Guest submission by Heather Cooke
I run because I can.
It’s that simple. But it hasn’t always been that way.
Four decades ago, I ran as a teenager to tighten up my tummy and thighs so I’d look better in my clothes. Then I ran in college to release stress and keep my sanity while putting myself through school and working two jobs.
I ran while I was a trial attorney because it was the only effective escape from the relentless rigors of a job that I had to eat, drink and sleep to be as successful as my type-A personality demanded.
I ran when I married Peter – a four-time marathoner – so we could experience together the sights, sounds, smells and discoveries that either of us would have wanted to share with the other had we been running alone.
I ran during the draining years of wrangling four young children. I pushed a jogger with pockets so jammed with treats and diversions that the weight would tip it backwards if I let go. But I was determined to get the wind in my babies’ nostrils and ears. I wanted them to develop an appetite for speed and fresh air. They did.
I ran during their teenage years in order to blow off the steam that might otherwise have made me abusive. I learned this tactic from my mother of ten who has played tennis three times a week forever, claiming that hitting the ball hard enough would prevent her from ever hitting a kid. She was right.
Then – out of the blue – when I was fifty-one years healthy, I learned I had breast cancer.
The ensuing fifteen months of medical procedures ground my running to a halt. But thanks to a mother who had prodded me to get a routine mammogram, and thanks to the blessing of living in a time and place where effective treatments save 99% of women who are detected early enough, I was recently cleared by my medical team to start running again.
A few weeks ago, at the Susan G Komen Race for the Cure, I “ran” my first 5K since my diagnosis and treatment. It wasn’t real running because I was mingling with the large team of family and friends who came to support me. It was more important to visit, to laugh, to share my celebration of restored health than it was to try out my running legs and lungs.
Over the past couple weeks, however, I’ve worked my way back into a pace comparable with where I left off when my healthiness was suddenly threatened. I even outlasted my four-year-old beagle who, over the past year, has gotten as out of condition as I have. I had to carry her home for the last quarter-mile of our run. But I could only rejoice that my body was strong enough to do it.
Today – with the scent of pine in my mouth, Rachmoninoff flooding my ears, and the morning breeze making my eyes water – my run took me past the home of a friend who is enduring chemotherapy, has lost her hair and is fighting for her life because her same type of breast cancer wasn’t detected as early as mine. A couple blocks later, I jogged past another friend’s home – this one with only weeks left to live after a prolonged battle that also began with breast cancer. A mile or so further, I passed by motherless homes of two more friends, both of whom died of cancer this year.
Today, I run … because I can!
Editor’s note: Heather Cooke is a mother of five and wife of gubinatorial candidate Peter Cooke. She recently participated in the Susan G. Komen Race for the cure and is hoping all women take the time to have a mammogram.