Remember when politics was motivated by hope and empathy? I challenge anyone, even the most hardened Republicans, to not feel a pang of loss when reading this fabulous book.
Obama received 10,000 letters a day. Having earned the reputation for corresponding personally wherever possible whilst on the campaign trail, Americans wanted to write to Barack Obama. They wanted him to know their story. They felt he would want to know. They were right.
Obama assembled a dedicated and committed team to sift this volume down to the 10 he would take home to read every single day. This team of staff and interns would settle on the 10 as the letters were categorised and sampled through the hierarchy of the mail office.
Laskas’ book contains many, many of these letters, reproduced in the form in which they arrived, and also the replies they received from Obama himself. My tired eyes took a while on some of the smaller print but it is well worth the effort.
The 10lads (letters of the day), as they became known were intended to give a flavour, a refelection of the mood of America. Ranging from simple thank you notes to heart rending pleas from desperate veterans, victims of the economic crisis that marked the early Obama years, migrants and so minorities.
I finished this book as the current incumbent is shouting at anyone daring to question his increasingly worrying moves to bypass democracy. On folding the beautiful, simple, hardback cover closed, I was too emotional to speak. The passage describing the mood in the mail room team (“team little people” as they referred to themselves) after election night 2016 is numbing and humbling.
To Obama isn’t just about the letters though. There are chapters devoted to a selection of those who received replies. A window into America through the eyes and words of the people that live there.
And then there’s the staff, the interns, people that grew up with the Obama years. The tales of having to walk away from letters, letters pinned to walls (including the President’s), letters being walked around and around the building.
An operation which deals with pushing 4 million pieces of correspondence a year is delicately crafted into a tale of people through the guile and sensitivity of Laskas.
As Barack Obama put it himself:
“It was a way for me to, every day, remember that what I was doing was not about me, it wasn’t about the Washington calculus … It was about the people who were out there living their lives, who were either looking for some help or angry about how I was screwing something up.”
I received this book as a gift from my wonderful wife – go and buy it for someone you love too x
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Based at the football and cricket club grounds there are marvellous facilities – plenty of loos, pre-match coffee and even a rather cute Serbian rescue dog to pet in the club house.
Having played a touch of local football myself back in the days when I could still climb out of bed without sounding like a meccano toy creaking into action, I always enjoy a look at these grass routes style grounds. No poncy millionaires having their Aston Martins parked by a valet here.
We parked the trusty Mini, enjoyed some of the afore mentioned, bargain priced coffee, attempted to off load some festive fare from our tum tums, reluctantly shed some warm layers then joined the other 200 or so rather athletic looking chaps and chappesses in the half mile trot to the start line.
In previous years I’ve lined myself near the front of the narrow path in the hope of a fast start. Regular readers may recall how this tactic resulted in me enjoying the sensation of having people stream past me as my wobbly legs declined to accept that I was capable of the crazy pace my brain was asking them to run.
Not this year. Oh no. This year, Nicky insisted on being left at the back as we had a ‘who can predict the least speedy time’ dual. We were both to be pleasantly surprised.
The race started with a whistle. Just like a good old footy match. Having elbowed my way backwards rather than forwards I found myself running at a pace that felt right. Again, those that have read race reports before will remember this is a most unusual development. I’m normally gasping and looking around as lithe young whippets glide past me by the end of the first mile.
So as the first 10 minutes or so of ‘comfortably hard’ running brought us to THE HILL, I felt good. No really. I felt good.
I overtook some people going up the hill. Yup, I overtook them. As in, halfway into a race I felt strong enough to run past people. I learned this from Nicky. Regulars will know how I dote on this awesome lady, and starting easy is one of the million amazing life skills I’ve learned since we first held hands that balmy September evening….. AAhhhh
So I pushed on. Another skill I’m enjoying is keeping information on my watch to a minimum. I don’t know how fast I’m running, so I don’t worry about how fast I’m running. Funny that.
The hill to the finish is still there, yet it didn’t feel bad today and I ran past the football pitch, over the speed bumps and to the line. Happy. Spent, naturally, but happily spent.
Quick fumble with the watch revealed I’d ran within a minute of last year’s time. Not only had I enjoyed this run more than in previous years, mainly due to me not attempting to emulate Eliod Kipchoge in the first mile, but I’d also ran a time beyond my expectations.
