When something bad happens, you have three choices: let it define you, let it destroy you, or let it strengthen you.

The heart of the difference is not ability or even talent, but desire

The purpose of life is to discover and develop your gift. The meaning of life comes from sharing your gift with others. - David Viscott

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

My other home.

I was born in a medium size town 200 miles north of Moscow. I am guessing this should be my home place, although I only lived there for less than 2 years and don't remember there a thing. My sister, every time I visit Russia now, keeps saying she needs to take me there, and I have no desire...

After a couple of short stays (due to a nature of my father's job, who was a military pilot), from which I have 3 things to talk about: how I "climbed" the cars parked in front of our building, how I ran away from home to the forest and a platoon was set in search, and how my sister and I set an apartment on fire by putting a cashmere scarf on a spiral heater next to a Christmas tree, for what we were punished to the point we couldn't sit for a week - so, after that not so homey experiences we moved to Belarus, a former republic of Soviets to the west and bordering Poland. I lived there for 8 years, from 4 and half till 12 and half. This place was rich in war history - any war to Russia had to go through these parts, was it Napoleon or Hitler. I grew up on this history, often too close and personal - we still had mines in forests, and a forest was what made Belarus, well, Belarus. This was my playground. This was my home. You know how they say "I walked to school a mile in snow uphill each way"? I won't claim uphill either way, it's pretty flat out there, but it was a mile, and part of it was through the woods, once beyond the military settling borders. And I was the lucky one - near villagers had to go for 2 or 3, in the winter, yes, in the snow, no bus...
Belarus had become my home. It is beautiful as nothing here - different beautiful. Dark forests, the darkest you've ever seen, with pine trees, fir trees and what other trees I have no translation for.
And light forests, birch forests you’ll never see (may be if you in Canada, a bit, we even have a song about it).

I remember everything from this place. I am not a native Belorussian, but this is how I always viewed myself – and how I introduced myself. I loved it there. I never spoke the language freely, but I understood, and my accent was pretty heavily leaning on their side, what made for a lot of jokes at my expense later. Oh, how I didn’t want to move…

But such is life. My dad got transferred, and we ended up in Moscow. A capital, a biggest city in Soviet Union, and somewhere in top 5 largest in the world (I am not a statistician, but with 12 million people in 1995 I would guess it is). What a drastic difference! I hated everything about it. Big buildings, buses, metro, rushing people, not knowing names of all the neighbors, obnoxious attitude of those who were born and raised and had generations of Moscovites…even the school 5 minutes away. But I came around. No, I never felt home living in Moscow, but I found friendships that lasting still, places I liked to visit, good things about all the cultural wealth I was able to be exposed to, universities I could attend…I guess it was my second home, or a step-home, if you will?

Life never stagnates, and 11.5 years sped by, so did my youth. The next big step was scary like never before – I was not only to move to another city, I was to move to another country. Oh, man, that was petrifying! I don’t have much to say about New York City, you know, but 11 years are a long time, and you get used to things. And, besides, what are we talking about here? There are still people who live in NYC, and they are great! So I got another home. I might have never thought it that way while living there, but as I visited about a year and half ago, after initial shock (OMG, people, crowds, noise!!!) it was warm and fuzzy. Yes, NYC felt warm and fuzzy. This happens too…

Moving to Portland, OR, was never a burden. I chose between New Jersey and Oregon rather easily. It was still a move, across the country, but it never felt strained. And it felt home. For the first time since my Belarus days Portland felt home. Right away. The feeling grew only stronger as I was introduced to local trails, local mountains, local ultras, and the Gorge…My best friends since my pre-teen days, since my Belarus days, I met here. That overwhelming warmth when you’re flying over Mt. Hood, coming back from anywhere else, I’ve written many times about – here. I may still get lost on the streets of Portland, but I can always say: welcome home…

I went to spend a weekend to Austin, TX, with Larry. There is no secret my travels to the south of this country are frequent. There is no secret of the reason behind either. So, past weekend Larry was to run his first marathon. While he’s done 50k’s, 50M races and even a solid 100 miler, this was his first venture to the world of road marathoning. Yep, things happen in weirder ways than that…

The weather was great, although I kept saying I expected it to be warmer. We ran – well, duh, we are both runners, right? We ran on Friday night, and I managed to get lost on the local streets – and had a grand time at that. On Saturday, since Larry shouldn’t have been running before a race, he hooked me up with a local trail group training for Jemez 50 and lead by Rob’t Heynen. The distances were varied, and I was looking at the longer version. Have you ever run in Austin? It’s hilly. Hilly like hell, what keeps surprising me every time I come. It’s different hilly, not long continuous ups and downs like Forest Park or even Tryon (where the shortest climb is 0.25M), not to mention 3-4M climbs in the Gorge. Austin hills are sharp and short, and seem to come out of nowhere. You can never get in a rhythm and be prepared of what is that you’re about to do. You can not relax on those short flat stretches either! Rocks, rocks and roots and more rocks. You get thrown around so much, it takes good 30-40 minutes to begin feeling smooth. But it surely can prepare you for places like Massanutten 100 or Zane Grey 50! I manage to catch myself from falling every time – but one of those times I did it with a help with a finger, stubbing it into a shrub (that is called trees out there). I was pretty sure I broke it, seeing how fast it swelled up and hurt and throbbed like hell. But hours passed, and it felt better. I managed to get lost, of course, too, what never fazes me anymore – I do it so often, it surprises me if I don’t. I had a blast of a time. I was very thankful to meet so many great folks!

