January 29, 2013
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Running the Roads of Encanterra

A Tribute to Michael & Tina O’Connor,  two awesomely athletic Encanterra Members,
Contributed by their daughter, Kama Shockey

It is a beautiful morning in the San Tan Valley, a light breeze blowing in from the east keeping the air at a brisk seventy-four degrees. The sun is peeking out from behind the Superstition Mountains, giving the go ahead for members of the Encanterra community to begin their day. Men and women in golf carts grab their coffee from Explorations Café and head to the driving range to work on their swing, while others begrudgingly head to work outside the community they call home. For some, however, the sun is a lazy thing, waiting too long to wake its residents. My parents, Michael and Tina O’Connor, are two of these people, and they have been running the gated roads of Encanterra since five a.m. They are just heading home to shower as their neighbors are pouring that first cup of joe.

My mom and dad have been members of Trilogy Encanterra for two and a half years now, and for them it is much more than a place to live, work, eat and play. It is home. My dad is the Chief Medical Officer of Banner Hospital, a position that leaves him very little time to be on the golf course or in the gym during the week. My mom volunteers for the Social Committee and Banner Hospital, and is in the same position. Still, like clockwork, both are up and moving before dawn most days because keeping fit and healthy isn’t just a fad – it’s a way of life and has been since before my siblings and I were born. They know from being involved in healthcare that exercising is the best way to get the most out of an active community like Encanterra – and beyond that, they enjoy it.

Before my parents moved to the San Tan Valley, we lived up north near Sedona. The three of us children went to school while my dad practiced medicine and my mom managed his practice. We grew up seeing our parents do something fitness related every day, rain or shine. We knew that their passion for fitness had begun with road biking in Tucson, my birthplace, but seeing them trade in the bikes for running shoes was the beginning of our lifestyle as a ‘running family’. We watched and learned. They used our home gym to stay fit in the winter, and were active runners in their community for the twenty-two years they lived there. When they go back to visit friends, they are approached by strangers in the supermarket wondering why they haven’t been seen running lately. It always makes them smile to know their choice to stay fit has had such an impact on others. I don’t think they realized just how much they were impacting us as well.

Through the positive role modeling of our parents, my sister, brother and I learned to enjoy running and keeping fit. All three of us ran track and Cross Country in high school where we were fully supported both on and off the field by our parents, and we also continue to run recreationally to this day. In fact, around Christmas time, when the whole O’Connor clan is together, you may see us, this time with our spouses and my parents’ two grandchildren, running up to the clubhouse to hit the gym or to get that extra mile in before heading home. It is something our parents cherish most: passing their fitness legacy on to their children and grandchildren, and enjoying the conversation that accompanies our long family runs. In fact, I now coach a women’s running group where I live in California. When I’m doing errands around town, I am often approached by people saying how they saw us on the road and wish they loved to run as much as we do.  I always smile and say I learned to love it from watching my parents, and later, applying running to my life in a way that fits my family’s lifestyle. I see my four year-old run beside me and know that my parents have now passed their knowledge on to yet another generation. In those moments, I couldn’t be more proud of my family.

My parents know that it can be hard in the winter months to be out in the relative cold of southern Arizona, so they have broadened their fitness regimen to include some home workouts like TRX and up to three days a week at the resort gym. My mom is a former aerobics instructor, so you may just catch her in one of the many classes offered through Encanterra. Just as in the town that they lived in before moving to the Valley, members of Encanterra often comment when they don’t see my mom and dad heading through the gates in the morning with Quinn, their Portuguese Water Dog, in tow. Last week when I went to visit them, I heard many queries about where the runners were the past two weeks. They explained that they were up in Portland visiting my sister and her family, and oh yeah – running the Portland Marathon with Kiera and her husband. It got more than a few exclamations of ‘Wow!’ and head nods in acknowledgement of their feat. Before that, they were in New Jersey competing in a 10-mile beach race that my mom won for her age group. If you ask them, though, you will see that they are modest about their athletic accomplishments, doing it for no other reason than their own benefit and time spent with their kids. They have no need to push their opinions about health onto their friends and neighbors, though on more than one occasion they have graciously helped when one has come up to them at the gym and asked for advice on diet or technique.

Beyond training for half and full marathons for fun and the challenge of it, they are avid supporters of the local community through their fitness. For two years now, they have competed in Joe’s Run, a 10K race to benefit the family of Joe Gibson, a man who died after he was hit by a car while running with his wife. They have also run in the Encanterra-hosted Glow Run, a 5K race that benefits the Streetlight Foundation. In the winter months, they use their annual State Park pass to hike and run through the San Tan Park, a beautiful range just outside of Encanterra, though most days you can find them weaving in and out of the Encanterra gates, chatting together and keeping their relationship as strong as their fitness regimen.

Seeing the community through the eyes of athletes like my parents highlights the beauty of resort living. Running with them I can see why such a community is perfect for the avid runner. On a run, they see their neighbor on the golf course and exchange waves and smiles. They might see fellow walkers and runners, residents with their dogs, and others headed to the gym. Coming through the gates and seeing the water features set against the vivid green of the golf courses and distant peaks of the San Tan Mountains, reminds them why such a community is perfect for their lifestyle. Next time you are in the neighborhood and see a pair of runners racing through the front gates with a Water Dog keeping step beside them, say hello. Nothing is better to them than a friendly smile from a neighbor when they are on their way home. Especially when that home is Encanterra.