Having predicted that I would run about 10 minutes slower than this I started to realise that it was highly likely that Nicky was also ‘sandbagging’ and would be along sooner rather than later.
Rushing back to the car, a quick removal of the sweaty layer before collecting Nicky’s Team Keywood top to match mine, some chocolate brownie money and our bobble hats I hot footed it back to the finish line. I removed my phone ready for pictures and tried to nonchalantly appear as if I’d been there for ages.
Sure enough Nicky appeared, blasting down the finishing straight exhibiting a skill I haven’t yet mastered – THE SPRINT FINISH! Big smiles, big hugs and some watch fumbling to reveal she was 30 seconds quicker than last year. Blimey. We’re fitter than we thought.
Slick organisation, an absolutely gorgeous route for a ‘road’ event – lots of paths and hard trails, plentiful and cheerful marshals, cheap snacks and drinks, loads of parking and a vibe to suit any athlete – there were some pretty hot times up the front – what a lovely way to start the year.
A lovely way to start the year indeed. 2018 had some amazing moments but they will always be overshadowed by pain and grief that blighted our family.
2019 is going to be like this. Taking our endurance challenges seriously enough but remembering to enjoy and treasure every moment along the way. The journey and the process are where the real fun is. Outcomes will be what they are and we have set ourselves some toughies this year, but as long as we have fun along the way, we’ll be ok.
It’s no secret it’s been a sh!te year for us, so I couldn’t face a ‘review of the year’ type blog – just a peek at each of the last 12 months……
January – bbbbrrrr – Nicky and I ran a few early morning Dartmoor runs, getting in some hilly road work as we aimed for the 2 Oceans marathon. Nicky’s calf injury scuppered those plans but we enjoyed our breakfasts on Dartmoor nonetheless.
February – It snowed. Quite dramatically! Whilst the trusty Micra couldn’t cope, we managed to get out for some crunchy, wet footed running action.
March – It snowed. Quite dramatically! Again! I was back up to 6′ standing on it though. The contrast when we got to South Africa later in the month was quite a shock.
April – We had the opportunity to go to Cape Town for 10 days and whilst the 2 Oceans marathon was amazing, the rest of the trip was just packed with jaw dropping, WOW moments – Table Mountain is a remarkable, humbling place.
May – I feel so blessed to have my beautiful wife, amazing step daughters and, of course, the three grandchildren. It’s been a tough, tough year for our family, but there’s always little Ollie to brighten up the day.
June – Nicky conquered her Cotswold 113 half iron distance triathlon in June. She has put so much work into her open water swimming – I put quite a lot of work into sitting on the sea wall watching her clothes as she trained, scribbling a few musings whilst I was there.
July – As we battled through the year it was so lovely to get these mornings out – the Otter Rail and River 10k is a cracking trail race. We took a deep breath in the sun…..
August – Regular blog followers will already know that Nicky and I both love a good book. This was a particularly good find. Ross Raisin’s portrayal of a promising young footballer and his battle with his sexuality is a gripping piece of literature. Sometimes pacy, sometimes awkward, always intriguing, we both rattled through it.
September – As I try and convince myself that I AM A WRITER, I found this piece of advice from Writers HQ to be the kick up the arse I needed!
October – There’s no dressing it up, October was shit. Coming home from work and sharing a cup of tea with Ollie outside his garden house always seems to help!
November – Coming home from work to this amazing present from my completely amazing (and gorgeous) lady wife Nicky was a delight. I’ve devoured the Mandela book – er, WOW (a review to follow so I won’t say too much) and I’m half way through the absorbing Obama book.
December – The year was exhausting, we were so grateful to get to Jamaica and compete in the Reggae 10k – We sunned ourselves, read 14 books between us and prepared ourselves for the life ahead.
In our seaside town, sometimes with a reputation for not keeping up with the times, one of them there new fangled 24 hour gyms (Anytime Fitness) appeared. Well, it didn’t suddenly land in a haze of shimmering light like a tardis, it more steadily evolved from a bit of an historic public house over quite a few months.
And long before the doors opened to Anytime Fitness, one of the personal trainers, Lewis Keywood, whilst awaiting the facilities to be ready, decided to start a running group. Initially organised under the umbrella of the gym, but establishing itself quite quickly to be a stand alone group.
