Stephen Burke

Everyone needs help sometimes with mundane health issues such as rest and exercise, and I once read something that helped me with both, involving the olfactory.

It came from Dear Abby, the famed advice columnist, with a tip to a reader who had trouble with overnight travel because of difficulty sleeping in unfamiliar bedding .

Abby advised the reader to bring along their own pillowcase. It will help, she said, because it smells like sleep.

On a holiday trip I took the advice and found it sound, promoting sound sleep.

I get similar help in exercising, which I can generally use help initiating, from the scent of my workout clothes, which I purposely wash infrequently.

Certainly they would hardly take any time to rinse out after each session, but this would destroy a distinctive aura, let us say, that for me embodies emanation of a fit foundation. They smell like exertion, reminding me I’ve done it before and can do it again. Of course I will wash them before they actually break, but meanwhile I need maintenance more than they do.

This ripe topic comes to mind on the advent of Ithaca’s 13th annual Peter De Mott Peace Trot, a five kilometer run (and one kilometer “fun run”) held on Father’s Day every year.

Peter was an Ithaca resident and noted peace activist who died tragically in a work accident in 2009. He was a committed community member and an avid runner. His family and friends started the Trot to honor his memory, work and passions. Peter was the loving husband of Ellen Grady and devoted father of their four daughters, thus the Father’s Day date.

Peter and I were friends, and while I understood his dedication to physical activity in general and running in particular (“A day without sweat is a day to regret,” he used to say), I have never shared it enough to forestall, most days, the regret he described, although I find I can forgive myself fairly easily.

But I happen to know that Peter and I shared one aspect of exercise strongly: the care of the clothes. His daughter Cait once described in a humorous note the place in the house where his running clothes stood waiting for him every day, as in stood up. He used them a lot.

Despite his high sights in all aspects of life, Peter was the kindest, most encouraging and charitable of men, and the Trot reflects his openness to all levels of benevolent attempt and being. The event is for everyone: “Trot, run, walk, stroll, skip, mosey, saunter,” its website invites.

For the serious runners attending, it is a well-run competitive event. Leone Services, a decades-old company, provides computerized timing and results for all individuals in various groupings. Group winners receive, in the website’s words, “unique, practical, artistic or quirky prizes of their own choosing.”

“Quirky” might be an operative word, whatever the professional components. The feeling is one of community and fun, with something of a festival air. A couple hundred people run, with family and friends accompanying. There are many children and seniors.

Also central to the event are social and political activism. Proceeds from registration fees and donations go to the Catholic Worker, a movement founded in the 1930s by Dorothy Day (currently under consideration for sainthood) and others to alleviate poverty and injustice, promote non-violence, and oppose war. Peter worked with the group in Ithaca. Catholic Worker houses provide shelter and support to people in need; the Ithaca house, on S. Plain Street, is named in Peter’s honor.

The group donates to others in support of varied work and emerging needs. A Catholic Worker member writes to the Ithaca Times, “For the past five years the Ithaca Catholic Worker has tithed (given 10 percent of) our net monies raised through the Trot to racial justice organizations. We consider this a kind of ‘reparations,’ an acknowledgement that the playing field isn’t level, that groups lead by people of color don’t necessarily have access to the resources and networks that they ought to in order to advance their causes. So we’ve supported the traditional Cayugas, the Share Farm, Black Lives Matter, the Learning Farm, and others.”

The Trot is not just good exercise, but a good collective exercise. It brings a particular closeness and so, for me, will warrant a pre-race wardrobe wash. Peter wouldn’t mind one way or the other, but it’s a special day.

The peace trot this year is on June 19. For more info, click here.

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