The first day of my first victory lap is December 17, 2017. That will be the day after I turn 80. I can hardly wait.
What is a “victory lap?”
It’s an old story, well known by my family. Not very well accepted as a metaphor, but I am hoping for progress along that front any day now. Once upon a time, the family lived on “new faculty circle” in New Wilmington, Pennsylvania. This was inexpensive housing that Westminster College provided to new faculty for their first few years in town. It was roughly half a mile around the circle.
I was at a place in my running project in 1977 when I needed every extra mile or fraction thereof I could manage. I was supposed to run 1776 miles between the 4th of July in 1976 and the 4th of July in 1977. This was to be the kind of thing joggers did to commemorate 1776, the year the Declaration of Independence was signed. I had fallen behind during the winter and I was taking long runs several times a week and no matter how long the run was, I added that little half mile around new faculty circle—just to get the extra milage. And so I wouldn’t be thinking of them as just more running, I called them “victory laps.” This is Brittain Lake. The western part of the victory lap passed just uphill from the edge of this picture. And the picture below–that’s me in 1977 finishing the 1776th mile–is on the far side of the lake.
The victory lap as a metaphor
I got to thinking metaphorically about the victory lap because I noticed that the victory lap felt different, even though it really shouldn’t. I may very well have run the last five miles or so—one of my standard runs was 19 miles—in some discomfort. I had cramping problems at one time or another and blisters and dehydration and whole litany of runners’ complaints. But I noticed that when I was in the victory lap phase, those went away. Not worth paying attention to anymore? Distracted by reflections about how I had run that distance that day? Runners’ high? I never really knew, but I really did appreciate it that all those symptoms were muted once I passed the front door and started around the loop.
Then I got to thinking that with just a few liberties taken here and there, you could divide my life into four laps, like a mile race. Every lap was 20 years long. So I grew up in the first 20. In 1957, I was a sophomore in college and had no idea at all what I was doing. By the end of the second lap, in 1977, I had gained a Ph. D. and three wonderful kids and had lost my marriage to their mother. And I had remarried and gone back to teaching and acquired four stepdaughters. By the end of the third lap, in 1997, I had finished a career doing public policy for the State of Oregon. During this last lap, the one that ends next week, I have lost a wife (cancer) and remarried (again) and picked up two more stepchildren and had a post-career career as an adjunct professor and retired again and sold my house and moved with my new wife (almost 12 years now) into a very good retirement community. And that brings me to my 80th birthday on December 16 and the beginning of my first victory lap on December 17.
I was really appreciative of the physical relief I got on the actual victory laps—the ones in the 1970s. I was intrigued by the autobiographical mapping I managed with the aid of the mile run (1500 meters if you really must). The four laps of the race could be seen as marking off the four prominent segments of my life. But now, I am actually going to BE 80 and the “race” is over and I am looking forward to the reflections on that day’s run and the easing of the physical side effects of that day’s run. All of which are perfectly clear to me—in retrospect.
But now we are talking about imagining them in prospect. On Sunday, December 17, I am going to have to start thinking experientially about my first victory lap. What will it be like? What do I want it to be like? Does it matter how many such “laps” I expect to finish?
Well…NO to the last question. I don’t care how many there are. There will be as many as there will be. It is the quality of the laps that has always mattered. What if, for instance, instead of not paying attention to my blister (until I get home and can put disinfectant and a bandage on it), I decided to not pay attention to some grievance or other that I have been carrying along with me. Not all the grievances. Maybe just one. Maybe one every lap. Would that work? By age 90—imagining for the moment that I get to age 90—I would have decommissioned ten grievances that I would otherwise have been carrying around. That sounds like a victory to me.
I remember running that last half mile and thinking over whether I had run the way I should have. It wasn’t inquisitorial. I was already done. It was just a pleasant reflection and maybe sealing in a lesson of so. Don’t push the hill going up to the Cheese Shop so hard; it costs you over the next highway mile and then you don’t cash in on the final downhill the way you could have. That kind of thing. I kind of like the idea of declaring an end to “the run” and calling the running I continue to do, “victory laps.” Maybe I could reflect on our first year here at Holladay Park Plaza, the way I reflected on that long uphill toward the Cheese House, and make some lazy speculative imaginary plans for the next year. Whatever.
Selling the Victory Laps
My kids have never been comfortable with the victory lap idea. Either they can’t believe that I really feel that way or they can’t imagine feeling that way themselves or they can’t imagine me doing anything at the finish line except dropping dead. I experienced the victory laps as wonderful in every way, which is why I have continued to pursue the metaphor. I am hoping that when they see me enjoying the victory laps, as I have every intention of doing, they will begin to relax into the concept and enjoy it along with me.
Let me begin by rejecting the sentiment in this picture. I think this is what my kids think I really mean. Maybe it is what they aspire to themselves and can’t imagine that I don’t. I don’t really have a lot of fatherly responsibilities left and my life with my kids has been defined for many years now as more like dear old friendships than anything more clearly paternal. Still, this is an experience I will be having that they will be having (eventually) as well. So…there’s no point in denying that my experience of it is going to be a major factor in how they think of their own retirement. Might as well do it right.
My kids haven’t made running a part of their lives in the same way I have, so the mile race metaphor might not be the right one. But I think the discipline of using the resources you have during “the race,” whatever that is for them, so they can look back on it with satisfaction, is a really good idea. And living the years after finishing it in a celebrative and thoughtful way sounds like another good idea.
When they were little, I would teach them to do things by doing them myself, then turning it over to them to try. And I’d “coach” a little. “No, no, not so high up on the handle or take more of a backswing or ask yourself a bunch of questions you should know the answers to when you have finished the chapter.” Implicit in all the coaching was that if they would begin by doing it the way I did it, they could adapt it to their own style once they got the hang of it.
That still sounds like a good idea and I will imagine hearing the starting gun go off first thing Sunday morning, December 17, and I will try to lay down a really good victory lap for them in that first year. I won’t be doing it for them. It wouldn’t be a victory lap if I did. But if they can find value in the way I do it, it would make the victory a little sweeter.