Hello! My name is Alicia and I’m a true Michigander in every aspect. Other titles I proudly own are daughter, sister, friend, girlfriend, animal-lover (and animal-mom), foodie and yes, runner. I’m excited to show off the town often referred to as the “hippy” town, Ann Arbor. Ann Arbor is the perfect combination of small town feel with big city culture, food, and education. One of my favorite things about living here is not just the 300 restaurants within a 20 mile radius of the city (yes, this is true!), but I love that Ann Arbor is such a runner (and outdoor activity) friendly town.
I’ve been a runner since my high school days of cross country. I primarily focus on half marathons now, but I did spend the last year running 5Ks with the goal of doing one a month for a full year. Running has been my saving grace throughout my life. Through my struggles and triumphs, running has taught me one of the single most important lessons and mantras I’ve learned yet: keep moving forward. If you do whatever you need to do to just keep moving forward, you’ll find you’ll get yourself where you’re supposed to be and you’ll get through any obstacle, no matter what.
Stop 1: Google Ann Arbor Office – I moved to Ann Arbor when I got hired at Google over five years ago. It is only right to thank my employer for all the amazing opportunities I have been given as a Googler. Not only has Google had a huge impact on my life but it has also made an impact for my fellow Michiganders. In 2012, Google helped provide $1.4B of economic activity for Michigan businesses, website publishers and non-profits. I am a proud Googler, and I’m very happy Google has made a home in Ann Arbor!
Stop 2: Zingerman’s Deli – If you’ve heard of Ann Arbor, chances are you’ve either heard of the University of Michigan or Zingerman’s. Zingerman’s is a world famous deli, restaurant, bakery, coffee roaster and so much more! The deli on this route is one of their many locations in the city and is set up in the heart of Kerrytown across from Ann Arbor’s famous farmer’s market. On the weekends you can always find a line of hungry customers roped around the block waiting to get in to Zingerman’s and get some delicious sandwiches. Here, I want to celebrate and thank my boyfriend, Brandon. Brandon and I are experimental cooks and self-proclaimed foodies. Zingerman’s is hands down one of our favorite places to treat ourselves to an awesome meal (he especially loves their coffee). Brandon is my best friend and the love of my life – I would not have survived some of the darkest periods in my life if he hadn’t been at my side to keep me going. Not only is he an excellent partner, animal-dad and friend, but he is a great running buddy as well. Thank you for all you do, Brandon!
Stop 3: Nichols Arboretum (also known as the Arb) – The Arb is one of the most beautiful places to explore nature in Ann Arbor. There are three entrances to the Arb, the one I chose is closest to the University of Michigan Hospital System. The Arb is a great place to take a leisurely stroll and admire the gorgeous flora or its a jumping off point for an epic run as you can connect to many different parts of the city by going through the Arb. It is only fitting that at a beautiful nature spot I thank my mom, Vicki. My mom is the sole person responsible for my love of animals and appreciation of nature and the environment around us. Some of my best qualities are traits that I can see in my mom as I get older, and I am thankful more and more each day that I am becoming a lot like her. Fun fact: she and my dad used to live in Ann Arbor and her love of the city (and her alma mater here) feeds my love of the city, too. You’re the best, mom!
Stop 4: The (Painted) Rock – I pass by this rock on my drive home and on many long mileage runs. Since the 1950’s, students and others in the community have used the rock to express their love for the University of Michigan, their sorority or fraternity or whatever statement they want to proclaim. It’s caked with layers upon layers of paint, which is a true testament to its collegiate tradition. What do I love most about this rock? Well, the tradition of painting the rock is rumored to have been “inspired” by MY alma matter (and rival school), Michigan State University. The legend goes that the rock was defaced by rival school students. To cover up the defacing, the rock was quickly coated with a layer of paint. Thus, the tradition of painting the rock was born! At this rock, I want to thank my dad, Mike. Among many things, my dad has taught me the meaning of true school spirit and loyalty. One of the most beautiful things about my dad (aside from his singing voice) is his ability to believe in the good of others. This is one of the traits I’m most proud to have inherited from him. I’m more proud of you everyday, dad!
