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Laura Carney

Laura Carney

Teaching Girls to Fly

Laura showing her medal

When I swim I feel it the most.

 

Underwater, I place my palms together, almost like a prayer, thrust them forward and then fan my arms out. 

 

If I’m sharing a pool lane, my strokes get smaller. Sometimes a man splashes all over and speeds right by me, so I take up even less space. I make myself small and count the laps until he leaves.

 

And then I spread my arms like Supergirl. I fly.

 

***

 

It’s a shock to me that at 43, I’m training for my first Ironman. I was the kid always chosen last in gym. I was the quiet girl. The smart girl. The sweet girl. How could that girl compete in sports?

 

Little did they know that on weekends my divorced dad was developing me into a surprise threat—coaching me in football, soccer, baseball, basketball, tennis and running, no differently than he coached my brother.


Soon it showed on the field and the court, once I was picked. Still, the next week, I’d be chosen last again.

 

Maybe I just didn’t look like an athlete.

 

***

 

When I was 25, my dad was killed by a teenager making a phone call while driving. I thought my life was over. How could I possibly live a good life in a world where this can happen?  

 

I became afraid that what happened to him might kill me, too. For a long time, I made safe choices. I wanted to be “a successful adult despite this.” I didn’t realize I needed to be “a successful me because of this.”

 

Until one day, 13 years after my dad’s death, when everything changed.

 

***

I was newly married at 38 and unsure what to do next. On a trip to Massachusetts to visit my brother, he told me he found a bucket list our dad had written when I was born. 

 

My dad had checked off five of the 60 items on his list. He’d clearly kept it his whole life. But he never told us about it.

I cried when I read number 12: “Give my children the most love, the best education and best example I can give.” Suddenly, I knew what I had to do next.

I had to finish the list.

 

***

 

In the five years since then, I’ve met former President Jimmy Carter, jumped out of an airplane on TV, grown a watermelon, surfed in the Pacific, ridden a horse fast, gone to the Super Bowl and been on podcasts and in magazines. I’ve checked off 42 items on my father’s list. I have 12 left. 

 

Often, the simplest items end up teaching me the most. Like the one I’m doing now: “Own a $200 suit.”

 

I decided it couldn’t be a business suit. I’d already worn those. So why not a triathlon suit?

 

***

For the past six months, I’ve been training for my first half-Ironman, running, swimming and cycling more than I ever have in my life. I’m also raising funds for Girls on the Run throughout my training, because it’s a program that gives girls the same kind of secret weekend coaching my dad gave me.

 

No matter how he saw it, my dad did check off item 12 on his list. 

 

He did give us the most love.

 

And when you do that, a girl can do anything.

 

Even fly.

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