by Mara Domanski.
Below is a wonderful contribution from our friend Mara, whose idea for “The Birthday Mile” has become somewhat contagious. It’s not only a celebration of running, but a celebration of life and its simple pleasures. Mara joins us as we invite all of our readers to enjoy running and make “The Birthday Mile” a part of your family’s tradition.
I grew up in Chanhassen, MN and was blessed to have parents whose professional careers revolved around what are typically considered extra-curriculars in most families. My mother is a talented musician who teaches piano and voice lessons. My father enjoyed a long tenure as a physical education teacher and a coach of all sports, and still substitute teaches, coaches and referees at 74 years of age. So in addition to much exposure in music and the arts, sports were huge in my household growing up. You can imagine how wonderful this was for me as a young girl, because not only did my dad’s profession provide me with exposure to all things sporty, but there was a clear expectation that my sister and I would participate in athletics to the same degree as my older brother would. Said another way, there were no little passive princesses allowed in my family.
I had opportunities to play every sport out there, and volleyball quickly became my game of choice. I was fortunate to be recruited by several Division I colleges and accepted a full scholarship to Rutgers University. I can truly say that my involvement in the sport propelled me to places that I could have never predicted, and even provided the backdrop for how I met my husband, Graig, who was an accomplished athlete himself in multiple sports, including indoor and beach volleyball.
Our volley-romance led to marriage and twin daughters, Evija and Laela, who entered the world in 2007. Born 10 weeks premature, my girls had a rough road out of the gate and spent two months in the NICU fighting for their lives – it is unequivocally miraculous that they both survived, let alone that they’re the thriving and healthy children I have today. This was an incredibly tumultuous and scary time for Graig and I as new parents and one that is never far from our memory as we watch them grow and enjoy life.
Still competitive in the beach volleyball world a few years after they were born, we were at a weekend tournament. During a conversation about being parents, a good friend half-jokingly shared something to the effect of “when I have kids I’m going to make them run the mile every year and time them.” And there you have it – what started as a friend’s joke turned into a wonderful, new tradition that we intend to carry on in our family for years to come.
Our friend’s comment really resonated with us, and on their 5th birthday we decided it was time to introduce our daughters to “The Birthday Mile.” We took them to a local track and explained that they had to run four laps and they would get a balloon each time they completed one to carry with them until they finished. We would time how long it took and and they could choose to run, walk or both – but we insisted they complete it, even if it took all day. While some might react to this parenting move in horror and assume it stems solely from our athletic, competitive backgrounds or a need to force our kids into sports, our daughters understand the real reasons and sentiment behind it.
We ask our daughters to run their birthday mile not just to get exposure to exercise, but really to honor and celebrate that they have healthy bodies that can run, breathe and take them places – which is still so remarkable to us in light of how their fragile lives started out. They understand that while it may be tiring for their little legs, it is a fitting way to show gratitude for the bodies they were blessed with. It also shows appreciation to the doctors, nurses and hospital staff who worked tirelessly to ensure that our girls would have the opportunity to enjoy whatever sports or activities intrigue them in life.
Our girls turned 6 in November and they couldn’t wait to run their “Birthday Mile” for the second year in a row. They crushed their 5-year old times and even had a special visitor join as their Aunt Shelley from Seattle flew out to participate. Our goal is to keep this tradition alive and build on it every year. “The Birthday Mile” serves as a fun way to show our daughters what they’re capable of and it provides an opportunity to give thanks for the bodies they’re so fortunate to live in.
If you have a running tradition, we want to hear about it! Send us an email. We would love to share the cool things you and your family are doing in the running world.