My Goddaughter the Triathlete: Why I Can’t Wait For the Fourth of July

Last year I wrote about my “godkid,” Allison Snow. My theme was the word itself, the concept. Today I want to write about Allison herself—or Al, as I call her. I’m busting with pride.

I first met Al when she was a student in my 10th grade Honors English class. She was a competent, but not a terrific writer; a careful, but neither avid nor outstandingly insightful reader. In short, I enjoyed her as a student, but would never have identified her as one of my faves. One snippet did catch my attention, however: she wrote her “Turning Point in my Life” essay about the death of her father when she was twelve. I did the math and realized that she was only fourteen, a full year younger than most of her peers.

The following year, I and five of my braver colleagues started a pilot “school-within-a-school” half-day program called International Business and Global Studies. Project-based, with a fully-integrated curriculum and student-centered learning (are you glazing over yet?), IBGS attracted students who were bored with traditional classrooms. To my surprise, Al signed up and became an IBGS star. I still remember Al’s semester presentation on Greece, which included artifacts from Tacoma’s Greek Festival, which she had attended, on a weekend.

Even more surprising, Al became a cheerleader. That serious young woman, shrieking “Card-inal Pow-er!”— really? Should’ve tipped me off: in her quiet way, Al made her own decisions about what course to pursue, regardless of expectation. Motivated. Purposeful.

Her own family learned this during Al’s senior year. I was on leave in New Zealand (let’s hear it for spouses with paid sabbatical!), and Al announced to her mom that she would like her graduation present early: a plane ticket. Then she got on the school’s office email (not having her own—remember those days?) and asked me for permission to come visit.

“A cheerleader?” my husband asked. “For ten days?” (Not that he was being judgmental or anything.) Little did he know that visit would turn into three weeks.

Al mtn.

Once Al arrived, she realized how ridiculously short her trip was for coming such a distance. In a super-long-distance call, she talked her mom into letting her change her return ticket. She used that time to explore most of the South Island with us, babysitting our young boys. By the time she left, she was family…

…except in one regard. Although fit, Al was never what I’d call an athlete. Yes, I KNOW cheerleaders have to be in good shape, but the mentality is different: they don’t train like competitive athletes do. Although The Mate and I had mostly retired from racing, we still considered our daily workout the same way we considered meals: essential. I don’t remember Al ever offering to go for a jog with me. Motivation and purpose didn’t seem to go there.

Fast-forward ten years: Al, now a young teacher (like me—I know, right?!) decides to try triathlon. The results: one and three-quarter hours. 167th in her age group. Proud of herself.

Aha. Motivated. Purposeful. Here’s what happened next:

In 2007 and ’08, more Triathlons. Her times come down. 2009, three of ‘em. 2010: four.

In 2012, Al becomes an Ironwoman, in a race that took 12 ¾ hours.

And in 2014?  Personal Best by thirty minutes in a half-Ironman. Thirty minutes! And last week: First place female.

Al winning

I’m leaving out a whole huge category of pride here, over Al’s career as a star elementary school teacher. Today I’m celebrating Al the Athlete, entirely self-created.

When I became a semi-elite runner, I had an athletic family pushing me, college coaches, a track club. Al has a coach now, and a team, but only because she went out there and got them, all on her own.

On July 4, I’m going to run our little island’s 5k Fun Run, the only “racing” I do these days. Al’s going to run it with me…and she’s going to kick my butt. And I can’t wait.



“Godkid:” Now THERE’S a Word

Meet Allison, a lovely young-thirty-something teacher. This is how my husband and I used to tell people about her:

Us: Our adopted daughter Allison is coming to visit this weekend.

People: Oh, you adopted a girl? That is so wonderful; now you have a daughter along with your two boys. Do they get along well? How long ago did you adopt?

Us: Uh, no…not that kind of adopted. Actually, she kinda adopted us…

People: Oh.

Until recently, that’s the best way I could find to describe my relationship with a woman just barely young enough to be my biological daughter (if I’d started young myself). A woman I love like a daughter/younger sister/niece/friend. She’s also my favorite adventure buddy, ready to pop on her backpack and follow me up steep ridges at very little notice. Had we been given the option at an early enough stage, we surely would have adopted her. But Al came into our lives a bit more gradually than that.

Enchantments 2013 063

When I taught high school, Al showed up in my Sophomore Honors English class. She wasn’t a squeaky wheel; she certainly wasn’t the most talented writer. She was a neat kid whom I liked, but never considered I made much impression on her.

In her junior year, she signed up for a 3-hour pilot program, a block class called International Business and Global Studies. With the independent thinking IBGS promoted, Al hit her stride and became a bit of a star in the class. She also, to my surprise, became a cheerleader–a very serious, hardworking one. But again, I didn’t think we had that strong a connection. Plenty of other students seemed to need me more.

So, a year later, when my husband and young kids and I were enjoying his sabbatical year in southern New Zealand, I was surprised to receive a request from Allison: could she come visit? She’d always wanted to travel, and had managed to convince her mom to give her the trip to NZ as an early graduation present, since she had a built-in place to stay. Here’s the conversation I had with my husband about it:

Me: Yeah, she wants to come stay for, like, 10 days. Might be nice to have someone to help with the boys. She’s very responsible. She’s a straight-A kid, a cheerleader…

Husband: A CHEERLEADER?? Here? For 10 days?

Me: Oh, get over the stereotype, tons of cheerleaders are very smart and serious. Yes.

Long story short: Allison came. Her second-ever plane trip–flying solo to New Zealand! She ended up extending her trip so she stayed three weeks. The boys loved her. My husband was deeply impressed with her. And we all adopted each other.

Next year when she started college and her own family was going through a tough time, she moved in with us for a while.

So…our adopted daughter. Our relationship has only grown deeper as she’s become a teacher too, and a singer & guitar player, and a competitive athlete like I used to be. But still–kinda awkward to keep having to explain it to people.

But a few months ago it finally hit me: she’s my goddaughter! No, her mother and father never initiated that relationship in a ceremony. No, church was never involved. No, we have no official documents. But that phrase seems to capture the nature of our relationship perfectly.

That got me to thinking about the word. Goddaughter. Godson. Godkid.

We all know what it means: an assumption of love and co-responsibility. Parenthood without biology. Parenthood with built-in distance, maybe some legal assumptions, but nothing one would go to court about. Parenthood especially blessed by a higher authority.

But think about it: Godkid. How cool is that word? Doesn’t it conjure up all kinds of images?

So I thought I’d ask my readers: what does “godkid” mean to you? Do you have any, either church-related or secularly? Are you one yourself? Do you like the word? Is there another one that fits better? Let us hear!