May 8, 2013

The Secret Handshake. ~ Dusty Ranft

It seems that running is a popular conversation topic lately, even for non-runners.

The Boston Marathon bombings have illuminated the sport: tragedy creates conversation.

On a recent sunny afternoon I laced up my running shoes and headed out the door for a six miler. Everything just felt right: My stride clip-clip-clip-clip…My breathing in-out-in-out. I was in the zone. I glided past couples on leisurely strolls; sprinted up monument stairs to reach the top (pausing to take in the city views) and then galloped down the other side, skipping two and three steps at a time: I was running with abandon.

I have called myself a runner for several years now. This has been an evolution and a journey. The love of the sport caught me off guard. When I was young (high school and earlier) team sports were more my speed. I liked the togetherness. Together we practiced, plotted, and fought. We were bound by a common purpose: We fought to win. When defeat was ours, together we held our heads in pride, assuring each other: We’d get ’em next time!

Of course there were the times that you would shoulder all the burden, feeling that a missed pass, or serve outta bounds cost your team the game, but even then, someone was there telling you to: Let it go or shake it off…You were never alone. Those memories are fresh and yet so distant. The recollection just a mass of blurred images; moments in time: We grow older and the years pass by, team sports fade and life propels us forward. And suddenly, ultimately life is a one man sport.

It’s me against me.

So when I found myself battling cancer in my late 20s (Hodgkin’s Lymphoma) running found me like a beacon in the storm. My oncologist, a short statured gentle man with just enough Long Island accent that allowed him to cut to the chase as only New Yorker’s can do, used to stare at me with a look of confusion and horror when I would recount my latest 18-miler. He would say, “Ya know ya don’t have to do this.” And my favorite one, when all other strategies of discouragement had failed, he would simply state, “If you get too tired, just stop.”

The truth was I ran because I had to. The team was long gone…This win was up to me. I made a pact with the Universe: Give me one more chance at this life and I won’t let you down. Truthfully, I had taken my health for granted; assumed it would always be mine. But now the fragility, the realness of its departure left me desperate. Give me one more chance.

I literally ran for my life.

And so as I clipped along, mile after mile on that recent sunny afternoon, all these memories came flooding back. This is why I run:

I run because I can. I run ‘cause one day I might not be able to. I run for Boston. I run ‘cause life is hard. I run ‘cause if I don’t, I’m a literal nut job. I’m a fucking runner damn it! We don’t quit! The tenacity of runners: That will to push past normal limits. That will is a force. It cannot be killed. It lives amongst loss, heartache, bombings, grief, pain, lost limbs, and utter exhaustion.

These words become a mantra; a chant; my driving force, loud and persistent, drowning out the nagging voices sharing space in my head. The voices that plead with me to stop running or at least slow down, the smell of French fries and pizza, the smells of the city lingering in my nostrils…

All the temptations and doubts: I push past them all. I. Just. Keep. Going.

As I turned down a city street headed back towards my home, the half-way point, the nagging voices long silenced now (quieted in their defeat): I am back in my body. I am present and alive. As fellow runners stride past, I offer the subtle head nod; an acknowledgement of our commonality. Most of the time, this is returned…A complete stranger and I share a moment as runner’s.

We get each other. A small wave or flash of a peace sign, sometimes a smile or look of exhaustion only a comrade could understand. These little moments make running all the more sweet for me. It is a simple thrill: We are a club. And our secret handshake is the subtle recognition of the other. No one ever shared this secret with me. For a while, I used to think it might just be me that these small gestures were extended to. Maybe I looked friendly or that person was just feelin’ good…

Until I gave it a try one day, flashing a wave (waiting) and there it was: the secret handshake.

That afternoon was different though. I couldn’t get a wave or nod to save my life. It kind of became my mission. I would flash a grin and small wave (waiting)…Nothing! What the hell?! A group of about six or seven girls ran by and I flashed a smile, with my ever popular peace sign: Nada! Nothing! Seriously?

Was it just a bad day for waving? Were these runners just in the zone? Maybe so, but it felt like something else. It felt distant and alone. I stopped mid-run and took a note on my iPhone. I wanted to write about it later.

It: this feeling of separateness. I wanted to write about the unwillingness to acknowledge the other. In the end, isn’t that what makes life sweet? Team sports, marriages, family, friends, clubs, groups… In all of our endeavors, tiny fleeting moments…The sweetness intensifies when shared with another.

If we are becoming a society that can’t even acknowledge a wave or smile on the street, seconds out of our life, how can we heal? It shouldn’t take another 9/11, Sandy Hook Elementary or Boston bombing to bring us together. We are alone until we acknowledge the other: Together in our aloneness we can share the weight; bear the pain; journey the miles…We can recognize ourselves in each other, if only for a moment.

We are all members of a club: the human race.

We are all runners at heart. We are born wired for the struggle and the inevitable suffering but triumph and victory are our birthrights. We are born winners. When we cross paths one day, in a fleeting moment, I hope you will nod or wave, hell, maybe even smile:

For just a moment in time, lets’ share this journey together.



Dusty Ranft (RYT-500, RN) is a wild one.  A writer, yoga teacher, studio owner (in the making), runner, foodie leanin’ vegan, Mommy to Big Doggie (a Pit bull rescue), (retired) nurse, health nut, smoothie drinkin’— juice makin’ lover of life.  She has beat the holy hell out of Cancer, ran two marathons, won many games of thumb wars, read thousands of amazing books, and lives trying to answer the universal questions:  Who am I?  Why am I here?  Dusty has decided to turn pro in life.  She believes that all of life is practice and pumps her fist in the air every time she reads these words by Steven Pressfield, “Once we turn pro, we’re like sharks who have tasted blood, or renunciants who have glimpsed the face of God.  For us, there is no finish line.  No bell ends the bout.  Life is the pursuit.  Life is the hunt.  When our hearts burst…then we’ll go out, and no sooner.”  You can find her practicing handstands every chance she gets, teaching what she learns in her yoga classes, laughing really hard, pleading with the muse to shine inspiration on her writings, and sharing gritty realism with her closest companions.  If that isn’t enough, look on Facebook, Twitter, InstagramPinterest and follow the growth of Tree House Yoga (a soon to be brick and mortar replica of her heart).



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Ed: Kate Bartolotta


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