A Few Words of Gratitude


Jay Wallace,


As we marvel at the great performances of local youth track athletes this spring, it is worth taking a moment to appreciate the mothers. For behind every successful student-athlete is a devoted, selfless mother for whom Daughter/Son Day is every day of the year. (It should be noted that I would consider a “successful” student athlete anyone who can train and compete to the best of his/her abilities while keeping school first. This takes discipline, character and a great deal of parental help whether you’re state champ or JV). It goes without saying that mothers contribute countless numbers of small deeds and sacrifices that help clear the path for their child to navigate the rough waters of adolescence and early adulthood while also competing in a difficult sport. There are so many of these small acts of kindness that it is easy to forget, easy perhaps to take them for granted. But we do remember. Given a few quiet moments, maybe a solitary run through the Phipps trails, and they come percolating back. For the sake of illustration I thought I’d share a few of mine in honor of Nancy Wallace, who just celebrated her 79th birthday April 10.

I remember laundry. When my brothers and I returned from a hard day of practice, we did our duty by emptying our sweaty laundry from our bags and…draping it on a line in the basement laundry room. Yep, that was it. There was always an endless supply of clean shorts, shirts and socks to bring to school the next day. I can now appreciate the time all those loads of laundry took.

I remember supper. After depositing my dirty clothes downstairs, I would take a seat in the living room, read a little of the sports page, then fall asleep until called to eat. Well, maybe I’d set the table some days. Looking back, realizing how much time and effort goes into planning and preparing meals, my lack of consideration seems almost criminal. Yet Mom never appeared to be bothered by this.

I remember the support at meets. I am very impressed at the levels of parent support I now see at scholastic track and cross country meets. At last fall’s district middle school cross country championships, folks crowded the bleachers at Chiles track to watch a dramatic finish under the lights. In our day, most races were held in a city park. Attendance was usually confined to the home team athletes’ parents plus a small cadre of visiting ones, clustered either at the finish line or on some hilltop. Nancy Wallace was always one of them. She also helped organize trips to out of state post-season races and was a cook at the annual summer running camp.

I remember the pasta load dinners. It is doubtful that carbohydrate loading has any benefit the night before 5K cross country races. Nonetheless, it provided a great excuse to get together at a friend’s house for a good home cooked meal. Parents would rotate the duty of feeding 6 – 8 hungry teenagers each week (and sometimes the coaches too). It is my unbiased opinion that Nancy Wallace’s lasagna was the best one.

I remember the newspaper route. Back in the 70’s and 80’s, newspapers were still delivered by kids on bicycles or foot carrying a large yellow canvas bag loaded with them. We took pride in delivering it right to people’s doorstep. Some people preferred it inside the storm door, some underneath the welcome mat. We got tips, too. That seems a far cry from the rolled up paper in a plastic bag that just might make it to the end of your driveway these days. What does this have to do with running or Mother’s Day, you ask? Well, my brother Bruce and I had a large route, and I used to time us on how fast we could complete it. I have often credited one winter of running that route in my steel toe boots (this was Minnesota) as a turning point from being a middle of the road 9th grader to a much more competitive one. What I sometimes neglect to say is that whenever the temperature was below zero or there were unusually bad conditions, my mother was there warming up the Impala wagon at 5 a.m., no questions asked.

I remember the care packages. I left Minnesota for college in Louisiana in 1982. We of course stayed close through phone calls and letters, but one thing that stood out were those goodie boxes. Nancy Wallace was – and still is – an amazing packer. She would carefully place the baked goods between sports pages from the Minneapolis Tribune that just happened to contain articles about the local running scene and my favorite Twins and Vikings columns. Not an inch of space was wasted nor a molasses sugar cookie broken.

I could go on but it would start to get boring to anyone but myself. I hope this may help reassure all the track moms out there that, while kids these days often don’t verbalize much, they do remember and appreciate all these things. That gratitude grows as the years go by, and may even reflect positively on how they raise their kids some day. To all the student-athletes out there – if you’re still reading at this point – I hope you take this as a reminder to do something unique to your mother’s interests that she would appreciate. Maybe have breakfast ready after her Sunday run. Throw in a couple back or foot massages if you’re good at that. You get the point. And do a couple loads of laundry while you’re at it.