A Texas to-do list

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - FEATURES - DANA SEX­TON Visit www.chick­en­soup.com.

Hous­ton felt like a world away from South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, where Dana Sex­ton had spent her whole life. But her hus­band’s job trans­fer brought them a new home. Now she just needed friends — the last thing on her “Texas To-Do List.” As she shares in our book for just us girls, her real es­tate agent and new­found friend sug­gested Dana join her walk­ing and run­ning group. She had mis­giv­ings, but de­cided to take the first step. That first step turned into many, and in the process she found some great new friends: Diane, Karen, Jill and Betsy. Here’s what hap­pened next:

For the next six months, those four women never left my side. When fall ar­rived, we re­joiced in the beauty of the chang­ing leaves and in­haled the scent of crack­ling fires as fam­i­lies rose and pre­pared break­fast. By now, our Satur­day morn­ing chats had be­come more per­sonal. Kids, jobs, houses, dogs — no sub­ject was off lim­its as we raced past the tran­quil lakes sur­round­ing our town.

The sun rose, great blue herons soared and deer wan­dered on the edge of the woods. I came to be­lieve I could ac­tu­ally walk the half-marathon at the rapid pace re­quired by the spon­sors.

My con­fi­dence grew not only from strict prepa­ra­tion, but also from a col­lec­tive courage.

The USA Fit train­ing sched­ule was taped to my kitchen wall. Ev­ery day for six months was recorded, with the re­quired ac­tiv­ity listed. I dili­gently crossed off each square un­til only the fi­nal week re­mained. With that re­al­iza­tion, panic set in.

That was also when I un­der­stood just how sup­port­ive my pur­ple friends were. On the Mon­day be­fore the race, I saw Diane in the busy pro­duce aisle of the gro­cery store. “I’m so happy to see you!” I gave her a mas­sive hug and, with­out warn­ing, the tears started. They came from a place deep in­side, from in­se­cu­rity and the re­al­iza­tion that I might not be up to the chal­lenge ahead.

Diane steered me to­ward the racks of bread. The air smelled de­li­cious, and a sooth­ing calm en­veloped me.

“You are go­ing to be just fine. You’re ready! I’ll be wait­ing for you in­side the con­ven­tion cen­tre first thing that morn­ing. I’ll help you through the whole process.” Another hug and I was on to ce­real and canned goods.

Then came a piece of bad news. Karen was ex­pe­ri­enc­ing knee prob­lems. On Wed­nes­day, she made the tough de­ci­sion. “I just can’t walk the course. Look for me at mile seven. That’s when you’ll need a cheer­ing sec­tion the most. I’ll be there.”

I wasn’t cer­tain I could ac­com­plish the enor­mous task ahead with­out the full team; each woman added a dif­fer­ent com­po­nent to the group’s suc­cess. Karen was stead­fast. “Do not let this take away any of your joy.”

Race day was ex­cit­ing. Spec­ta­tors lined the streets with noise­mak­ers, ban­ners and loud­speak­ers. I found my pur­ple friends at the des­ig­nated meet­ing place with­out any prob­lem. A group photo was taken, and then we clung to each other as 24,000 rac­ers made their way to the start­ing line. The four of us hud­dled in the early morn­ing chill, pep talks were given all around, and then the gun sounded. Fi­nally, I would face the chal­lenge An­nie had in­vited into my life.

Back in July, my tar­get had sim­ply been to fin­ish the half­marathon. At some crazy point, I de­cided to com­plete the race in less than three hours. In or­der to meet that goal, Jill and I kept con­stant watch on the time. “Dana, I have a plan. We need to walk for five min­utes, then jog for one. That should keep our fin­ish time to three hours.” We grinned at each other, know­ing that this rather large de­tail should have been worked out in ad­vance!

The last mile was nearly in­tol­er­a­ble. Our pace had been much quicker than dur­ing train­ing. Luck­ily, the fi­nal stretch was burst­ing with en­thu­si­asm from the crowded side­walks. I sped along to cheers from Elvis im­per­son­ators, sumo wrestlers and a youth group dressed as chick­ens. Diane yelled from far ahead, “It doesn’t get any bet­ter than this!”

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