Sisterhood, motherhood and marathons

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Hannah & Karen

Hannah & Karen

When my professional basketball career ended, my goal was to start running marathons.  Accidents and illness thwarted that dream; I never ran again, so my little sister is competing in a sprint triathlon for me.

Karen was always a good athlete with a body built for competition. She had perfect teeth and toes, providing a good bite and great balance.

During thousands of dollars of treatment for a misaligned dental occlusion, my dentist explained, “The massetter is the strongest muscle in the body. You ever notice all the best athletes have beautiful teeth?”

Ditto for the toes. Whereas my sister polishes her beautiful toes, my crooked ones remain hidden in clunky orthopedic shoes. My podiatrist has told me I should retire from teaching because my feet are so bad. My ankles are pronated, my arches too high, my big toe too short, so my balance is bad. My second toe is too long and the other three are curled like claws to grip the ground to keep me upright. Leg aches plagued me since childhood, but never slowed me down.

So while Karen and her friends train for the Chaska River City Days Sprint Triathlon – a third-mile swim, 16-mile bike and 5K run, I cheer them on. After raising children and caretaking in helping professions, they decided to do something just for themselves and began training together for the event.

Jean Pupkes, Ann Jackson, & Karen Carlson at the finish line

Jean Pupkes, Ann Jackson, & Karen Carlson at the finish line

Ever the competitor, I secretly train for my own triathlon – a walk, bike, swimathlon. Everyday I bike around the neighboring lake, walk to town, and swim to the island, each day pushing to go a little farther and a bit faster. It takes some ingenuity because I have to avoid the sunlight.

While my baby sister paints her nails and runs in preparation for the big event, I don full scuba gear, like the Loch Ness monster, to swim in a cold, purple lake.

When Karen finished the triathlon reaching her personal goal wearing the number 60, her birth year, she called me first.

“After the swim – my best event – I felt great,” Karen said, “But after the 16 mile bike, my legs turned to Jello on the run, then a guy ran by and offered me good advice – just put one foot in front of the other.”

My sister admires me for never giving up in spite of all my physical limitations, but she remains my hero, a younger, more refined, fitter version of myself.

Our competitive spirit spurs us on. If my baby sister, can finish her first sprint triathlon at the age of 51, I can darn well make it around the block again on my own two faulty feet.

Posted in humor, inspiration, relationships, sport.


  1. Bravo for you, my friend! We’re quite capable of doing & accomplishing our marathon, be it swimming, running, walking (my fav) or relaxing 🙂 in our own time and space:)
    Congrats to your sister!


    • Right now my greatest marathon is completing the book I’ve been working on for decades w/out losing hope. Thanks for always being so supportive in this long life journey filled with obstacles, detours and wrong turns.

  2. Hi Pat-

    I loved your last blog. I have done triathlons the last few years, but can no longer run…at all. Like you, I am unable due to a knee just hanging in there for replacement.

    But….there is a new event called and Aquabike. You don’t have to run!!! I am unable to do it this year, but am aiming for next year.

    Your writings are wonderful!!! Kendra

    • Oohh Knee replacement that sounds good, only make it a double for me!!! Kudos on your past triathlons and sign me up for the Aguabike!
      Thanks for following…so glad to be reconnected after all these years.

  3. Yes, bravo for you, Pat. You’re an inspiration. We’re always going to have light and dark spaces in our lives. May as well enjoy the lighter ones. Or in your case, the darker ones, since you’re sensitive to sunlight! But your attitude is sunny enough to warm us all. Keep it up, sis!

  4. You both could run circles around me! I admire the jocks among us, that’s for sure. And who knew that about straight teeth and athleticism! Some people have all the luck! How nice of her to run in the sun for you. Sisters are great.

    • Athletes come in all sizes and shapes. You are facing your own marathon each day in your battle. Keep up the fight & when you feel weak lean on your sisters!!! (even those that grew up under a different roof!)

  5. sista!
    Ok, for the record, I do paint my toenails but not as much as it appears to be in this blog! You and everyone that is up against tough challenges like chronic illness and pain, loss of loved one, disappointment, etc. were all with me, carrying me the last few miles to complete this tri. So, thanks for the support from all over and Pat, thanks for showing me how to push myself beyond….like you do on a daily basis. Life is a journey! I am happy I am blessed to share with sisters near and far.

  6. Karen,
    I am so proud of you. I too, like Kendra have competed in triathlons and must now give up running due to degenerated knees. I loved reading this and reliving it vicariously through you. What a triumph! And Pat, you run your own personal tri, quad, octotriathlon everyday! You ARE truly an inspiration. But what never ceases to amaze me is how positive you are about encouraging others in the things you can no longer participate in. You never let life beat you down to the point that you cannot spur others on to places you can no longer go. You compete everyday in your own private race and you emerge, as always, a true winner.
    Love you buddy.

    • It is people like you in my life that carry me to those places I can no longer go on my own two feet! Thanks Tiinie for always being there to lift up my spirit even long distance.

  7. Pat,
    Your fighting spirit shines through here! Bravo to you for always striving for your personal best and congratulations to both you and Karen for pushing yourselves to the limit. You are both inspirational. I’m loving getting to know you and your family through your writing 🙂

    • Thanks for your support and bringing light into my life through your writing filled with so many wonderful life lessons, writing tips and everlasting hope.

  8. Sissies, You both continually inspire me to do better and be better each and every day. And how blessed we all are to have so many other wonderful “sisters” in our lives to walk beside us and lift us up when we need it.

  9. Hi Pat! Wow, what a story. Reflecting back on our college basketball days, I remember you having the same heart of a champion that you carry inside to this day. You were an inspiration to me all those years ago and still are. Love ya!

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