Stop 5: Burns Park – Burns Park (also the name of the surrounding neighborhood) is the centerpiece of one of the most beautiful and historic neighborhoods in Ann Arbor. This park was once home to the county fairgrounds and if you look closely you can even see traces of the old horse track. Burns Park is also home to the annual Burns Park 5k and 10k which draws a solid crowd and famous runners and athletes. When I think about old and desirable things, I think about my three oldest friends Jenny, Amy and Brittany. There is something to be said about friendships that can survive time and distance, and these three are the proof. No matter what happens, I know at the end of the day they are in my life and will continue to be. Thank you for being my friends throughout the years!
Stop 6: The Big House – This is THE Ann Arbor landmark. People come from far and wide to see the world famous Big House (which is the University of Michigan’s football stadium). It is so massive that you can see the big block “M” from the other side of downtown as you get off the highway! And on football Saturdays, this stadium ranks as the fourth largest “city” in the state of Michigan, which surpasses the population of Ann Arbor itself! At this stop, I want to thank my “new” friends; Zeil, Lindsey, Liz and Susan (two of whom are University of Michigan alumni). These ladies have been the ones to embrace me and help me grow as I learn who I am and who I am going to become. Going through your “quarter life crisis” isn’t easy, but it is more doable when you have supportive friends to see you through. Thank you ladies, for loving me as I am and for being a source of strength, inspiration and a shoulder to lean on. You are all amazing!
Stop 7: Fairy Doors – There is a mysterious and magical secret in Ann Arbor and that is the handful of fairy doors hidden within the city. This particular fairy door is outside the Selo-Shevel Gallery on Liberty Street, the first fairy door I discovered when I moved here. Visitors to the doors, especially children, leave little gifts in hopes the fairies will receive them. If you ever make a visit to Ann Arbor (which you certainly should), get a map of the fairy doors and try to find them all. It’s an enchanting way to see the city! At this fairy door I want to thank my sister, Cathy, who was the only person I knew when I came to Ann Arbor. My relationship with my sister is unique as we are twelve years apart. I didn’t really get to know her until I moved here but she has always been there for me whenever I needed her. She was the first running partner I ever had and it is because of her that I finished my very first half marathon. I pull from her a lot of strength and look to her as a source of wisdom and role model as I go through life. She showed me some of the best of Ann Arbor as I was getting to know the city so I owe a lot of my expertise to her! Thank you for being the best sister and for agreeing to do more races with me!
Stop 8: The Michigan Theater – The last stop on my route is the Michigan Theater. This theater serves its intended purpose as a “shrine to art”, featuring movies, live stage performances and home to the Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra. It truly is a key part of Ann Arbor’s culture and history. This theater holds a special place in my heart as it was the location of a free screening (to a full house) I brought to Ann Arbor of the documentary “Miss Representation.” In celebration of the arts, I am saying thank you to my two favorite high school teachers, Robert Lurie and Jan Kesel. They probably have no idea how important they both are to me but I want to thank them for believing in ME, Alicia. They believed in me as a person, not me as the high school student or club president but me as I was and for the potential they saw in me. That means more to me than any history or English lesson they could’ve ever given (though they are both excellent teachers)! I thank them both for all they’ve done to help me become who I am today.
Before I end, I think its important to note why I mentioned the documentary “Miss Representation” along my running route. The heart of this film touches a deep nerve within me as I’ve struggled with body dysmorphic disorder for most of my life. Body dysmorphic disorder is a mental illness where a person cannot stop thinking about a flaw in their appearance, whether the flaw is real or imagined. This disorder is characterized by intense obsession over appearance and body image and it can be quite debilitating. While there are biological factors that can lead to this disorder, cultural factors also play a role. Perceived social pressures for beauty and image affect both men and women and much of these cultural cues are delivered through advertising and media. The film “Miss Representation” explores the effects of media’s representation of women and the organization that produced it is now working on a follow up film that looks at the extremes of masculinity imposed on boys and men. I strongly support the efforts behind these films and it is my hope that everyone has a chance to see the truth in the role media can play in how we view ourselves and others.
Though I am a work in progress, I am thankful that I have slowly learned to love my body beyond its appearance. I love it for its strength and for all the runs it has and will continue to power me through. My body keeps me moving forward and so does a good run!
Alicia Curley is a twenty-something young professional learning how to live a healthier and happier life. She blogs about her journey at http://www.inhealthyhabitswetrust.com