We went to a marathon expo that afternoon after the run, and Larry got really freaked about how many people are there, how huge it is, with vendors, noises and crowds. Kind of like Moscow felt to me after Belarus. We quickly picked the bib number, grabbed the pace chart and got out (on the way realizing it was a Valentine day – neither one of us is into that, thankfully). The rest of the day was quiet and homey, if you don’t count Larry getting nervous about the marathon…

I won’t spoil his marathon story, which, actually, he didn’t talk much about either .

He ran with a bottle, which I was supposed to switch at certain points. Being much slower, even if I take cut off’s, and not knowing the city streets, were not much helpful in this idea, but our friend Moogy came to the rescue, and we drove around like crazy, visiting at 3 more points and making it to the finish line in time to see Larry finish in 3:06. Good run, indeed…We also hung out at each of those points with local friends of Larry and Moogy, and it was great to meet them.

And in the evening – there was a birthday of one of the local running club member, John, and his wife made a surprise party. I’ve never been to one of those before, and boy, the expression on John’s face was priceless!!! I knew most of the attending friends, and those few I didn’t – well, here was my chance to say hello. It felt good. It felt home…

Did I just say that? Oh, my, I just said it out loud, didn’t I? Austin feels home…we went for a short trail run on Sunday afternoon, and as I reached the peak of the climb and looked around – I saw vast green hills. It was beautiful. Different beautiful than Forest Park, different beautiful than Gorge, but still. I inhaled it deeply…I thought of all the people I met here, whether for the first time or another time since some race…and I didn’t feel alienated. That was good. That was far from what it felt when I first came here. That was calm and peaceful…

What is home? Home is where your heart is. And just as you can have a parent and a step parent, a sibling and a step sibling – you can have a home, and a step home…or few. I know I have quite a number:-)


  1. Olga, great post. I have so many questions. Your time in the Soviet Union/Russia/Belarus (depending on the time line) are so intriguing to me...growing up in the height of the cold war and all. I am glad you like Texas. It has where I have spent all of my life (except for a short time in the Marine Corps.) I love it in Texas....but that goes without saying.

    p.s. I also have so many questions about being a daughter of a Soviet Pilot...wow....Tell Larry he kick some butt on his first Road 26.2.

  2. It's perfectly understandable to feel "home" in more than one location. Your whole journey is fascinating, really. Thanks for sharing it with us.

  3. Good to see you and chat with you in your new home :) Looking forward to a run together!!

  4. Very nice, Olga.
    And a big congrats to Larry on a nice marathon time!

  5. The state is my adopted home as well. Not my first choice but we've had many happy years here. I hope you will as well.

    And I guess it's more likely these days that you will eventually run Rocky Raccoon.

  6. Beautifully written Olga - a story that pulls you through. I think you're right - though I've not lived in the varied areas you have, I've lived in places far from here and they did come to feel like home. I'm glad Austin feels that way for you - an easy move for sure!

  7. I love Austin. When we were moving I suggested Austin as a place to go but we ended up here, which is great. There are lots of places in this world that are worthy of being "home" and when you move all the time it seems only reasonable to claim more than once place as "home."

    By the way, have you read "The Long Walk?" It's a great read and has some Russian history in it. It's inspiring for ultra-running to boot.

  8. I look forward to the next chapter in your life, Olga! My dad grew up in Texas and I was able to visit once. I would love to go back again.

  9. He didn't seem happy with the crowds at the starting line, what a great finishing time though. Nice post. I liked how you started in the beginning and I agree, home is where your heart is. When I learned that is when I applied for my American Citizenship.

  10. I am happy you felt at home when you were here. I remember, distinctly, the exact moment when I considered Austin my home. Regardless, that doesn't mean I won't have other homes in the future... ;)

  11. I love Austin! I grew up on the Gulf coast near Galveston and I always looked forward to visiting Austin. I have friends there and I can see why it would feel like home. Nice post. Congrats to Larry too!

  12. Home sweet home...good post Olga!

    and wow 3:06 marathon, what a fast f~!@#$ker Larry is huh :-)

  13. This was a beautiful post.

    Your russian accent is charming.

    Best of luck to you and your running.