Advertising came via word of mouth and social media, the numbers swelled quickly with an unlikely alliance of souls from all walks of life rapidly became a close knit unit. Our ages ranging from early twenties to those, like my wonderful lady wife, Nicky, and myself in our, ahem, fifties – there’s always plenty of witty but respectful banter.
Lewis’ strength and conditioning experience is combined with his passion for running to give every session a feeling of being worked, and worked hard, but with a nod to keeping fit and strong too.
So what is it that attracts this bunch, most of whom were strangers to each other before the group started back in April, to pitching up on a cold wet Monday evening? I went nosing into other peoples’ lives to find out.
For me personally, I’ve become so used to training on my own or with Nicky that I think I speak for us both in that we’d become ‘outsiders‘, doing all our training early mornings as it fitted better with our lifestyles. But when we heard about the group we decided to pitch up and give it a whirl.
Lewis made a quiet introduction and we lined up alongside the youngsters, feeling awkward (pretty standard for us) and heading off for some running and drills in the evening sun. One new recruit admitted that she’d done a few drive by’s before having a word with herself and taking the plunge.
To cut a long story short (and to focus on the matter in hand), as a pretty torrid summer for Nicky and I became Autumn, we were able to start joining the group more regularly for their Monday night work out.
So who are these Keywood Runners?
There’s Vicky who believes she has ‘gone beyond what I thought was possible‘ as she continues to improve her fitness and distance, casually wiping 30 minutes off her half marathon time.
Then there’s Corinna, also in her late 30s, she hadn’t run for over 6 years, she’d always felt a traditional running club would feel intimidating. Corinna works around a medical condition and feels this group is the incentive she needs to keep on winning that battle. Squeezing 2 runs and a pilates class into a hectic family life she says ‘I always feel great when I’ve completed a run….. And sometimes we get treats!‘
Amy, who gets a bus to training and Parkrun
We all love a Parkrun
Freddy – our permanent smile!
I think the picture of our permanently smiling Freddie at her last 10k – from having been a complete beginner – sums us up perfectly.
It is true about the treats, the afore mentioned Vicky often appears with home made cake and brownies after training. She has also been appointed ‘HR’ by the group as she relentlessly organises the group’s kit, social media, race entries, Parkrun volunteering duties, breakfast….etc…..etc. Oh, and she is a busy wife and Mum too.
For some this is the only chance they get to exercise each week, for others it has sparked a love of running and the group can now be found in healthy numbers at local events.
There’s a bond among the group. Jill, like us in her 50s, came along not knowing anyone ‘The group spurs me on, I’ve made so many good friends, EVERYONE supports everyone.’
And they do – The group start together and finish together, Lewis ensuring each runner is supported. there are ultra marathon runners and complete beginners, but there is never a sense of anyone being ‘better’ than anybody else.
Sonia, 42, hadn’t run before joining the group and didn’t think she’d be good enough, she saw the group advertised and went along, like most of the others, not knowing anyone. She’s since ran many events and completed an impromptu marathon, supporting a charity run. ‘We have a laugh and support each other. We’re achieving so much and Monday evening has become the highlight of my week.‘
Sonia isn’t the only one to use the word ‘misfits‘, or to suggest that without the group, our paths simply wouldn’t have crossed.
It really feels like a group of people who didn’t belong, but now do. Aside from Nicky and myself there are 3 other couples, one of which came about as a result of Zak and Becky meeting at the group.
Tracey, in her 40’s, finds the group shares a passion, shares banter, shares laughs and finds it refreshing that there isn’t room for bitchiness or back stabbing. She is on an incredible journey, accelerated by the group. Running is for her, and for so many of us, a therapy, it’s our time. She’s glad she didn’t keep on driving by that first night!
We are all grateful to Lewis for starting the group. He’s a quiet, shy soul and has a heartbreaking tale. His own running challenges are in aid of the incredible charity, Tommy’s and he is not the only member of the group to have suffered this way. Read all about his journey HERE.
Zak, at 25 one of the younger members of the group, has found love, found motivation and friendships and, like everybody I’ve spoken to is particularly taken by the lack of judgement among the group.
Like many of us, Zak has found ‘himself’ as much as finding each other.
People have shared some extremely personal information with me in order to write this blog post and I was going to flood it with gushing words and revealing quotes.
