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Week 47: Linda Zwobota

There’s something special about the sister bond which compels sisters to share experiences.  As I stepped out of my car for the 47th hike of “A Year of Hikes: 52 Weeks, 52 Women, Same Trail” to introduce myself to Linda Zwobota, the sister of a previous hiking companion, she said, “My sister, Rose Meagher, told me all about “A Year of Hikes”, and I just knew I wanted to be a part of it!”  So more than four months after hiking with her baby sister on a stinking hot, humid day in July, I met Linda for the 47th hike of the year.  Full disclosure, Linda and I hiked a week early because I would be in Austin celebrating Thanksgiving with my twin daughters. One had moved there to attend graduate school and the other, with lots of encouragement from her twin, moved there so they could experience a new city together.  See what I mean about sisters!

When Linda and I started down the trail, heading north toward Warner Hollow, the weather was cool as a light wind ruffled the dried milkweed on the edge of the field.  The overcast sky, with just a touch of blue low on the horizon, seemed to offer a sneak preview of very promising hiking conditions.  Entering the woods, I asked Linda, “Are you a fiber artist like your sister?”  Linda replied, “I’ve certainly done my share of crocheting, but my passion has always been and still is modern dance.  As a young woman she studied dance at University of Maryland, pursued opportunities to perform at every turn and then traveled across the country to teach dance at the college level in Mendocino County, California.  Like different flowers from the same garden, Linda Zwobota and her sister each make the world more beautiful in their own unique way.

Watching Linda move down the trail, her dance background was evident.  At 70 years young, Linda was light on her feet as she moved gracefully through the woods, seeming to float over the rocky trail strewn with leaves. As she extolled the teaching methods of Erick Hawkins, a world-famous dance instructor, she explained his technique as “grace without effort.”  Like Hawkins, Linda is fascinated with anatomy and kinesiology and continues to study these disciplines as they relate to alignment, sensory awareness, and ease of movement.  Walking down the trail, I shared my own interest in body alignment as it relates to running and swimming.  At different times in my life, while trying to explain the science behind Chi Running and Total Immersions Swimming, I’ve looked up to see incredibly bored expressions on the faces of my listeners.  Not so with Linda!  Her eyes didn’t glaze over, and she wasn’t staring at her fingernails waiting for me to shut up.  She was engaged, she asked me questions and shared her expertise and elaborated on the science, expanding my understanding in the process.  Lucky me!

We hiked at a good pace stopping only occasionally to take photos as most of the plants were dead or dying.  Hiking toward the lichen-covered rock wall, we started noticing lots of blueberries lying on top of the leaves.  They sure looked like the blueberries I bought at the Farmer’s Market all summer long but neither of us was interested in tasting them.  After doing a little research and learning that there are four types of wild huckleberry grown in Maryland, I’m guessing that is what we saw.  We took a few photos by the rock wall and, by the smile on Linda’s face, I could tell just how much she enjoyed being in nature.

Approaching the powerline field, we could see that the hoped-for perfect hiking weather had indeed been fulfilled! High, wispy cirrus clouds along with a few of their cumulus friends stood out against the brilliant blue sky. Most of the trees on either side were bare but a few orange and brown oaks leaves stubbornly clung to low branches.  Continuing down the trail, I asked Linda about her childhood.  She grew up in Maryland, but her family had a second home near Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, the same neighborhood in which she currently lives.  Linda described her childhood as traumatic in many ways.  She was sometimes physically abused by her father, an alcoholic, and often neglected by her mother.  Being eleven years older than her sister, Linda said, “We experienced very different realities growing up.” Linda recalls caring for her baby sister, changing her diaper, preparing her meals, and comforting her when she cried.  “I was like a second mother”, she said.

Now the two sisters and a brother have joined efforts to care for their 99-year-old mother, much the way Linda cared for Rose 59 years ago.  Linda said, “None of us could care for her alone.” As Linda and her siblings lovingly strive to care and comfort their mother, she is glad that her father achieved a state of grace late in life, and her mother now lovingly embraces her family and all who attend to her. As Linda spoke, I knew exactly what Linda meant. When my mother was sick with cancer, my six sisters, two brothers and I cared for her.  I came to believe that having siblings meant always having backup.  I’m grateful Linda and her siblings have each other and, together, can lovingly meet the needs of the woman who gave them life.

We continued down the trail and, no surprise, we continued talking!  Linda shared stories of her many adventures and many marriages.  For example, in 1969, at the age of 18, she left home, and began her college education at the University of Maryland. In 1975, at the age of 24 she traveled across the country with two friends, pulling a trailer with four horses.  When I asked Linda if she had been a “free-love, hippie, flower child” she replied, “Absolutely, I embraced the whole lifestyle.” Though she married for the first time while in college, Linda and her husband practiced free love and had an open marriage. She married and divorced three more times, having one son with her second husband.  As Linda talked about her marriages, which she described as dysfunctional relationships, I found myself asking her what she had learned from them.  She said, “I realize now that due to my traumatic upbringing, I didn’t learn to set boundaries.  I mistakenly believed I could fix situations and people that weren’t my responsibility, including my husbands.”

But Linda’s story doesn’t end there.  She also believed in her ability to pursue her dreams and provide for her son.  And she was right to do so!  At almost 40 years of age, Linda went back to college to study accounting, taking 52 credits in one year! She sat for the CPA exam, passed with one of the highest scores in the county, and then went on to work as certified public accountant and certified internal auditor for several companies.  When she retired, she was the Chief Financial Officer for Lightbridge Corporation, a fuel technology company, committed to solving energy, climate, and security problems through the development of safe nuclear fuel.  As Linda struck the strong woman pose, I thought of the strength and dedication it took to realize her goals. Today a lot of people talk about “growth mindset” or the belief that it is possible to realize one’s potential through hard work, positive thinking, and good strategies.  Taking Linda’s picture, I had the feeling that if I looked up “growth mindset” in the dictionary, it would simply say: Linda Zwobota.

The stream at Warner Hollow looked lovely as the rushing water carried colorful leaves over the rocks.  We took in the sounds of rushing water and birds calling to each other and then took a few pictures by the stream.  Deciding to head back, we turned and climbed the incline while talking about our children.  Linda, obviously proud of her son Justin, shared that he and his wife live in Federalsburg, Maryland, where he is a mechanic.  As we bonded over the joy and pride of parenting, we agreed that we indeed had many reasons to be thankful.  According to numerous experts, expressing gratitude has many benefits. It seemed especially poignant, with Thanksgiving fast approaching, that we would end our hike with heartfelt expressions of love and gratitude for our children, our siblings, our parents, and all those we love. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!



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