In sixth grade, I won a trophy at the L'ag B'omer track meet sponsored by a consortium of synagogues and held at a local high school. The only music we heard was the Israeli national anthem. Someone ought to explain to me the playing of national anthems before sporting events. Maybe my parents were right; perhaps they are nationalistic displays disguised as athletic competitions. At the time, I was just amazed that I crossed the finish line first. I looked for my parents in the stands.... and then I remembered... I'd taken a bus with the rest of my team.... I had no fans. Then, again, neither did anyone else. We cheered for one another, I carted my trophy home, and G'ma wondered who was gong to dust the damn thing. We really weren't an athletic bunch.
IN 1978, the year before my 27th birthday, I made a new friend. She wore lots of make-up, had the trendiest clothes, and she took me under her wing. TBG tells me that I've always had a blonde friend who taught me something new. Debby was the one who introduced me to running. She explained that the year in which one's age agreed with one's birthday was The Golden Year, a time of wonder and delight during which dreams came true. It was a time to stretch and to grow and to tackle new challenges. In 1979 I'd turn 27 on the 27th... it was my time.
She was a dazzling human being; I bought the notion hook, line and sinker.
She wanted to run in the Bonnie Bell 10K the following April, and she invited me to train with her. I had spent some time in the gym with TBG, but more as an on-looker than as a participant. But in 1978 we were both working and could afford a gym membership. I had no excuses.
Debby would pick me up at 4:30 every weekday morning. We'd drive, silently, in the dark, through Chicago's empty streets, to the under-ground parking lot at the gym. We'd lock up our belongings and head out toward Michigan Avenue. It was deserted, ghostly, ghastly, cold and windy, but we braved the elements and ran our 2, then 3, then 4 then 5 miles before showering and dressing and being at our desks at RIC by 7:15. It was a good thing we were both morning people.
We started out running together, keeping pace with one another, encouraging ourselves to go faster and longer. Soon, though, she out-stripped me, leaving me in the dust as she flew over the pavement. I was alone in the dark, before the sun rose, with no one to talk to and nothing to distract me from the discomfort.
I had my Motown tape, which will be linked forever with icy paths and frigid temperatures on the path between the Lincoln Park Zoo and the South Pond. I had my Summer Fun tape which was Beach Boys and Four Seasons and Shelley Fabares.
But mostly, I had my Donna Summer tape. Love to Love You, Baby got me from the apartment to the Conservatory of Flowers if I went behind the Rookery on my weekend runs. Weekdays, Last Dance was my triumphant sprint up Michigan Avenue to the door of the gym. On the Radio contained just enough angst to get me over the hump in the middle. No matter how loudly Donna was singing in my ear, I was matching her, decibel for decibel, from my own mouth. Why I thought no one was listening is beyond me; I just sang out loud.
I always felt as if Donna Summer was doing the same. She had that big voice and that big hair and that smile that really did stretch from ear to ear. She moved me - literally and figuratively. She was the soundtrack to my struggles as I toiled to reach my goal. She'd been there, done that, and come out on top. She was strong, she was powerful, and she inspired.
I finished my race, and today, so did Donna Summer finish hers. She leaves a husband and two daughters and, I suspect, a rash of female fans who spent 16 minutes and 48 seconds in aerobics classes in the 1970's, sweating in our leg warmers as she sang to us.
Rest In Peace. I'm adding a Pandora channel in your honor tonight.