BUT, actually, I feel the whole group will forgive me for speaking on their behalf and not share such intimate details but I think it is a measure of the group’s trust as a unit that we all feel we can be honest and revealing with each other.
I am privileged to call Lewis a friend and honoured that he’s invited me to help him with the training.
I invited comments about Lewis himself and he’d be mightily embarrassed if he ever read them. Everybody agrees that he knows when to push and when to back off, he revels in everybody and every achievement, he has a way of making the sessions about us all.
‘He’s a legend’, ‘Always willing to help’, ‘The most genuine chap’, ‘He wants everybody to believe in themselves’, ‘An inspiring role model’.
Lewis is attempting to run 2000 miles this year as part of his Tommy’s challenge and I’ve had the pleasure of doing quite a bit of running with him. I’ve been able to show off the wonderful run routes we’re blessed with around here.
He also tackled a 24 hour non-stop challenge which he finished by completing our local Parkrun. The members of our running gang rallied round and he didn’t go without company for the whole 24 hours (and 101 miles!).
Those that know me are aware that I normally run in a group of either ONE or TWO with my only running partners being my wonderful lady wife Nicky, or our intrepid Border Terrier, Charlie, so it has been a leap of faith for me too, but one I’m so happy I took.
I think we’re suited to each other as Lewis is the first person I’ve met who looks just as awkward as me in a running piccie!
We ventured deep into the South Hams on Saturday afternoon to tackle Pure Trails’ twilight adventure event, Race The Light. The forecast wild weather earlier in the day duly arrived.
We know it rained hard in the morning. We volunteered at Parkrun. The Torbay Velopark Parkrun attendees are a hardy bunch, usually numbering around 250. Well 103 braved the apocalyptic deluge and our lovely run group at Keywood Running pitched in with 10 of the volunteers for the day. We were ready for our hearty breakfast afterwards.
Arriving home, my beautiful wife, Nicky, and I de-robed from our soaking gear and built a roaring fire. As we steamed and warmed, the thought of venturing out again for another soaking was becoming less and less inviting.
After our good friend and blog regular, Martin (The Silver Fox, not ‘a’ silver fox, but THE Silver Fox), arrived to collect us, we duly goaded each other until we climbed into the rather clean interior of his foxmobile and headed for mudsville.
Nicky and I were both thinking we’d be trashing the plush leather seats after the forthcoming mud bath.
We weren’t wrong.
As one of the marshals, Iain, later commented on social media ‘It’s a great day when runners, marshalls and everyone can pull together… magic to see you all’
He was stood in the raging River Erme as we crossed it in the light on the way out. He was still stood in it some hour and a half later as we made our way back across in the dark. It did feel like such a team effort – there were race winners but the afternoon and evening were about so much more than that.
We’d felt the same at Parkrun that morning – as we handed the finish tokens to the drenched runners there was a real sense of having survived together. Our Monday run group had pulled together to help swell the volunteer numbers. (Expect a big blog soon all about Keywood Running, ’tis a fine thing.)
Yes Saturday was about everything that’s GOOD in running…. in life in fact. Such a warm feeling when we’re all looking out for each other.
The race directors at Pure Trail, Steve and Mark, seek out something different with all of their events and this really was different. A combination of the morning’s rainfall making its way down from the hills and moors and a wild wind holding the tide up meant the water, which should have been a trickle, was quite forceful.
People stuck together and toughed it out before enjoying a beautiful woodland out and back course alongside the estuary. The speedy boys and girls made it back before serious darkness fell whilst some of us got our money’s worth……..
And then we toughed out the crossing back across and trudged up the hill to the finish.
I guess the crew were there for some time after we had headed home for the final of Strictly in the dark, wind and rain dismantling the course. We are truly grateful to all of them – it was a fine day in the local running community.
Do check out Pure Trail‘s events, they never disappoint.
And if you enjoy the blog, have a delve through previous posts, particularly from the sister event Race The Tide.
Thank you to anyone who has made it to the end of the blog and thank you to all you for your patience in waiting these last few months for this post.
2019 begins with fresh starts, fresh challenges and a chance to recover from the grief of 2018. I know I occasionally over step the mark with how ‘personal’ I make the blog but I do wear my heart on the page……..
Looking forward to writing about my amazing, inspiring, determined and beautiful lady wife and our adventures together throughout the coming year.