If I'm Not the Runner I Was, Who Am I?
At 53, Andrea Askowitz reckons with the effects of menopause on her athletic abilities, and struggles to keep up with her 12-year-old son.
I’ve been a runner my whole life. Until a year ago, I’d injured myself only once, while sliding, drunk, across a recently mopped floor. I never stretched growing up. Now, I have to do hula hoop circles to get to the bathroom in the morning.
On the Nature Channel, flowers age at warp speed with time-lapse photography. There’s a seedling, stem, closed bud, open bud, slight bow, dropped petals, shrinking stem, death. All in thirty seconds. Menopause is like this. At least for me. Puberty might accelerate the aging process this fast too, but at that age, I didn’t have the life experience to know any different. I had no perspective.
Now, at 53, I’m aging at warp speed and it’s scaring the shit out of me. I’m not afraid I’m about to die because if I take after my grandparents, I could live 40 more years. But in what form?
Now, at 53, I’m aging at warp speed and it’s scaring the shit out of me.
At my last physical, the nurse asked when was my last period. I had a weak trickle, not the usual fire-hose I would typically have until just over a year ago, which means I’m in menopause.
In this last year, I started adding magnesium to my water to help with middle-of-the-night Charley horses. If I lean back into a pillow for too long, my arm goes numb. I developed arthritis in my neck. I pulled out my shoulder driving and reaching for a piece of gum my son, Sebastian, handed me from the backseat. After waving him over from across the room, I got a Popeye bulge in my bicep—a common reaction to a torn tendon for people over 50. Six weeks into marathon training, I ripped my calf hopping over a puddle. I heard the snap and felt the knife, but I kept running that day because it hurt more to admit injury.
In high school, I ran cross-country—two miles through woods and over hills. Some girls vomited at the finish line. Others cried. I might not have been the fastest, but I knew if I pushed my body harder than anyone else, I would win. In 1984, ’85, and ’86, I was named Miami-Dade Cross Country Champion.
Being able to do hard physical things is how I see myself, how I derive confidence. It’s who I am.
Once, on vacation with my extended family, when my niece was 1 and I was 29, we waded through a river toward a waterfall. My sister-in-law held my niece. The water got deeper. Then the current turned to rapids and the sand in our toes became dangerous, slippery rock. My brother who’s over six feet was there, but my sister-in-law handed the baby to me. I’m 5’4,” was 125 pounds. But, I was the one trusted with the baby.
Being able to do hard physical things is how I see myself, how I derive confidence. It’s who I am. Even all these decades later, someone at the grocery store who knew me in high school will ask me about running.
At my last physical, the nurse took my pulse: 46. She said, “Are you a runner?”
I was a runner.
I was the person who carried the baby.
Now, would anyone pass a baby to me?
This rapid-onset aging has been happening right before my eyes.
I know the healthiest forests have the oldest trees. Somehow age makes a tree stronger.
And then, my eye doctor fitted me with progressives—trifocals, which are kind of a miracle. After a few dizzying days—every step on flat land looked like I was descending stairs—my eyes adjusted. Now, I can see from three different perspectives. I can see the details of the wedding band my wife and I designed, the crisp stripes on my running shoes, and my children’s facial expressions from across the table.
I can see myself standing strong in the river. I can see that I’m that flower, slightly bent over, losing her petals. But I can also see there’s more to the life of a plant than one flower. I know the healthiest forests have the oldest trees. Somehow age makes a tree stronger.
Last week after giving my calf months to heal, Sebastian challenged me in a race. He’s 12. A scrawny 12. I didn’t want to race because I didn’t want him to feel bad, losing to his old lady. But he insisted. We stood at our imaginary starting line on the street. My plan was to run hard, then let up so we’d end in a tie. He said, “On your mark, get set, go,” and flew past me.
I caught my breath, bent over, crushed like that flower.
And then I looked at Sebastian, and with my new glasses, I saw the look of sweet victory on his face.