TIM DOUGLAS: So I climbed onto the treadmill, I grabbed onto the heart meters to try and keep my heart rate at 115 BPM, and I settled into the game.
BANAFSHEH SALAMAT: On the night of the dance, we could see them through the opening gap of the curtain.
Our hearts were beating fast.
After taking inventory of all of our body parts that we can no longer feel, we start to question why we're out here today.
WES HAZARD: Tonight's theme is "Stay the Course."
One of the hardest tests is staying in the game when everything is aligned against you.
Tonight, our tellers share tales of being up against the odds when the going got tough and seeing it through.
And leaving with memories that will last a lifetime.
♪ RODMAN: My name's Heather Rodman and I live in Arlington, Massachusetts.
I've been an educator for 25 years and I currently work at Lesley University in the Graduate School of Education.
How did you come to storytelling?
What was that journey like for you?
RODMAN: A good friend of mine kept telling me that I was a storyteller.
And she brought me, actually, to an episode of Stories From the Stage.
And I sat in the audience that night, and I said, "Yeah, I want to do this."
Would you be able to tell me a little bit about what you have discovered through storytelling?
I think storytelling has helped me find myself, quite honestly.
It's been a journey into self.
When you start discovering these stories, and you start telling them, you find out more and more about your own journey.
I've struggled with post traumatic stress syndrome for over 20 years.
And storytelling has actually started to help me recover.
And that's the biggest piece, when you share your stories, and you share your humanity.
You learn about yourself and you can share that and then you can share that with others.
♪ It's 9:30 Thanksgiving morning, zero degrees, with an estimated wind chill factor of minus-17.
I'm walking to the start line of the 82nd Manchester Road Race.
For this historic Connecticut race, runners usually dress up, and my family never says no to a costume.
So this year, my sister-in-law and nephew are Santas.
My niece is an elf and I'm Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.
Standing in the start chute, waiting for the race to begin, huddled together like a family of penguins, I'm seriously contemplating why I'm out here today.
Six years ago I was sitting in front of a warm fire, drinking a cup of coffee, waiting for the Macy's Day Parade to start, and eating a piece of my mom's homemade pumpkin pie with whipped cream on top for breakfast with my dad.
This was a tradition he started when my brother and I were younger, proclaiming one Thanksgiving that there was no need to save the best part about Thanksgiving until last.
Nine days after Thanksgiving six years ago, my father died of a massive heart attack, and I've been running from Thanksgiving ever since.
The real reason I'm out here is because I can't imagine being home on Thanksgiving morning without my dad.
Out of the 12,000 runners this year, I'm number 10,068.
I hadn't given this number much thought until the night before when my mom asked, "So what does the number eight mean to you?"
And I said, "I don't know, flip it sideways, "and it's an infinity sign?
She said, "Because you have your dad's birthday and a number eight as your running number this year."
I must have looked confused because she continued to explain 10,068.
Ten, oh-six, eight.
October 6th with an eight.
And there it was, my dad, forever on Thanksgiving morning.
As the race begins, I'm already thinking about the second mile.
Because it's one hill.
On a good year, this climb's been difficult.
Today, I'm thinking Everest.
As I enter that second mile, my bib number starts to feel like 195 pounds as I carry memories of my dad up that hill with me one step at a time.
About halfway up I start cursing.
This is a good sign.
My dad would be proud.
He had found it his duty as my father to teach me how to curse before going to kindergarten as a playground survival skill.
Three-fourths of the way up, I have the strongest memory.
I'm five or six and we're sitting on the porch in our home in Pennsylvania and we're riding out a storm together because my father knows the thunder scares me.
At the top of the hill, my Santa Claus sister-in-law finds me and I'm no longer alone with my memories.
We start running together, and we take the downhill, and a runner's high kicks in.
After taking inventory of all of our body parts that we can no longer feel, we start to question why we're out here today.
And my sister-in-law shares how much my brother really appreciates the fact that we run this race.
Because, as a police officer in town, he's mandated to work this race, and for years he spent Thanksgiving alone.
And now, his family runs the race, and he looks forward to this day because we're all together on Thanksgiving morning.
At the bottom of the hill, we hit the flats, the land that I call No Man's Land.
