March 10, 2006

Polk families run together, have fun together

When I first began working on this article I wanted to investigate why people would willing put themselves through hours of training to run a 26.2 mile marathon, but as my research began I learned more about how families in our community treasure the time they spend together as a family. Hopefully, I will get the chance to learn more about Fort Polk's unique family activites.

-- Published in Fort Polk Guardian (March 3, 2006) --
By: MICHELLE LINDSEY, Guardian staff writer

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” The words of 5th century B.C. Chinese philosopher Lao-tzu are brought to life –– literally –– by two Fort Polk families.
Maj. Ralph Paredes, 2nd Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, said he has always been athletic. When he and a few friends challenged each other to run the 1998 Seattle, Wash., marathon, a new hobby was born. “It wasn’t supposed to be a marathon,” Paredes recalled, “it was supposed to be a half marathon, but it got competitive.”
Paredes ran untrained in 3:53 and admits that he both walked and ran. “Anybody can finish a marathon by walking and running, but I think the hardest thing is to be disciplined enough to go through the training program. You have to commit yourself. It is a lot of work. If you want to do well, it takes dedication and time,” he said.
Parades said that preparing for a marathon with daily training requires sacrifice. Runners cannot just get up, run a few miles and be finished. Eating properly, stretching, warming-up, running and cooling down are the steps to train for long-distance running. “It can easily take up to half of your Saturday,” Paredes said.
“(The time required) is the hardest thing,” his wife Kathy said, but added that it is time they can spend together. She is new to marathons compared to her husband.
“My first was the Dallas marathon in December, 2004,” she said. “I had not run a marathon before meeting Ralph. I just ran little stuff, more social than competitive.”
“(For the Dallas marathon) I got on a training plan and ran six days a week. Ralph was with me on the weekend runs. We awoke at 5 a.m., ate, ran for two to three hours, then came home and ate again. By then it was 2 p.m. on a Sunday afternoon and all we had done was train, but it was great for us because we spent time together,” Kathy said.
“We talked so much on those runs. It was a great experience. I’m not sure if I would have done it without him.”
“I think it’s the other way around,” Paredes said. “She would say ‘I’m going for a run,’ and sometimes I would rather sleep in or just grab a cup of coffee, but she was focused and that motivated me to get up and run.”
Running brought them together even before the 2004 marathon.
“We knew each other before and lost touch over the years. I sent a Christmas card to his parents’ house after September 11, 2001, with my phone number and e-mail address and he contacted me. We started to e-mail each other and decided to do a race together at Central Park ( New York),” Kathy said. “We met at the corner of 5th and 72nd streets.” Paredes later proposed to Kathy on a run.
“We spend a lot of time together going over training plans and talking about goals. He has more experience so I rely on him to give me advice or (answer questions),” said Kathy.
Both say that running has given them more time together and it’s become a treasured activity to share.
“We plan holidays so we can run. On our honeymoon we stayed at a hotel that was near a beach that had a good running trail. We knew we would want to run,” said Kathy.
Running has also taken them to places like Hawaii, Alaska and Canada.
“Running lets you see things you would not otherwise see,” Kathy said adding that when they were in the Bahamas they were able to see the early morning fishermen pulling in the day’s catch.
For another Fort Polk family, running became a family affair.
Lt. Col. Greg Solem, Joint Readiness Training Center Operations Group, and his wife, Helen, began long-distance running as a personal challenge.
Solem began running for military activities and ran his first Army Ten-Miler in 1998. One year later Helen participated in the Army Ten-Miler. Their next step was to run the Richmond, Va. marathon in November 2000.
“I started running because of the military, but I first got interested in marathons when I did the Army Ten-Miler,” said Solem. “It was an aspiration of mine to do a marathon (as the next step).”
Helen said that she had always been athletic and was once an aerobics instructor, leading to her decision to run the Army Ten-Miler.
“I really became interested in running while preparing for the Richmond marathon. It evolved from there and went from running a little bit to a total of seven marathons to date,” Helen said.
“Being able to run the Richmond marathon was great,” said Solem and it became a family activity when their four oldest children joined in.
Helen said that Jake, Hannah, Ben and Joe have been home schooled since 1999. Walking a mile daily was part of their physical education program.
The children took it to the next level.
“They started by walking and then progressed to running, first a mile, then more. Now we’ve been running races together since spring, 2000,” she said.
Jake, 15, ran his first race in 2000 and has participated in 21 to date along with 13-year-old Hannah. Not to be left behind, Ben, 11, has run in 20 races and Joe, 9, has run 17. Even 21-month-old Zachary sometimes rides along in his stroller, pushed by a family member.
For the Solems the best part of running is the encouragement they receive from each other.
“Running is an activity that we can do as a family no matter where the Army sends us,” said Solem. “The best part is the encouragement (the kids) give each other.” The kids disagree. When asked who their biggest supporter is their five voices called out in unison, “Dad.”
“When he’s there at a race it is the greatest joy,” said Helen.
At the 2005 Fort Polk Turkey Trot, Solem was busy with a training exercise as his family warmed up at Honor Field.
“Two minutes before the run he showed up,” said Helen. “Dad’s always there to support us,” added Ben.
“I was able to pull out of the field for about an hour to watch the race and be at the finish line,” Solem said.
Jake said his father’s support contributed to his first-place win at the Turkey Trot.
The family agrees that running provides confidence, discipline and a chance to meet goals in athletics and daily life.
Saturday morning the family gets together for a run at a nearby track. “It’s not necessarily about being in shape or having a rigid diet. It’s about having fun,” said Solem, “Afterwards we like to get donuts.”
For both the Paredes and the Solems, it’s not so much its competitive nature that makes running fun, but rather the fact they have found something that they can do as a family.
“Some people spend an hour watching TV, but this is what we like to do,” said Helen.
“It is part of our life but it doesn’t take over our lives,” Hannah added.
“It’s about finding an activity that you can do as a family, and for us this is it,” said Helen. “... and it all started with a walk.”

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