Jamdammers -- not too "dam" good to be true
One of the best-kept secrets that I have found in Moving Back to Jamaica is not a beach, person or tax-break. Instead, it is an organization of runners.
The Jamdammers Running Club of Kingston Jamaica (www.jamdammers.com) was first introduced to me by a Trini friend living in Jamaica who insisted that I come, run and lime. He talked about how great the group was, and how much fun he was having, but the fact is that Trinis have a knack for turning anything into a good lime, so I didn't take him all that seriously.
At the time, the idea of running with others was abhorrent to me. It seemed like it would be a burden, especially if the other people were boring, unambitious or faster and/or better looking (just kidding.)
I really should have known that people who are willing to get themselves up in time for a 5am run would not fit that profile in the least (OK, most of them are faster.) The truth is, that very few people are born runners. There are a select few who are blessed with the right physique, temperament and hormones needed for the mythical "runners high.'' The ordinary person, however, must struggle through pain, fatigue, excess temperatures, and hostility from loved ones over the smell of stale sweat.
Jamdammers is made up of some rather ordinary people, as I found out on my first run. My Trini friend was ''hosting'' the run one steamy August morning, and explained that he would be too busy working to run himself.
I found out that each weekend, a different member ''hosted,'' which to my surprise meant putting on a lavish breakfast spread, and setting up water stops along the 10-15 mile route.
As I expected, I ran into some old friends who I knew as civilians and made some new ones. The pace was steady, but not too fast, as we set off into the dark of 5am that would make me shudder had I been running alone.
As part of a group, however, of mostly women (Jamdammers seems to be 75% female) the space was warm and inviting. It was that early morning conversation that got me hooked.
Ordinary people, to be sure. But the conversation about spouses, ex-spouses, training, spirituality and the ins and outs of life in Jamaica left me with an extraordinary "soul-connection" that I'll never forget. To say I was surprised would be an understatement, as we ran up and down hills, around potholes, past madmen, dodging loose dogs, bad drivers and daredevil cyclists .
This might have been a group of ordinary athletes, but what it took for us to be there to watch the sun rise over St. Thomas that morning made me appreciate the sacrifices that all people who are committed to the extraordinary must make.
When I'm running alone, I feel like I'm just a bit crazy, especially when I run past someone's home and smell the ackee and saltfish wafting across my path from some mother's warm kitchen. As a runner on a regular Saturday Jamdammers jaunt, however, I often feel privileged to be among a group of people who love what they do, and are willing to give of themselves to keep it being great.
And this is where I get nervous.
So far, my wife and I have attended the annual club dinner, been welcomed as members, volunteered at races, tooled around the website and met lots of people who are quite different from each other, but all extraordinary. And my experience has been a first-class one, down to the warmth of the email sent to welcome us to the club.
I just hope that we don't screw it up somehow.
I get nervous thinking that one day I'll wake up to find that we did.
Let me count the ways my ''small mind'' has decided it will happen.
Some nasty but juicy gossip, or some tawdry affair or a financial scandal splits the club in two. Anyone who has seen a divorce close up has seen how it can split the couple's friends into his and her camps, the way I've seen the friends of newly divorce couples split into opposing his and her camps.
Or, it might just be a matter of taking the club for granted, and over time forgetting to nurture and honour the sharing, caring and camaraderie that are essential to keeping human organizations together.
The fatal rot would come from within, I suppose, and come like a
thief in the night, manifesting itself in subtle ways -- a missed run here, a stale homepage there, a half-hearted breakfast grudgingly served.
Excellence is a dam (sic) hard thing to preserve, and an excellent experience is even harder. I believe that we have something special that puts us among the very best running clubs in the world.
Yet, we'd be on shaky ground if we were to merely focus on trying to repeat past experiences, no matter how good they were. Instead, discovering and enjoying new experiences, without the limits of past practice is where things come alive.
Kind of like... good sex.
But that's a topic for a different blog.