Because the race flattens out, and a runner's high fades, and you start to feel like you're running through sludge.
And there's two miles left to go.
We take a turn and the full force of a negative-17 degree wind chill factor hits us face on and throws us backwards.
I duck my head down and start to cry.
If there were ever a time to abandon this race, it would be now.
Just then, my Santa sister-in-law says, "Am I hallucinating or are those guys naked?"
I look up and see three 20-something athletic guys who run this race every year in loincloths.
"Please tell me they're wearing nude-colored bodysuits," she says.
No, those aren't bodysuits.
I am, however, really surprised that they did not take frostbite of the extremities into consideration this year.
My sister-in-law says, "Seriously, I need a closer look."
So we pick up our pace and it takes us into the backstretch.
And it's here that I see things my father would have loved-- Pittsburgh Steeler fans, three guys dressed up as the Hanson brothers from the iconic hockey movie Slap Shot, and a person dressed in a huge inflatable turkey costume.
And I think of every Macy's Day Parade I ever watched with my father.
These images take me to the finish line where my sister-in-law hug, cry, laugh, and put out great wishes for a warmer run next year.
Back in the parking lot, a crowd has gathered around our cars.
Because my mom brother, nephew, niece are passing out pieces of pumpkin pie with whipped cream on top.
And as my mom passes me my piece of pie, I give thanks to my father for running with me today, reminding me what Thanksgiving is all about and being my dad forever.
♪ DOUGLAS: I'm Tim Douglas.
I'm from Somerville, Massachusetts.
I work at Emerson College in academic advising.
HAZARD: And I understand that you have a music podcast about some of the biggest albums of all time.
And I'm just really curious what are, like, your top three favorite albums?
Well, through the podcast, called Record Time, my friend and I try to revive the lost art of listening to an album from beginning to end.
And one of my top albums of all time would be The Frames' Set List.
It's an incredible live album.
We started our podcast with Michael Jackson, Thriller, one of the biggest albums of all time.
One of the most surprising albums for me was Judy, a live album that Judy Garland did in 1958, I believe it was.
Incredible powerhouse of a record.
HAZARD: Musicians have a very specific way of expressing themselves.
What do you think is important as a storyteller on stage?
Like what kind of qualities do you think really, you know, help you bring your message to the audience?
Well, I certainly think clarity of message.
So it's important for storytellers to be able to really accurately communicate what it is they're seeing, what their truth is, and effectively communicate that across to someone else.
So that together, hopefully, you can see the entire truth of the situation.
So, you know, being vulnerable, being comfortable telling personal stories, I think is always a relief for an audience.
It always puts an audience at ease.
And I think that's when you get some of your most magical performances, when that vulnerability is there, that honesty is there, and that direct communication is there.
♪ Sports were always a huge part of my personality and life growing up.
As a kid, not only could I tell you the entire roster of any NBA team you'd care to mention, but I could tell you where each of those players went to college and what their careers were like while they were there.
When I moved to Boston, I immediately fell in love with the local pro teams.
And, honestly, they became my most stable relationship for many, many years.
I followed them any way that I could.
I would listen to the radio, I would look at websites, read sports reporters and scores.
I was scouring the world for more information about Boston teams.
And of course I would watch the games.
I tried as hard as I could to never miss an important game and even a lot of the unimportant ones.
And if I had something like a wedding or a funeral to attend during a big game, I would make sure I had a friend ready to text me in case something important happened so I didn't have to miss it.
I mean this was a year-round situation.
All four teams, whether they were playing or not, there was nothing I wouldn't do.
But I was just watching.
Then, in the fall of 2013, long after Tom Brady, and The Idiots, and the new Big Three had transformed the Boston sports scene from lovable losers to Champion City, I decided that the boldest statement a Boston sports fan could make about the quality of our teams was to not even watch.
And so I created a blog and declared to the world that win or lose at the end of the Red Sox season, I would spend one year of my life not watching sports.
Now this decision was met with trepidation, confusion, and more than a little concern by my friends and colleagues.
It was met with total delight by my wife.
And I very quickly realized that it was rather poorly thought through.
Not only were all the Boston sports teams in contention in 2013, but it was going to be an Olympic year.
It was going to also be a World Cup year.
But there was no stopping it now.
