More Virtual

More Virtual

Last week I finished the Ring of Kerry Challenge I discussed in the July 28 post, How virtual challenges are keeping me motivated and saving my sanity. It was 124 miles and I chose to do it all running. Adding walking, biking or swimming miles was allowed, but for this one, I chose just to include running miles.

We got all decked out in our matching InknBurn Celtic singlet and mask and headed out for our first challenge miles on Labor Day, September, September 7. When I posted an update to Facebook, my sister who resides in Tipperary told me she had been there that past weekend. 

For those working on the challenge without relatives near by to share their real life photos, challenge organizers did a admirable job keeping everyone abreast of their progress, the view from the current location, and the significance of where we were. As was the case with the Illinois Endurance Challenge, street views allowed you to take in the (virtual) scenery.

Then when we reach certain milestones, we received a postcard via email that we could share on socially media or through email. Each post card email also contained several paragraphs describing the topography and local history. It proved to be an appreciable educational experience as well as a physical one. 

You all know I love when runs benefit a charitable organization or some greater good. This challenge checked that box as well. Every time a participant met a completion milestone – 20, 40, 60, 80, and 100% – a tree was planted “to help restore healthy forests in locations around the world.”  How cool is that?

I proceeded through my normal four-runs a week and completed the virtual course around the Iveragh Peninsula in southwest Ireland’s County Kerry on October 15. Roughly six weeks. I know some people who are still logging miles and I know a lot of people who would probably have completed the whole thing in a week.

I logged in my final miles and in less than 24-hours I had an email confirming my medal was in the mail. That’s why we do this, right?

The best part about these challenges is you can make them whatever you want them to be. I ran all my miles fairly slowly. At the same time I was also working on another challenge to run every street in town, but I’ll save that for another post.

If you’re looking for a challenge, I highly recommend going to The Conquerer Virtual Challenges and checking out your options. They are currently offering a dozen challenges of varying distances and locales. Challenges can be done independently or part of a team. You can choose your start date and deadline, which allows almost everyone to set a goal that is realistic.

Next up for us? Well, I’ve always wanted to do the Appalachian Trail. It’s 1968 miles from Springer Mountain, Georgia to Mount Katahdin, Maine. This time of year, I’m glad I’m only attempting to do it virtually. We’re giving ourselves the full 78 weeks to do it. We could have done it as a team, but Kurt just reminded me that a few weeks ago, I said I wanted to do the full distance myself. Of course I did.

More than Virtual: the 2020 Chicago Marathon

More than Virtual: the 2020 Chicago Marathon

Last weekend was Chicago Marathon Weekend. Although not really. There was no Expo at McCormick Place. There was no gear check, no crowds of runners with nervous anticipation along Columbus Drive. There were no start corrals, or music or cheering fans. Another cancelled event. Another reminder that this is a year like no other.

Although for many in this city, race day gear was still laid out before an early bedtime, alarms sounded in the darkness, and without any fanfare they began a lonely 26.2 mile journey on a course of their choosing. They were the committed – committed to their goals, to their training, to the charities and personal causes from which they found inspiration. And they got it done.

I watched in awe as I saw people I knew complete long training runs for this race that was going to be far from their vision when they registered close to a year ago. Last year, I wrote about my immersion into the Chicago Running Community in 2019 and how special it was to be part of that community as we all trained together. We’re all in it together was the theme of several blog posts last October.

Togetherness was energizing. Imagining a virtual race of that distance was difficult for me. I wondered to myself throughout the summer what it would have taken to keep me engaged. After all, it was the people that got me up at 4am on Saturday mornings for long training runs. It was knowing I was going to be part of a movement more than 30,000 strong.

As I watched the 2020 race weekend unfold, I realized just maybe the experience would be very special nonetheless. The personal fans along the course were still there. Families and friends donning masks for safety packed personal finish lines and held a tape for their runner, who in a race against only themselves, would break it as the lead runner.

Organizations like CARA, staffed hydration stations along the lakefront all summer long and on race weekend to provide support. Running groups like 3Run2 assembled (social distant) cheer squads at the intersection of their members’ routes to share that race-day energy for which they are famous.

As Strava recorded the mileage and the times, it became apparent that there was nothing “virtual” at all about this 26.2 mile journey that countless Chicagoans made last weekend. It was their race, their marathon, their achievement. And it was epic. It’s a story that will be passed down for generations as we talk about our resilience: “In the middle of the pandemic, your great-grandmother ran a marathon.”

Congratulations to all of you who got it done! You have an achievement like no other of which to be very proud.

Solo Run. Vernon Hills, Illinois. October 2020.

On this day

On this day

The feeling begins to emerge right after summer ends. When school resumes, not the official end to summer weeks later, long before the temperature dips and I start thinking about bringing out the sweaters, I start thinking about this day. This was the day – October 6th – that fell on a Monday that year and would forever change the course of our lives.

