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Returning to My Athletic Roots

July 5, 2010

Actually this post is about Colgate University, not the toothpaste...

Summer 1983. My parents let me go on a solo roadtrip to visit three colleges I was considering applying to, including Colgate University. A liberal arts college in central New York state, Colgate had been coed for about a decade at that point. The school had strong football and men’s ice hockey teams, and it was also known as a haven for women athletes–which I wasn’t. Thus, when it came time for me to pose the questions in my on-campus interview, I asked with derision, “Is it true the only women who go here are jocks?” The interviewer assured me Colgate attracted women with a wide variety of interests, but I wasn’t convinced. I applied to Colgate but I had on intention of going. When I got the acceptance letter, I announced to my mother with zero enthusiasm, “I got into Toothpaste U.”

As fate would have it, the toothpaste school was the best college I got into. Despite being a reader not a runner, I packed my bags for Colgate. And less than a month after arriving, my transformation into a female athlete had begun. Looking for distractions in the rural setting (and drooling over the upperclass rowers at the sign-up table!), I joined the rowing team. As with so many sports, running was an integral cross-training tool. Newbie rowers were expected to run the three miles out to the boathouse. It’s ever-so-slightly uphill on the way to the lake, yet that freshman fall it seemed as taxing as Boston’s famed Heartbreak Hill. By January, however, I was braving driving snowstorms to stay in condition for the spring season. Gone was my derision for women’s sports–I was a convert.

Last week I visited my alma mater (and that of Dimity) to do a Run Like a Mother reading and a run. The weather was spectacular, the women incredibly friendly, and I wished I could return to the idyllic setting to run and study for a few months. (As my traveling companion and sophomore roomie said, “Youth is wasted on the young.” Same holds true for college, we decided…) Alas, reality called, so best I could manage was a 2-hour run the next morning. I headed out toward the boathouse, but turned up a road called Johnnycake Hill. It put the real Heartbreak to shame–it stretched on for more than a mile, getting steeper the higher it went. Sports ego wouldn’t let me walk: I had something to prove to myself.

Eventually I wended my way to the far end of Lake Moraine, where Colgate Crew rows. I slipped off my shoes and socks, hiked up my running skirt, and waded into the refreshing water. Then, as I sat on the dock, gazing down the length of the lake, I remembered all the wonderful (and frustrating!) rows I’d had on the water. And I gave thanks for finding my way to  become a jock.

The welcoming runners at the RLAM reading on the village green near the Colgate campus

2 Comments leave one →
  1. July 5, 2010 12:46 pm

    Doesn’t going back to your alma mater always just feel like home? That’s how I feel about the college we attended. 🙂 My story is different in that I ended my athletic career there, playing softball my freshman year and only intramurals thereafter.

  2. July 5, 2010 8:27 pm

    Ah…I’ve run up Moraine Road–past the boathouse–while staying at White Eagle Conference Center. But alas, have missed Johnnycake Hill–will have to give it a go next time I’m running in the area. Glad you had a good visit and am still bummed that I missed you!

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