couch — mine around 6 pm watching Golden Girls, his around 9:30 watching Sportscenter. It was normal to us at the time, and we made it work.

And now, this is as abnormal as it gets. It is altogether strange. But it’s wonderful. There are days where I look forward to running errands to have some time by myself outside of the house, just as I imagine he actually looks forward to heading off to the gym some afternoons. But I think that’s the normal part of all of this. I can say we genuinely do enjoy each other’s company, and wouldn’t trade this arrangement in for either of our previous ones.

I am under no illusions, however, that this is the way things will always be. Our situation is delicate. It relies on the decisions of others, namely Tom’s coach, his team’s financial backer, and in the future, organizations that govern his sport, and the US Olympics committee. Things change, people take different routes, one gets chosen over the other. There was a weightlifter who made the US Olympic team four years ago and travelled to Beijing. I don’t know the technical details, but another country’s lifter was disqualified (I believe), and that changed the formulas for the countries sending lifters, and long story short, this man no longer met the world standards to be at the Olympics, and was sent home days before the torch was lit.

Disappointment on this journey is everywhere, success is rare, frustration abounds. But contentment and gratitude…thankfully we have a lot of that hanging around.

Blinders.

There’s a common adage that death comes in threes. I’m not sure if this is applicable to just death, and if the number three is right, but it certainly seems that problems beget problems, and darkness stays longer than light. My heart is so heavy and sad for so many I know that are struggling right now. Just as I begin to make sense of a horrific story I’ve heard, my phone buzzes, alerting me to the next crisis. I almost don’t want to answer it anymore.

I’m big on self-preservation. If I don’t want to be sad, I won’t read certain news stories that I know will affect me. I purposely avoid television shows I’m sure I’d love, because I don’t want to fight the battle against being hooked. For as much as I tend to worry, I just don’t let my mind go to some dark places. In the same vein, sometimes I feel like Tom and I are immune to the stress that is our current and future lifestyle. I’ve always convinced myself {and listened as others told me} that there was something special between us…something strong and unbreakable.

I don’t think that having these blinders on is always the smartest choice, but I do think it allows me to plod forward in scary situations without being spooked. Semi-educated ignorance can be bliss. There are a lot of unknowns about our life paths right now that could cause disaster. Professional athletes in small sports aren’t well-compensated, if compensated if at all. My husband is in a situation that allows him some income as he trains, but it’s nothing compared to his salaried teaching and coaching jobs that he left behind. The dynamics of having one person chase their dreams at {quite literally} the expense of the other isn’t easy to navigate. Then there’s the move…the nerve-wracking journey to box up 1,400 square feet of possessions and two energized dogs and move them 2,200 miles into a 650 square foot shoebox. Time to find a new doctor, a new dentist, a new veterinarian, a new Sunday morning breakfast spot. And then there’s the injuries…the invisible monster that haunts practices. Is the soreness temporary, or is something worse going on? What’s lurking in the future? Will it all disappear tomorrow, dreams ripped to shreds like torn muscles? There are battles with ego, temptation, insecurity, power, teammates, sleep, guilt…

While the world seems to crash down around us, we cling to each other. We look straight ahead.

Don’t look at the wreckage, or you’ll get nervous. One foot in front of the other, that’s it, keep going. Don’t look back. Don’t listen to the crying behind you, it’ll only make it worse.

Are you scared? Me too.

Heated.

So here’s a new one for you, internet world.

This weekend hit me like a ton of bricks. Maybe it’s all the, well, for lack of a more eloquent word, crap in my life right now, or maybe it’s just reality hitting me a few months late. The last week would have been one of the most celebrated weeks in our house…Off Week. As a college coach, my husband worked every evening and every weekend, often leaving me to fend for myself at family parties, events with friends, and general weekend life. But Off Week, the short, sweet period of time that he had no practices or meets was MY week. I knew he’d be home every evening by 5, like a “normal person,” and the weekends were mine to plan. Sometimes we’d go downtown, sometimes we’d do nothing, sometimes we’d spend hours at the forest preserve hiking a new trail with our dogs.

On Saturday, I realized it was Off Week. And then I got irrationally angry. I’m not really ashamed to admit this, either. I feel like I’ve been a brave solider for a long time now, and as a friend put it earlier, I’m due for a meltdown. I felt it all start to bubble inside, a bitter acid of hatred brewing in my stomach, spreading through my veins and flushing color in my cheeks.

I hate California. I hate weightlifting. I hate it all. This is no fair. This is MY WEEK, and they stole him.

When he was an athlete in college, I used to half-heartedly joke that he had two women in his life…myself and track. Weightlifting has become his new mistress…the one he spends his days with, the one that brings him the greatest frustrations and the greatest joys, the one who he thinks about while he lays in bed at night. He would do anything for weightlifting. {He’d do anything for me, too, but that’s not the point of this.}

Since we’re being honest and raw, I’ll also admit that it’s not easy to be number two in your spouse’s life. He and I have had this conversation many times, but to no avail. In order to be the best, to be the greatest, there can be no distractions, no second guesses. In the split second that he hesitates to choose between myself and weightlifting, someone else will swoop in and become better. It’s tough, and it’s no fun. I can’t sugarcoat that, not for you, dear readers, and not for myself. I’m not a martyr, either. I lack patience and sensitivity, and at times, the will to understand. It’s easier for me to stick my fingers in my ears and throw a mega-tantrum.

