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While members of some cultures wear an evil eye for protection to ward off nefarious spirits, I wear a special charm to calm, inspire and protect me. My talisman is a hot pink, leaping runner from the Dirty Girl Mud Run, held Sept. 8 at Kissing Bridge winter resort. If you look carefully, you can detect her ponytail.
This circular charm hangs from a metal chain resembling those used for dog tags, yet I never served. It reminds me of the miles I logged and the weights I pumped all summer to prepare for this terribly messy, fun, outrageous, empowering event. It is a shield of invincibility, a deflector, my courage when I have none.
It wildly whispers, "Don't mess with me."
This new necklace means more to me than any finisher medal I have ever earned. It ventures beyond time splits, beyond age groups, beyond any boundaries holding women back, for running in a race that's not really a race, an event for newbies and veterans alike.
Cool to the touch, it reminds me to stay cool during trials and adversities. Slipping it around my neck, I can almost hear my sneakers being sucked into the mud and feel my quads yanking them out.
The charm connects me to a Sisterhood of the Mud - thousands of women who conquered the slopes on the wettest morning of the summer. The sheer force of our legs propelled us to the top of the chair lift in the teeming rain: a 5K more like an ultimate cross-country race. Gleeful, I was 17 again on the hilltop; my 40-year-old body left behind at the bottom. (We later learned descending is more slippery and dangerous than climbing up. Many decided to grab a rope rather than slide down, to avoid twisting an ankle.)
It marks the nerve I had to find and join another group when my original team failed to show due to the weather. Alone in my 10 a.m. starting corral, I noticed Deb, a mother from my children's school, in her pink Survivor hat. The Breast Cancer Foundation, the cause we were running for, made its presence known in her determined face. She quickly introduced me to her team of strong women.
"We'll adopt you," they said. A practical bunch, they didn't wear bright tutus or matching socks. I fit right in.
Without them, I wouldn't have reached my goal to make it up and over all 11 obstacles. A teammate, Jen, wearing gloves, boosted me over "Jail Break," a fence jump. We tasted the mud, gritty and raw, during the mud crawl, laughing most of the way as it exfoliated our knees.
Other obstacles, like a climbing wall called "Just Get Over It" and a vertical cargo net named "Get a Grip," served as breathtaking metaphors to me, an English teacher, representing real life obstacles we've already triumphed over and ones, unthinkable now, that we'll face in the future.
Days after the event, I discovered new mud sisters at the grocery store, my daughter's dance studio and even in my college classroom, where a student proudly displayed her charm. A collective of powerful women, warriors with scratches they received in the mud.
Somehow, the medallion even connects me to my ancestors, strong women who left the security of their Irish and German homelands to begin new lives here. They also had the courage to attempt uphill battles many would deem "crazy" or meaningless, yet ultimately transformative.
In the future, I hope the metal necklace glinting in the sun will remind my 8-year-old daughter of the morning she woke early to go to stand at in the pouring rain at ski slopes without any snow. I hope she'll conjure the day her mother planned to flop in the mud, exfoliate with friends, and drink a beer, but discovered a strength she'd forgotten existed.
Maybe next year, her grandmothers will decide to get dirty, too.