Jacque Irons

Sunday morning brings that relentless beeping of the alarm at 5:15 am. It may sound like torture to those who enjoy a more leisurely weekend. To me it has quickly become a sound I love to hear because it means that soon I will be connecting with some very special, entertaining people who support me to reach farther than I ever thought possible and accomplish more than I dreamed.

It all began December 2014 when I was in a life threatening car accident. After a few days in ICU, I was released to heal and regroup. As the healing of the body took place, a deep stirring of the soul simultaneously occurred. I began to examine my life and came to one soulful conclusion. I wanted to grab life and experience all the wild and wonderful adventure it had to offer. I was physically limited in my options. For a quick minute, I begin to sulk about not being able to bicycle, play tennis, or do yoga. Then I remembered those brave, challenged athletes who always focus on what they CAN do. I realized I could walk and maybe even jog. That’s when a quick Google search led me to the Loma Linda Lopers.

The first half of 2015 was definitely one of the toughest times of my life. That changed significantly in August when I walked into Drayson Center Gym for Loper Orientation and the timed mile. Myra, a brave, bright, and spirited coworker joined me in this adventure. After our first mile, we were assigned to the 15-minute pace group. The next week, we showed up and somehow were drawn like a moth to a flame to the 14-minute group. It was something about their energy that drew in us little coyote pups.

We were quickly introduced to Ardee, our fearless leader and coach. We immediately knew we were blessed, as she confidently assessed her charges. Several of us were new to the Lopers. She assured us we would not die as we began the first two miles. The first mile was straight up hill. Myra and I were sure Ardee was pacing us at a sub 8-minute pace. Our hearts were racing so fast, we simply could not breathe. That two minute walk followed by a one minute run, which Ardee affectionately christened wogging, seemed like a 5 min run and 30 second walk as our hearts felt like exploding. Ardee encouraged us onward and we completed that first two miles.

Just a half mile more was the rallying call the next week, which was the first time I was brave enough to express my utter exhaustion, and I quickly learned that I was not the only one playing like I was “The Little Engine That Could.” I think it was when we had our fourth week of training that most of us had gathered enough oxygen to begin to speak. It all began with picking Ardee’s brain. She was a wealth of knowledge about the running world. She shared so many adventures she was having while working on her goal of 15 Rock ‘n’ Roll half marathons in one year. She had all the latest styles of clothes and shoes. She was wonderful–between the “5, 4, 3, 2 ,1 walking; 5, 4, 3 2, 1 running” and “Don’t forget to hydrate two days before the long runs,” she kept us going.

Mile five was the first day we would hit a water stop–2.5 miles uphill trying to catch our breath all the way. When we arrived, water never tasted so good. I think it was that beautiful smile of Art and the music he had for us. I really felt like I was part of something special as his wife Eileen broke out dancing and we quickly followed suit. From that day on I knew I could complete any distance as long as I made it to Art’s water stop.

As the miles increased, the conversations followed suit. We began to share our lives. Several of us were dealing with aging parents, launching children, financial issues, and health issues. We gathered in closely and discussed heartaches and coping strategies in dealing with those painful moments life sometimes gives us. The miles just flew by.

Most of the miles were spent in light hearted conversations about shoes and rocks in shoes and GU and when can we start running downhill and how great Ardee’s pants looked and, well, you name it–we discussed it. Two sisters Thida and Sophana along with her daughter Sam were part of our group. On mile 7 day, we started talking about how happy we were together. Eileen started playing the Happy Song. Thida started skipping and dancing along. Then she said when she came to America, she didn’t know English and the first word she learned was from a commercial of a dancing Happy Hippo. Thus the group was dubbed the Happy Hippos group. Music, dancing, and laughter became out mantra.

On the days Ardee was out of town completing Rocking and Rolling, Myra became the unofficial leader. Her “seconds” app saved the day. We became like Pavlov’s dogs when we heard those beeps walk, jog walk, jog in other words, WOG. Myra was always with a smile on her face; Sam so sweet and determined–homework never done but completing the miles anyway; Patty–running through injury; Carlos–always a good conversation; Deloris–motivating; Sophana–always giving us beauty tips and posing for pictures and Eileen–couldn’t have done this without you. Eileen was like a mother bear, or should I say mommy coyote. She would protect us, remind us to hydrate and eat, walk us blow by blow through every upcoming race all along playing the happy song and making us laugh.

Here is a quote from Eileen about our group, “I really enjoyed our group this year. We motivate, encourage, laugh and support one another. I get excited on Sunday mornings to see everyone because you never know what we will be talking about. Someday it’s our kids, spouses, jobs, shoes, training or upcoming races. It reminds me of students coming to school each morning to meet up with their best friends.”

And last but not least, I have to mention our dear Nancy–or should I say, resident photographer and party animal. I’ve never seen anyone take so many pictures of exactly the same thing in my life. She would take a picture of each water stop every single week along with the group at the same turn-around sign with different miles on it. I couldn’t figure it out until one day I decided to just go with it. Soon the pictures became so fun, and I realized when you are with Nancy, nothing is the same. Each moment is a new opportunity to have fun and enjoy life with all the gusto it can bring. She taught us it was not about the time or the pain or the long miles; it was about the connection with friends, smelling the flowers, observing the gorgeous California sky. It was about loving life and living it to the fullest and taking a picture to remember every wonderful moment.

No matter how tough my week was, it all seemed to melt away with the miles and smiles. From the second I drove up to the Drayson Center at 6:15 a.m. Sunday mornings, my heart would be lifted by the warm greetings and anticipation of lots of love and laughter.

Friendships for life – priceless. We are Forever Happy Hippo Woggers . Please come and join us as we grab every adventure this wild and wonderful life has to offer. Thank you Loma Linda Lopers and the 14-minute pace group for healing me—body, mind, and soul. I look forward to many more wonderful miles together.