July is here with its summer heat. For a runner like me, that means trying to find the coolest time of day to run or just trying to decide to run. The past few years, my body hasn’t always allowed me to take off down the trail. But, finally, all of its parts seem to be working together again. I am back to running a 5- kilometer cross-country trail on Sundays and whatever I can squeeze in during the week. Back in my more hardcore running days, I enjoyed participating in the Topeka Fourth of July Road Run. So this year, I decide to register for it again and see if I am ready to race.

As I take Stella, the dog, for her walk on the morning of the Fourth, the sun is already coming up hot. I sip a small cup of coffee, fill a water bottle and put on my racing shoes. The drive from Goshen takes us on buggy-worn county roads with little traffic at this early hour. Before us, the mist is rising from the fields as we pass prim farmhouses lined with flowers and horses lazing in pastures. As we approach our destination, we carefully pass clumps of Amish boys on bikes, loaded with camping chairs and baseball bats, and horse-pulled wagons with Amish families.

The small town of Topeka seems dead until we arrive closer to the town park. Even though it’s only 7:30 in the morning on a holiday, people are gathered here. At the pavilion, there’s a short line to pick up my race number, a longer line for those registering on the spot. Beyond, the basketball court and the softball fields are already filling up with teams ready for the day’s tournaments. And in the grass, food booths are setting up. Everyone seems to know each other, and a spirit of community is evident.

As I get lined up for the race, I chat with the woman beside me who is here on holiday, visiting Amish friends. We both agree that it’s too hot to hurry, then wish each other good luck as we stride into the race. Though it’s early in the day, it is hot and humid. The sun is already finding its target past the treetops. As my muscles carry me from start to finish, my brain tries to stop me.

“It’s so hot. Maybe you want to stop and walk?”

My legs are on automatic, my breathing steady. I can do this. Once past the finish, I let go, unwind, stretch and drink water from the bottle Jim has been holding for me. I check in with the woman I started with. We chat amiably for a few minutes. She tells me of her son, who has been an honor guard at Arlington National Cemetery, and how she and her husband are camping in their Amish friends’ backyard. We share our race stories and aches and pains. All around us people of all stripes are talking, cooling off, enjoying this summer morning while out on the softball diamonds and basketball court, the competition is heating up. In the auction barn, the pony pull has started and the horse pull is yet to come. Later, there will be a parade, games, music, fireworks.

When I think of the Fourth of July, this is what I imagine: a community coming together to celebrate our country’s diversity. Some run, some watch. Some eat smoothies, some eat tacos. Some wear uniforms, some don’t. Pacifist Amish sharing life with the parents of a soldier. But we are all here together, in an atmosphere of tolerance and trust, enjoying the moment. May it continue so.

La Bonne Vie’s Rachel Shenk has been an artisan baker for 30 years. Born and raised in Belgium, she has lived in Goshen since 1973. She has been writing about food, traveling and the good life for about 10 years. You can connect with her on her Facebook page, La Bonne Vie, or at her cheese shop in Goshen, The Wedge.

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