One of our favorite actors, John O'Hurley recently wrote a
best selling (and hilarious) book "It's Okay to Miss the Bed on the First Jump" that has some great reminisces about growing up with dogs and also about running cross country. You may know John from his appearances on television, (including Seinfeld (Mr. Peterman), and Sponge Bob and Family Feud) from his many movie roles, or his Broadway appearances (Chicago and Spamalot this year) his music, or our favorite, his work as host of the National Dog Show on Thanksgiving. Here is an excerpt from the highly entertaining "It's Okay":
"I stumbled into running cross country as a way to avoid two other sports--football and soccer. Our school had never fielded a cross country team before my junior year. A new sport I thought, perfect. No expectations, no school records to live up to. We could be individually and collectively mediocre, and no one would care, as there was nothing to compare us to. Our coach was as new to distance running as the twenty of us who had signed up for the team. The coach presented us with sprinters track spikes to run in and it wasn't until our first meet that the other coach pointed out we all had the wrong shoes. It hardly mattered to me, I could have discarded the shoes and run in the shoe boxes, I was that inept....
It never occured to me that distance running required stretching both before and after training. I had the flexibility of a potato chip. After our first team run of three miles my muscles were so bound up and my calves so cramped that I had to sit on the stairs at home and inch up, one step at a time on my butt to get to my room...It was a clearly frustrating point in my young life. I got pummeled on the football field and now I was the runt of the litter on the cross-country team. I hated running and I was beginning to hate sports in general. Curiously we had an English springer spaniel at this time, named Ding, who loved to run. Ding was a bit smaller than most of her breed. She also had some bladder control issues that caused her to squat and pee at the sound of a deep voice, most notably my father's. That habit, combined with her more compact build, brought the possibilites of a promising dog show career to a skidding halt. She loved to run and moved with a grace and elegance that I had never seen before.
One day when I was throwing Ding her tennis ball for what must have been the 200th time a thought hit me like a slap in the face. What if I pretended,just for a day- for one practice- that I could run like Ding free of thought,racing for the pure enjoyment of running? What would it feel like to sprint, without tiring, at the head of the pack? I was an actor after all; I should be able to imagine myself as the greatest runner of all time, "Ding-for-a-Day"
O'Hurley. I couldn't wait to get to cross-country practice the next day; it was like I was awakened with a new sense of purpose. I went to the track feeling dangerous, like a man with nothing to lose, a man with a score to settle. I hummed my own theme song to accompany my swagger as I waited for the team to assemble at the starting line.
I will remember those first ten steps for the rest of my life. They were long and digging. The gray gravel crunched beneath my feet with a sound I'd never heard before. Those ten steps set me out in front of the pack for the first time in my life. It was the view the dogsled mushers joked about. It was free and clear, and it was all I needed. From that moment on, I wasn't going to let anyone pass me. My mind and body were flushed with adrenaline. I felt every step connect with my core. I was running like Ding..."
"There is a lesson Ding and every other dog since has shared with me. They stretch. All dogs do young and old. We are born with the flexibility to put our feet in our mouths. When we reach adulthood, however, our physical nature seems to become less important to us. We become more cerebal and less physical.
By forty, only one in ten adults can touch their toes. The running and playing of our youth is replaced by a walk to the car and a tug on the seat belt, or a point and click of a mouse. Dogs instinctively maintain their flexibility and consequently maintain live far more active lives in their later years-- rarely, if ever, do you ever hear of a dog pulling or tearing a muscle. Now Ding and I had obvious
physical differences. She was sculpted with long sinewy muscle. I was about as flexible as a pencil. Every morning, Ding would rise from sleep, stand tall on her haunches and stretch her front legs and her neck as far forward as she could. (In yoga, it's called the Downward Dog, which I'm guessing they use
without permission.) Then she'd give her head a shake to loosen the muscles of the neck and shoulders. Then she'd lie down on her back and roll from side to side to stretch the abdominals. Who taught Ding to do this? Who sat her down and said, "Look, your a dog; dogs run, so maybe you should stretch." Nobody. Puppies stretch from the first moment after their first nap, and they don't stop stretching for their entire lives."
Note: "It's Okay to Miss the Bed" is a great book for anyone who loves dogs or running. John has recently followed it with another book " "Before Your Dog Can Eat Your Homework, First You Have to Do It".
Thanks so much to John O'Hurley for his kind permission to quote from his book.