The first time I met Betty, I did not like her. Actually, when I introduced them to Betty, most of my friends did not like her either. Depending on our mood, some of us would give her the silent treatment or call her ugly names like “fat lady.” Sometimes we would yell or curse at her. Some of us would just downright refuse to go near her. So you would think that our relationship with Betty would only go downhill. Ironically, the opposite occurred, despite how she made us feel.
Now, the last thing I want to do is give you a negative impression of Betty. You may fall in love if you ever meet her. But I would like to share with you how I have learned to live with Betty through the years. In fact, she has become an inspiration to me.
These days, I run a lot. However, growing up in my town, running never entered my mind unless it involved escaping the wrath of my brother. I attempted to run in the early nineties to impress my new husband. I tried to run a few 5K races with him. Confusion describes my finishes back then. Big or small, young or old, it didn’t matter. All those runners trotted past me whispering words of encouragement. Once, a pregnant lady pushing a baby stroller flew past me going up a hill. This lady had to be at least seven or eight months pregnant!
During the fall, my friend and co-worker, Jerri, and I decided over drinks that we wanted to run a marathon. We assumed the Myrtle Beach Marathon in February would be perfectly flat. I knew that Jerrianne had been running for years but she had never done a race. She was my “healthy” friend who wore really cool Keen shoes. She was always running, cycling, hiking, doing yoga, or walking the dogs.
So, let me explain the seriousness of this. In that discombobulated moment, I was convinced that I could complete a 26.2-mile footrace without sleep breaks. At the time, my husband’s suggestion to start training the following day seemed perfectly feasible. So Jerri and I decided to meet at her regular running route in the cemetery. The next morning I was not thanking my husband for his bright idea. To put it mildly, we will just say I was worried.
We arrived bright and early and Jerrianne was already there. The gates were locked. For a split second I rejoiced that our running appointment might be cancelled. Jerri seemed unfazed as she led us through the shrubs past the gate. Inside the graveyard, we had a decision to make. Go right and meet Betty on the way back, or go left and see the Gold Hill. “Who the heck is Betty?” I wondered.
Jerri explained that one loop, which was basically the perimeter of the cemetery, was approximately 1.4 miles. She liked doing one loop and then turning around and doing the loop backwards. We decided to go right so, I guess this meant that I would meet Betty on the way back to our starting point. Off we shuffled, chatting all the while. Down, down, down the hill we ran. My grin was large. Jerri said that she called the hill, “Gold Hill”. I realized why when I saw all of the headstones to my left. She reminded me that we would be travelling up on our second loop. My grin disappeared.
Fortunately, I had yet to feel that my running shoes were too small. I looked to the right and saw the gravesite of my grandparents. I really miss my grandmother. I guess this was about when my breaths started shortening and my jammed toes starting talking to me. I made it up to the top of the hill and turned right on a gravel road called Laurel. I said hey to a friend, Stacy, who died way too soon. Even though many years have passed, his headstone looked newer than so many others nearby.
My heart sank as I made the turn onto Ford Street. I realized that we were about to embark on a very long uphill journey. I immediately quit talking. Up, up, up we ran. I focused on putting one foot in front of the other. As Stephen and Jerrianne laughed and had a full-blown conversation, my frustration and the hill’s slope were increasing. “You guys go on,” I said. “I will catch up! Don’t wait on me!” My pace slowed to a snail’s.
As they ran up the hill ahead of me, I wondered who the heck Betty was and how in the heck can they run so fast up this gigantic hill? Up, up, up, I staggered, determined not to walk.
Everything by now was a blur. The pain and lack of oxygen were comforted only by the fact that I was in a cemetery. Up, up, up we ran. Right foot, left foot… Eventually, my staggering trot turned into a survival shuffle, then to a walk, and finally to a dead stop.
After what seemed an eternity, I was finally nearing Jerri and Stephen. They stood admiring a tombstone at the very top of the hill. I was almost in tears. Tears of joy since they were standing still and not running! Finally, I made it.
As my heart pounded, I read the inscription on a headstone. I read that her name was Betty and that she had come to this town as the “Simple Fat Lady in the Fair. She left this Earth as our friend.”
So, I finally met Betty. I could not believe what I was reading. How awesome it was for our community to care enough for this 46-year-old stranger who died in 1954. She wasn’t from our town and had no family here. Betty was from Rochester, N.Y. Later, I learned that Betty went from a 104 lb dancer to 600 pound carnival act. Her weight gain was caused when she was stricken with pneumonia and a treatment affected her thyroid. She eventually died from a heart attack in her sleep.
Jerri, Betty and I trained for four solid months. Eventually, this “fat lady” became a driving force in my daily runs and a major part of my inspiration to complete a marathon. We ran our race in February and finished gracefully. Jerri and I shared our favorite stories and talked about Betty as we ran mile after mile. It was a very memorable event in my life. Since then, I have shared the tradition of introducing the “Betty” hill to several people who wanted to run with me or train for a special race.
Betty may have left this earth as our friend, however, she still lives on in spirit to help train and encourage many people to push themselves more than they ever thought they could. I encourage everyone to come out and meet our friend, Betty. She will always be waiting at the top of the hill for you.
Simple Fat Lady from the Fair