My mother Bonnie ran her first marathon this past summer. Never being one to half-ass anything, she decided to not just run a marathon, but to run THE marathon, in Greece, and convince half my family to do it with her.
So began the training. This woman who had recently become a grandmother began logging miles. No matter the fact she’d barely run in her entire life. She’s a tough woman and would do it her way.
The text message on race day months later confirmed her training and stubbornness paid off. She had run her first-ever marathon at the young age of 67.
The woman who taught me to walk had run a marathon. She taught me to never quit, so it was no surprise at all that she didn’t, either.
Today is Mother’s Day, a time we as a society take pause to recognize the extraordinary efforts of those women who inspire us, raise us and help form us into the adults we have become.
I don’t think anyone inspired my love of the outdoors more than my mother; she was the first one to take my hand and lead me to the woods and fields, lakes and rivers where I would spend my childhood. As an adult, I am continually amazed by her adventurous spirt that seems to grow with every passing year.
I grew up a child of the 80’s in a small Wisconsin town. My mother had grown up a child of the 50’s in the rural Midwest, and she raised me with the values of someone afraid of neither hard work nor dirt.
From my earliest days she led by example with reverence and love for the outdoors. Early memories flicker with the light of campfires and marshmallows. But learning is not all sunshine and rainbows, and there were also burns and cuts and scrapes.
Mom was always there to pluck me up and dust me off, but rarely with coddling or scolding. Instead there would be a quick inspection of the injury, possibly the application of some antiseptic or a Band-Aid, and then I would be ushered out the door, back to my BMX bike or fishing pole or soccer ball.
As my sister and I grew from babies into childhood, my mother pushed the boundaries of our worlds, from play in the front yard into the wild north. Weeklong trips were taken by canoe into the remote Quetico wilderness in Ontario, where, day after day, Mom proved that there is no better meal than one cooked beside a campfire and eaten on a lakeshore.
More than once, I heard her quip “a little dirt won’t hurt you” after brushing dust or pine needles from her mouth-wateringly good camp food. I watched her run a camp like a boss, planning meals and routes and daily activities with nothing more than the (significant) gear you can fit in a canoe.
And then there were the road-trips, thousands of miles of pavement rolled under the wheels of our old VW buses as we escaped the chill of a Wisconsin spring in exchange for the slightly less-chilly Arkansas spring or the muggy days of Midwestern summer for the excitement of Montana mountains.
These days and many more formed some of my fondest childhood memories and the bedrock upon which my life of outdoor adventure was built. Would I have climbed all those mountains, traveled around the world or sailed across the Caribbean without her early tutelage? Probably not.
In the many years since I moved out of the house, my mother and father have continued to inspire me with their adventures around the world and athletic endeavors. From trips to South America and Europe to competing in masters cross country races, mom keeps upping the ante — the marathon was just one more rung on her impressive ladder. Her life is an example to me that age really ought not be an obstacle.
So as we celebrate mothers on this too infrequent a day, I want to say thanks to my mother and all those like her who send their kids out to play in the dirt and the snow and the rain, who shoo their children out of the house on weekends and tell them not to come home until dark, who know how to pitch a tent and carry a backpack and build a fire and filet a fish … and who are willing to share all of this with children who are all too often ungrateful until, one day, years later, they realize they have mom to thank for a genuine love of the outdoors.
Thanks moms, my mom in particular, for sharing that sense of wonder and love of the outdoor world that I will carry all the days of my life. —Sean McCoy is managing editor of GearJunkie.com