I had declared this and this was happening.
I had two rules to help guide my time during the "offseason" as I called it.
Rule one: I could not seek out any scores or sports information of any kind.
And rule number two: I had to actively use this newfound time to more fully explore the world around me.
Now, rule one I knew was going to be a challenge.
I mean I had to spend time removing links from my web browsers.
I had to remove presets from my car radio.
I had to take apps off of my phone and my iPad.
(chuckling): I had to... not to mention just get people to stop telling me about sports things, to give me a year off, and I could hardly blame them.
I mean this, in some cases, was all we would talk about.
So it took some time to settle into those relationships and there was certainly some anxiety early on about missing out on big moments.
Even at work, casual water cooler conversations became a minefield.
But eventually I realized that, you know, this was a temporary thing.
And sports information was over there, all I had to do was look over here, right?
And who couldn't do that for a year?
After all, in a few months I'd be back to it, and our teams would be no worse for wear.
That's how I approached it initially.
Rule number two proved to be much more interesting and in depth.
I almost immediately gained a deeper understanding of how I spent my time.
I would take long languid walks with my wife.
In fact, our relationship would transform entirely before the offseason was over.
I had more deep and meaningful conversations with friends and family.
I was writing more.
I was reading more.
All of these activities gave me a much deeper sense of fulfillment than watching any championship ever could.
And of course it did.
Because I was not just watching anymore.
A great example: guitar.
I had always been able to play a few chords on my guitar, but the idea of performing a song in its entirety was outside my vision.
But without the excuse of putting down the guitar and turning on a game, I was able to push myself past that discomfort and actually learn things.
The first time I strummed a chord progression and sang a melody on top of it at the same time was a sense of elation I could hardly remember having had before.
And, of course, because I was no longer just watching.
In fact, as the year went on, I even managed to get in much better shape.
I was going to the gym more often.
And one particularly crowded night at the gym, I went in and and found that there was only one treadmill available to me.
And it was in direct sightline of the Boston Celtics game.
Now secretly I was thrilled about this because I was still following the rules.
I wasn't seeking out any sports information, it was just right in front of me.
So I climbed onto the treadmill, I grabbed onto the heart meters to try and keep my heartrate at 115 BPM to optimize my workout, and I settled into the game, and it was great.
Celtics were playing really well.
But then they started to falter, and that's when I felt it.
Just that little spot of panic in the middle of my chest.
It was so easy to recognize because it had been so long since I had felt it.
But with every errant pass and with every missed shot, and every turnover, that sense began to grow.
And before long it was my entire chest-- a palpable sense of desperation.
I looked down, and by the time the Celtics had blown their entire lead, my heart rate was at 140 BPM.
The signal was clear.
I could not go back to the way things were at the beginning of the offseason.
I couldn't let sports play that outsized role in my life anymore.
Now, I measure the sense of personal fulfillment I derive from the world not with wins and losses by the Sox and the Pats, but by the successes and the challenges I face at work.
By the time I spend with my friends and family.
With my wife and with my son, who not so coincidentally was born just about a month after the offseason ended.
I still consider myself a Boston sports fan, but now, instead of trying to make my life all about Boston sports, Boston sports is just a part of my life.
♪ SALAMAT: My name is Banafsheh Salamat.
I'm from Iran.
I came to the States in 1984 and today I am a teacher, a science teacher.
My background is in biology.
Was storytelling important during your upbringing in Iran?
SALAMAT: I loved the storytelling from the time I was little because my dad always told me stories.
And later on, as a little kid, I entertained other kids with my stories.
And Iran had a revolution in 1979.
During that time schools were closed.
So I read a lot, and I was living with my uncle at the time who had a library.
And I just went in and picked up a book and he said, "Well, this book is kind of for adults, I don't know if you would enjoy that," but I did.
It was written by a very famous Iranian author.
And later on I picked up Russian literature.
And I liked, like, Maxim Gorky, and Sholokhov, and kept on reading novels a lot.
And that excited me, the story, not knowing what happens next.
That really excited me.
And I, as a result, I became a good writer as well.
I really wanted to ask what stories do you most like to tell?
I like to tell stories about myself because it gives people a little window into Iran at that time and my childhood, and my upbringing, and the incidents that happened to me.