In the end it comes down to an ultimatum: would I rather be selfish and have a passionless man all to myself, or would I rather share a great man with fire and determination?

In the distance, this seems like an easy choice. In the cyclone of emotions, the torrent of an Irish temper mixed with the fire of an Italian mouth, I often choose the former. But when I stop yelling and drop my hands to my sides, I know which option I need to choose. What option I WANT to choose.

On our wedding day, we opted to perform a simple yet poignant ceremony called a handfasting ceremony. The concept is simple: we were asked a few questions, answered with honesty, and our hands were bound with silky ribbons to remind us of the committment we chose to make. It was the questions that made us fall in love with this, and they still ring true.

Beth, will you share his dreams? Yes.
Tom, will you share her dreams? Yes.
Will you dream together to create new realities and hopes? We will
Tom, will you cause her anger? Yes.
Is that your intent? No.
Beth, will you cause him anger? Yes.?
Is that your intent? No.
Will you take the heat of anger and use it to temper the strength of this union? We will.

We entered this realistically, and the span of miles between us doesn’t change this. Makes it more difficult, maybe…but it doesn’t alter the vows we so enthusiastically and honestly made. So tonight, I will temper my anger and hatred, for it reminds me of how fierce my love is for him, and that is a blessing in this dark period of my life.

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Bliss.

There were tears, smiles, and the longest hug known to man.

Losing all ability to string words together, I just kept mumbling “You’re home…you’re home” in disbelief as I clung to his {massively muscled} shoulder. Ironically, he’s not “home.” We don’t really have a true home, as we’re both living out of suitcases in other peoples’ homes. But in that moment, as the people milled around us, the clunk of suitcases hitting the ground and the din of the rolling conveyor belts became our song, and we were home. We were together, and for those long, elastic minutes, nothing else mattered. For the next six days, nothing else does, and I feel like I’ve {temporarily} learned how to live in the present.

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Fonder.

“Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport. General opinion’s starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don’t see that. It seems to me that love is everywhere. Often, it’s not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it’s always there – fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends. When the planes hit the Twin Towers, as far as I know, none of the phone calls from the people on board were messages of hate or revenge – they were all messages of love. If you look for it, I’ve got a sneaking suspicion… love actually is all around.”

Long-distance relationship; reuniting at airport

Twenty-four hours from now, my husband will be power-walking through the rainbow tunnel at O’Hare airport, busting through the silver double doors, and searching through the crowd for me. He won’t have to look very hard, because my guess is that I will be running towards him, probably as I break into ugly sobs.

It has been 40 days since I’ve last seen my husband in-person, and to say I can’t wait for tomorrow is an understatement of epic proportions. I think the hardest element of being apart has just been the lack of companionship. When something great happens in my day, or it’s been a catastrophe, I can’t wait to get home and talk to him, tell him about it, complain or celebrate. But he’s not home. And by the time we talk, the moment has passed, the emotion is cold, there’s no need to rehash the drama.

How was your day? Oh you know, the usual.

Anything new happen today? Not really.

The longer we spend time apart, the less we feel compelled to share the minute details of our days, and instead, our conversation turns to the big stuff, the heavy stuff, the my gosh, I miss you so much I can’t believe it stuff. Conversations have quickly turned from “How was practice?” to “How soon do you think you can move out here?”, from “Well, work was crazy today…” to “So I looked at a few more apartments…”.

Being apart does crazy things to your psyche. I read an article yesterday about the proposed closing of a “supermax” prison in our home state, one whose signature is 23 hours a day in continuous solitary confinement. The article termed it “smothering isolation.” The former inmate that they interviewed, now a successful paralegal, says he developed coping mechanisms such as obsessive counting. By no means am I saying my life is that horrific, or my problems are anything near what these prisoners, deserved or not, are subjected to. But I very much connected to the story on a superficial level, knowing how the loss of companionship can drive you to think crazy thoughts.

Those who know me are aware that I make plans, and despite my efforts to the contrary, I can get very high-strung when things go awry {as they often do.} But the “smothering isolation” of being away from my partner in crime of nine years has led me to develop coping mechanisms of my own, mostly in the form of whining and researching get rich quick schemes so I can move to California faster {I kid, I kid. But it would be awfully nice to win the lottery!}. The unpleasantness of having a bad day and not having my husband here to offer a hug or an uninterrupted ear really drills down into my core. I can’t speak for him, but from the amount of whining he’s doing, I imagine he’s feeling the same way. It’s enough to make me consider abandoning all of my possessions and carefully plotted plans to hop on the next blue jet leaving Chicago.

But for the next seven glorious days, we don’t have to worry about a time difference, or California, or work…just he and I, and all that we hold dear in life: family, friends, and heavy lifts.

Good luck to you at Nationals, my dear husband, and may our hearts continue to grow to fill the distance between us.

PS: See you tomorrow! If you don’t remember what I look like, I’ll be the one sobbing outside the baggage claim area.

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