It’s been six years. Oddly it has never fallen on a Monday again in all that time and won’t again until 2025. Our lives are so different now, it really doesn’t matter what day it is. The cool breezes, shorter days, and expanding colors in the landscape give notice of the approaching anniversary. I can feel it engulf me without consulting a calendar. Although we are far from that house that fills our memories; that place where he left us.

Respect for his memory, the man who will always be my daughter’s father, is part of the reason I pause now as the years create even more distance between who we were and who I am now. The sadness over the loss doesn’t need an anniversary to appear as an uninvited guest. That could happen on a Thursday in the middle of a bright sunny summer day or in the middle of a winter snow storm when a deep memory is resurrected by an unexpected trigger. 

Now I wish to honor his memory, the good times we shared, and demonstrate for our daughter the meaning of the relationship I had with her Dad. That, and the fact that it just doesn’t seem right not to pause and reflect on this day. 

The first year, the first Monday in October, the day before the first anniversary I picked up my daughter at school, so “nothing would be like last year.” On Tuesday, the first anniversary, we went to the closest point we could find to his burial in the Atlantic: the shore at Sandy Hook, New Jersey.

Sun setting on the first year. Sandy Hook, New Jersey. October 6, 2015.

We walked on the beach and took in a breathtaking sunset over the bay. A sign? We had a somewhat somber dinner at an Italian restaurant on the boardwalk in Long Branch where we had shared a pre-race dinner together before the New Jersey Marathon the year before. 

Without a grave to visit, we continued the tradition of visiting the water on the subsequent anniversaries.  A dinner cruise on the Hudson. The Water Club on the East River. And since coming to Chicago, Lake Michigan.  Those outings became less somber. 

This year, a year when nothing is as it’s ever been, we talked about how to acknowledge the day when making plans is a little more challenging.  A walk to the lake? A drive someplace? Takeout? I still don’t know the answer. 

It may be that on this day we just quietly reflect and continue to move forward. I have often thought that a commemorative act would be better suited on the anniversary of his birth, a more life-affirming day, anyhow.

It may be that on this day, I should look for peace and let go of how it all ended…on this day.

One of my absolute favorite photos. Independence Day. July 2004. Paramus, New Jersey.
I’m worried

I’m worried

Christmas is three months away. We are finally heading into the last quarter of 2020 and I have some deep concerns about where we go from here. For perhaps the first time in my life, my superpower of being able to roll with the punches, is feeling greatly challenged by the antagonist’s evil forces.

Another day working from home. That, I don’t mind. There are valuable resources of time and money being saved by not having to commute and being able to eat lunch at home. I am no longer a working mom of a school aged-child, so there is some peace found in my current situation.

I think back to the challenges I had as a working parent – back in the days when parents went to work and children went to school. I can’t even begin to imagine where we’d be in this. Even if your child is given an opportunity to attend school in person, it’s still a challenging environment, and parents are still worried about contagion.

Although we are the lucky ones. We are healthy. So far, our families and friends have escaped the worse of the pandemic and its collateral damage. We are employed. We have roofs over our heads and the bills are getting paid. That is certainly not the case for everyone. There is also that nagging question of will it last?

Then there is the divisiveness that rules our country and has trickled down into the crevices of our small communities. Fueled in part by social media as angry white men and suburban soccer moms shout insults and death threats from the security of their keyboards.

Some question whether elected officials have our best interests in mind, whether police officers are truly committed to protecting all of our citizenry, whether our country’s president understands the constitution he swore to uphold, and whether the judiciary will side with the rule of the laws set forth by previous courts.

Some see it differently. They may feel disenfranchised; they may believe something is being taken away from them or that America took a wrong turn somewhere, and this current state is somehow on course to right that wrong. People, who it would seem, have a very narrow view of what it means to be responsible to others.

And here we all sit. Waiting for November 3 like a ticking bomb we are powerless to defuse. 

As if a global pandemic, ensuing financial downturn, and a combusting heightened intolerance for inequality wasn’t enough. On top of trying to imagine how we all come out from under this burden, we are still victims of our own lives. The day-to-day stuff we always worried about.

For me, this time of year especially, it’s some form of PTSD because of my own experiences (the anniversary of my husband’s suicide is October 6), and I know we all have our own challenges to bear, behind, and perhaps escalated by, the obvious universal social ills. From what I’ve witnessed and discussed with friends, it’s taking a huge toll on everyone’s mental health.

I don’t have a conclusion or a collection of steps we can take to feel better about any of this. This was all just an observation. I think all we can do at this moment is simply pause and acknowledge there’s a problem. Maybe next week we’ll be in the right frame of mind to talk about how we’re going to make it through what remains of the year.

Destination unknown. Vernon Hills, Illinois. September 2020.
Why United Way?

Why United Way?

