Sunday, November 11, 2012

Kim Jones: Dandelion Growing Wild

Kim was a Reebok runner for two years
because of Alberto Salazar.
Kim Jones ranks as one of America's most accomplished marathon runners. She could be found at the front of many prestigious marathons in the 1990s including second place finishes at both the Boston and New York City Marathons. I recall hearing about her asthma problems and that she had two daughter when she was quite young before becoming a marathon star. Other than that all I knew was  that she was that blond pigtailed runner consistently rated as a top marathoner, but who never made it to the Olympics. When I saw she had an autobiography out, I decided to read it to find out more about this American runner.

Dandelion Growing Wild: A triumphant journey over astounding odds by American marathon champion Kim Jones is a wonderful and heartbreaking story about overcoming adversity . It is not really a running story, as that is not the most remarkable thing about it. Kim grew up knowing poverty and pain. She would eat whatever she could find, even cow feed, due to her hunger and lack of food at times. Her family is a picture of family dysfunction, with more mental illness, suicides, and tragedies than you would think possible. The first third of the story deals with her family and upbringing. It is a horrible glimpse into the lives of people who try to cope with adversity, poverty, and struggling to overcome poor choices and genetics that lead to many family members struggling with schizophrenia and other diseases of the mind.

It is hard to put down the book as you read about Kim's family life, but you know that eventually she will find out that she has a gift for running and that everything will turn out all right in the end. Of course, you would be wrong if you believed that! Kim does discover she is a tremendously talented runner despite having a crooked toe that gets in the way of her running stride. You also realize, through her writing, that Kim is blessed with an empathetic personality that is gracious towards those in her life who can't quite get it together. She does find that she is a great runner in high school, only to end up pregnant as a 16 year old. Kim's life is full of these moments that she must overcome. I noticed three things in the book that were just glossed over, but that could have added to the tragedies in her life. While living as a successful runner in Spokane, she had chillingly close encounters with a serial rapist, a serial killer, and a stalker who followed her on runs and knew all sorts of information on her. While still a child, she avoided an encounter with a child-molesting grandfather. Those are the things that didn't happen, wait until you read and find out the many terrible things that did happen.

Kim eventually rises above her upbringing and makes her way towards being a successful marathon runner. The second third of the book deals with her running career and it serves as a great reminder to the steadiness of her career, how close she kept getting to winning Boston or New York, and how bad things seemed to hit her right at all the important moments like the Olympic Trials races.

The final third (much shorter) of the book seems almost like a fairy book ending and starts after an accident before a race crushed her foot and led her to retire from racing. It almost started to feel Disney-esque in its happiness and outcomes. Kim's new boyfriend, Jon Sinclair who was one of America's top road runners for years, just happened to be the guy that she saw on television years earlier and inspired her as she decided to run her first race. Her two daughters had grown up and were doing fine. Then, one final and immense tragedy befalls Kim. You have to wonder how much she can take. You also see how she has grown beyond the family troubles that have left siblings and family members in mental institutions and prisons.

I really enjoyed reading Kim's book and getting a personal glimpse into the triumphs and tragedies of her life. She is a very much a wonderful story teller. I appreciated how well she connected elements from her childhood to events in her adult life. This is not a book just for runners. It is an true American story of pulling oneself up from the bottom rungs of society  to reach the top with her many achievements. On a lighter note here are three things I learned about Kim (1) she likes to eat - a lot! (2) she likes to watch classic television - a lot and (3) she likes to clean - a lot! The most important thing about Kim, though,  is how she loves and brings up her two daughters.

Here is a recent Runner's World interview with Kim Jones that informed me about the book.


Anonymous said...

dear kim,
i was born and raised in port townsend. i was blown away by your book, struggles and courage. i am curious about exactly where you lived. it was all so familiar as i knew of some of the people mentioned in the community. i shared with with others, your story moved us all...

KAJ said...

Thank you, Dorothy ... for your positive comments and for sharing "Dandelion Growing Wild" with others. I'm pleased that you were moved by my story. Port Townsend is a wonderful town, and we were very fortunate to grow up in that magical place. My family lived in two homes while in Port Townsend; the majority of my childhood we lived on the corner of F Street and Fir Street, just across the street from the old grade school play field.
My best to you and all, Kim Jones