♪ When I was 11 years old, I was living in a small town named Alishahr.
Alishahr was in Iran and it was made for employees of a steel company-- half Iranians and half Russians.
They made sure that they had all the amenities that this little town could possibly handle.
It had its own schools, it had a huge basketball court, Olympic-size swimming pool, an amphitheater, a hotel.
Which little town has a hotel?
Also they managed to have a real ballet school.
For this ballet school, they brought in from Moscow a ballet teacher.
He brought with him a piano player.
His name was Mr. Baldin.
Naturally, many Iranian parents wanted their kids to be signed up for this ballet school.
Whether the kids liked it or not, they were signed up.
I was one of them.
Though I liked ballet and I like the music.
The first day we thought it would be all fun, and dance, and laughter.
We found out quickly that Mr. Baldin is very strict.
Mr. Baldin was tall, with a military blonde hair crew cut, and cold blue eyes.
Mr. Baldin told us we will dance from the moment we get here to the moment we leave.
"If you are going to be late, you better not come in.
"You may not laugh.
"You may not talk.
You may not eat."
We got the message.
Every day that you went to practice, we made sure we were early.
Mr. Baldin went on for quite some time.
He didn't speak a word of Farsi, but he had translator.
He made sure all of his messages got through to us.
Mr. Baldin had the eyes of a hawk.
He could spot any mistake right away.
He would pull that unfortunate girl out, and that girl had to repeat the move many, many, many times until they perfected it.
One day, Mr. Baldin came in and said that there is going to be an anniversary for this steel company.
There's going to be a ceremony and they have asked us to perform a dance.
We were so happy, we were jumping up and down.
And Mr. Baldin quickly put a damper on that.
So then we practiced two hours a day.
After a while, we were getting closer to the performance, Mr. Baldin ordered our costumes.
They were done by a tailor in Iran, carefully done, perfect to our sizes.
On the night of the dance, we were semi-nervous, semi-excited as we all fit into this bus with our costumes on.
We got to this amphitheater that could fit about 100 or so of people.
These people were all employees of the steel company with our teachers, our parents, and whoever wanted to be there that night was there.
We could see them through the opening gap of the curtain and our hearts were beating fast.
We wanted our performance to be perfect.
Because... not because all of our parents and teachers were watching, because Mr. Baldin was watching.
The first part of the dance went really well.
It was based on Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake.
And as we entered, we made sure that everything done to perfection, and we went along with a live piano player, and then it was the second part.
We also did very well on the second part.
And it came the very ending, the finale.
For the finale, if you were in the audience, you could see Iran's flag by our costumes because the little girls were all wearing red-- red leotard, red tutus, red tights and red ballet shoes.
They also had red little pom poms.
So the little girls were supposed to go in, twirl around, and then go all the way down.
We, the middle-sized girls, were wearing all white.
We were supposed to go in, circle around the little girls, and then go kneel down.
And the taller girls who were wearing green, they would come in, they would circle around us, and they would just stand up.
The little girls went in, they did fine.
The first of the white outfit girls that went in did not do the circle.
She just went on her knee.
And I saw that behind the curtain and I thought, (gasps) "She made a mistake."
And the second one that went in did the same thing.
She just kneeled down.
And the third one, and this had this domino effect, and all of us now had to do the same thing.
And we were all shaking.
We were shaking our pom poms, but it was out of nervousness.
And when the dance was over, I quickly ran up behind the curtains to Mr. Baldin.
I went up to him and I said (speaking Farsi) That means, "Mr. Baldin, forgive us."
I said that we made a mistake.
Actually, we didn't make a mistake, it was the first girl that went in.
It was all her fault.
We had to follow her.
You see, we didn't...
He stopped me and he said, "Do you hear people clapping right now?
They don't know this."
And he smiled.
Mr. Baldin never smiled before this.
This was such a relief coming over me.
But I was shocked.
He said, "You did fine.
You all did fine."
I was so happy, and I was quite encouraged, and I continued ballet for two more years after this.
Now that I am a teacher in United States, not a ballet teacher, but a science teacher, I do think about Mr. Baldin a lot.
I am a demanding teacher.
But when my students are struggling, I make sure that I am supportive, that I am encouraging, and sympathetic.
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