Bergen County’s United Way (BCUW) in New Jersey is where I started my non-profit career 24 years ago this month. It turned into my longest tenure at a job, and I have often wondered why I left.

The experiences I had in the non-profit sector, the people I encountered, and the impact on numerous causes I feel I had post BCUW, proved to be extremely rewarding. So, no regrets. Although now having an opportunity to once again be part of the United Way’s work here in Chicago is truly satisfying.

United Way, for over 100 years, has been helping people and making communities better. United Way convenes other non-profits poised to tackle the issues unique to each community, fosters collaboration to solve problems, and raises the resources needed.

It’s never one issue, one disease, or lack of investment in a single area that causes deterioration in the quality of life for some. And this is why the United Way’s collaborative approach is so needed.

The United Way network is made up of nearly 1,800 autonomous 501c3 organizations, each governed and funded locally. The network spans more than 40 countries and territories and 6 continents. It serves 61 million people across the globe, fueled by 2.9 million volunteers and 8.3 million donors (United Way Worldwide, click on link to find the United Way that serves your community).

I felt very fortunate to be working with United Way in the suburbs of New York City on September 11, 2001 and the days, weeks and months that followed. Our response to our community in crisis was important work that gave me a sense of purpose.

Now here in Chicago, amid a global pandemic that has disproportionately affected our country and more accurately has disproportionately affected low-income families, I feel I can make an impact.

Each local United Way knows it’s community, it’s resources, and what it needs to thrive. United Way is uniquely positioned to bring together community-based non-profits, government leaders, businesses, and individuals to tackle issues.

The United Way of Metro Chicago (UWMC) has been focused on two areas:

  1. Programs and Partnerships that work across our region to provide for the health, education, financial stability and  crisis intervention for our most vulnerable residents;
  2. Neighborhood Networks which focuses our work on a number of targeted neighborhoods.  

39% of households in Cook County struggle to meet their most basic needs. In Lake County it’s 32%, and in DuPage County 30% of households are classified as “ALICE” – Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed. These are the families of four with household incomes less than $28.57 an hour. This is 2017 data, so well before the pandemic.

“ALICE households are the backbone of our communities, working hard but forced to make tough choices, such as deciding between quality childcare or paying the rent, which have long-term consequences not only for ALICE, but for all.”  

(LiveUnitedChicago.org)

Through our Programs and Partnerships, UWMC is committed to…  

…improving access to quality health care by supporting organizations that help people navigate insurance options and connect them with primary care physicians, preventative programs and mental health services.

…ensuring all kids have access to quality pre-K and after-school enrichment programs, prevention interventions, and physical and mental health services.

…increasing financial stability by focusing on job training, financial literacy and tax assistance for residents who need it most.

…working with social service providers to ensure fundamental needs are met—such as food, housing and safety from abuse. 

This is also the population hit hardest by the pandemic. Job loss. Inadequate nutrition and healthcare. Lack of resources for children’s online learning. Lack of childcare for essential workers. Fear of eviction.

United Way of Metro Chicago in partnership with the Chicago Community Trust and the City of Chicago created the Chicago COVID-19 Relief Fund and began making grants before the end of March. In the first three months of the pandemic, thanks to the generosity of foundations, business, and individuals like you, close to $25 million was dispersed to our non-profit partners doing the work on the front lines. For more on the Chicago Community COVID-19 Relief Fund, click here.

One remarkable initiative coming out of the COVID-19 response is Chicago Connected which will assure that Chicago Public School students have high-speed internet access. Not just for the duration of the pandemic but for four years! The COVID-19 crisis highlighted the city’s digital divide and this program will give students the ability to participate in remote learning and increase their digital literacy. For more on this program, click here.

We were able to respond quickly to this crisis because of the work we were already doing within our partnerships and neighborhoods across the city.

Since 2013, our Neighborhood Network approach has been helping targeted neighborhoods solve problems. There are currently ten Neighborhood Networks each led by a “Community Quarterback” – a lead agency already working within the neighborhood with an understanding of the needs and how best to create needed change. 

It’s a “for and by the community” approach that empowers neighborhoods to create the kind of place they want to live and work. United Way provides the resources. We don’t tell them what to do. Only they know what’s best for their community.

“As Chicagoans, we have a great love for our neighborhoods across the city and suburbs. There is plenty to celebrate, but the zip code you live in can have a significant impact on your access to opportunities. By tackling issues—neighborhood by neighborhood—we can stabilize our community and improve the quality of life for all our neighbors across the entire region. A community-led approach, supported by both the public and private sectors, will help ensure all residents can thrive.” 

(LiveUnitedChicago.org)

The United Way’s ability to create stronger neighborhoods, and respond to our neighbors in crisis, is limited only by the resources we can raise. This is where you come in. We cannot do it without the generosity of our communities. When United Way comes to your workplace this fall, please be as generous as you can be. Your neighbors need you!

THANK YOU!