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This year I'm thankful for those who helped me find my inner athlete
The Cowarts' first Thanksgiving feast for two was served on a coffee table. - photo by Kim Cowart
Thanksgiving wasnt always my favorite holiday. Growing up, Christmas was always No. 1. Staying up late to watch Christmas specials on TV because there was no DVR, an endless supply of cookies and fudge, presents whats not to love! Fourth of July came in at No. 2 mostly because its also my birthday. Halloween and Easter tied for third. Thanksgiving fell somewhere between Valentines Day and Labor Day in other words, I hated it. Forced to dress up, smile, and pretend to like Grandmas gourmet asparagus side was a lot of fuss for little payoff. At least there was pie.

Nowadays, it isnt the mountains of confections that beckon me, or the piles of gifts that twinkle my toes. Its the chance to eat food I love with people I love, giving thanks for all the things and people I love.

My first Thanksgiving with my husband was spent in a 600-square-foot apartment. We lived in Las Vegas and didnt have enough time off from our jobs as high school teachers to travel home, so it was just us. Our menu for this feast for two was a 15-pound turkey, eight pounds of mashed potatoes, a quart of gravy, a dozen rolls and two pies. I cant forget the stuffing. I dont know how much there was, but it was enough to stuff the turkey and ourselves for days.

We didnt have a dining room or a table, so this feast was laid out on our coffee table. We sat cross-legged in our Sunday best and ate. I tried to make it nice with a few tea lights from IKEA. It was a far cry from the Thanksgivings at my grandparents' house, but we were happy.

The next year we graduated from coffee table to card table and folding chairs in our first home. We roasted a turkey breast, but still had enough potatoes to feed the neighborhood. The IKEA tea lights made a triumphant return along with a makeshift tablecloth/ fleece throw. We had Thanksgiving early so we could drive down to Phoenix and see U2 in concert. The actual holiday was spent in a steakhouse where there was line dancing. We ordered salmon. And we were happy. (Seeing U2 front row didnt hurt, either.)

The third year I was a new mom. My mom flew down to help me with Kaitlynne, only 2 weeks old. We still had the card table. I had a real tablecloth. We had lots of potatoes, but I also had a daughter, a mom, and a husband. We were as happy as we were exhausted.

This year we are in our Utah home with a real dining room table with real chairs and a real tablecloth. My parents live only a mile away. I have two daughters who will cheerfully help make the pies (because I said so), and I will have more than enough people to eat my mountains of potatoes. And when we go around the circle to say what were grateful for, I know exactly what Ill say.

I am grateful for a family that allows me to be me.

Im grateful for a husband who knows me better than I sometimes know myself and encourages me to pursue my interests and cheers me on at every finish line, even when were thousands of miles apart. Hes the reason I teach, write and run. Hes the one who saw how much I loved my indoor cycle class and literally pushed me out the door to attend instructor training. He saw in me something I never thought I had an inner athlete. Hes the one who secretly timed all my training runs as I prepared for my first marathon. Hes the one who, just a month before that first race, told me I could qualify for Boston at the pace I ran. I didnt even know what that meant at the time, but on race day, his belief in me solidified my belief in myself, and I qualified.

Hes the reason I said Yes to Amy Donaldsons request for me to start writing about running. I thought I had nothing to say. My husband disagreed, probably because running was 80 percent of every conversation I had. He probably hoped that writing about running would make me less inclined to talk about running. Sorry, and thank you.

Im grateful for parents who think every marathon finishers medal I earn is the equivalent of an Olympic gold. Im grateful that they still buy up every newspaper at the grocery store when my articles appear in print. Im grateful that they cut them out and send them to family as if I were a candidate for the Pulitzer Prize. I may roll my eyes, but I secretly love it.

Im grateful for daughters who keep me running the last mile of every race. Their whole lives have been dotted with expos and finish lines. I wonder if theyll ever know what it means to me to see their faces peering over the barricades of a finish line chute, to see their hands outstretched as I try to sprint toward that finish line and give them a high-five. Their hugs are my real reward, even if they are immediately followed by requests for chocolate milk.

I used to be thankful for jobs, homes, vacations and opportunities. And I am still grateful for all those things. But theyre just that things. Im grateful for my health, but more grateful to have a family to be healthy for. Im grateful for my job and my home, but more grateful to have family to provide for. My family may be small, but theyre mine, and its more than I deserve. I am blessed beyond belief.

See, they may not know it, but they have made me the woman I am today. Theyve not only allowed me, but encouraged me to spread my wings and see how far I can fly. They make me want to be better, try better, do better. Whether its running, writing, teaching or just being, I do my best for them. I want to live up to their expectations, to make their sacrifices worth something. Its the only way I know how to thank them.

Thanksgiving morning Ill bundle up and head out for a pre-dawn run around my neighborhood. It wont be to burn extra calories to fit in that extra helping of potatoes (because I still make way too much) it will be a moment to think about the people who helped me get to where I am. It will be a true run of Thanksgiving.

And that pie will taste extra sweet.
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