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AARP Ragnar Runs on Real Possibilities

It’s 4am on Friday, June 6 th. I’m in a hotel room in Madison, Wisconsin, preparing to hit the road for 196.1 miles of running back to Chicago. I will split that distance with 30 or so of my best AARP friends. This is part of race series called " Ragnar Relays".

By my count, we have people from Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana, South Dakota, Texas, The District of Columbia, West Virginia, New York, Massachusetts, Arizona, Kansas, and who knows where else. We’ve all come here to show that there should be no barriers in life. We have been assembled under AARP’s “Real Possibilities” ideology  to show that anything is possible at any age, and AARP can be a major factor in reinventing yourself.

For me, I’m back in Madison for the first time since my father received a life-saving liver transplant from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Around midnight, March 14 th, 2010, a Real Possibility occurred for me and my family. I can guarantee you I would not be at this station in life had my father not received that liver.

And now, I’m back and invested in a race, the premise of which seems ridiculous. 12 of us are to split 196.1 miles of road. Between naps in the van and stuffing our faces on the run, we hope to arrive in Chicago some time Saturday afternoon. But that’s what Real Possibilities is about. It’s about rethinking yourself. It’s about resetting yourself, at any age. It’s about taking chances.

So if you don’t think Ragnar when you think AARP, you don’t know “aarp”....

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It's 36 hours after I wrote the above post, and I am trying to glean some lessons from the endless hours of running I just completed.

Let's start here: Paul Hermanson and I spent the first twenty years of our lives on the same street with only one house between us. I met his cousin, Neal Hermanson, for the first time last Thursday, the day before Team AARP Real Possibilities was to participate in Ragnar 2014.

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Neal (left) and I pose for a picture.

I am equally in awe of both individuals.

Let me explain. At about 4am, on Saturday, June 7 th, my Ragnar team found itself mentally and physically exhausted as well as down a runner. One of our team members left us in the middle of the night.

We fished for possible solutions, but no one had slept. Even with six experienced professionals putting their heads together, our mushy brains had no juice to figure out this conundrum. And then a suggestion came from another AARP staffer via Twitter: “Just ask Neal.”

You see, Neal Hermanson is a bolt of lightning. Both his personality and his running style are incredibly fluid and fast. During the course of the race, he was found both chasing squirrels for fun and running seven minute miles, sustaining that ridiculous pace for 10 miles at a time.

So needless to say, Neal, and another runner, Michael, took care of the spare running leg. Even though we’d only known them for 12 hours, we knew they could be trusted to bail us out.

Michael Heard went out of his way to save our bacon as well; he volunteered to split the "lost leg" with Neal, and did so without expecting credit or adulation. In many ways, what Michael accomplished was more valiant that any other actions undertaken that day.

These two fused their running prowess together to take care of that leg like it didn't even exist.

You could say that Michael and Neal bailing us out was a Real Possibility.

Not only that, Neal closed the race out only a few hours later by running a blistering 9.2 miles along Chicago’s lakefront.

To me, Neal and Michael were not just a fast guys. Nor was Neal merely part of a “small world moment”. Originally, I saw his name on the runner’s list and assumed he couldn’t be related to the Hermanson’s that were basically family during my childhood.

No. They were the physical embodiment of an AARP Real Possibilities moment. Neal's ability to complete the last leg at that speed contrasted sharply with the speed of AARP staff member John Hishta, who paced the last leg for the non-Illinois team at something like 13 minutes per mile. To call Hishta slower than molasses is both a cliché and an insult to honey-like sweeteners.

But that’s what’s great about AARP as an organization. The phrase “It takes a village to raise a child” applies to everything AARP does.

While we operate in ton of different issue areas, from social security to safe driving to literacy intervention in schools to tax aide to foreclosure solutions to discounts at restaurants, everything AARP does is with the aim of bettering the community around it.

And those accomplishments are as disparate as the running styles of Neal Hermanson and John Hishta.

Some come fast, some move slow. Some are broad and some are tiny.

But they all get done in the pace and with the style that the task requires. With the ability to run in dozen of ways across a dozen different specialties, you might be able to say that, with AARP, anything is a Real Possibility.

I certainly would.


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Neal "high-steps like Walter Payton" with the rest of us in tow.

To see more of the crazy fun we had check out out some of the best tweets!

AARP Ragnar!

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