Boston Was Horrific for the Running Community. But We Will Still Run.
Editor's note: Many runners are wearing race jerseys and joining a "virtual run" in honor of the runners in Boston. See Melissa Running It's post, Pray for Boston, for more information. -- Julie
The first time I ran a mile, I was 10 years old. My father had undergone a hemipelvectomy the year before to treat his cancer. It was his leg or his life. He chose his life.
There’s something about being a child and watching your father fight to live, watching him make the choice to live with less. Knowing he would never walk his daughter down the aisle, but that maybe if the surgery went well, he would be there to watch her.
As a child, watching my father fight cancer -- and watching him learn how to live and be successful in all areas of his life, from learning how to walk again, to putting up Christmas lights to becoming the president of his own company -- left a profound impression within me: Never give up.
The experience also made me really aware of my own body. It made me aware of the potential of my body. Since my father lost his leg to cancer, I knew, in my own 10-year-old way of coping, I wanted to live for my father, to do with my body the things he didn’t get to do.
This understanding -- of not giving up, of the desire to realize the potential of my body -- became intertwined in my experience of running the mile for the first time in physical education class.
I remember my lungs burning, and my legs heavy underneath me; I remember wanting to give up but fighting on. My physical education teacher clicked on the stopwatch as I crossed the finish line.
“You just ran an eight-minute mile. You might be able to go somewhere in life with a time like that.”
Running actually did take me a lot of places in life. But more important, my first mile set the foundation for how I understood my life. Living and running: The two have been inextricably tied for me for the past 15 years.
The first place running took me was to a safe social space. Junior high and high school aren’t the nicest crowds. As a scrawny, nerdy half-Asian kid, my chances of social acceptance hadn’t been so high in the past. But running made me kind of cool -- or, perhaps more poignantly, it gave me confidence. I learned to carry the same confidence I felt on the track into the classroom and to the lunch table. I learned that if I had confidence, I could find just the same amount of success in other areas of my life as I did on the track. Eventually, I gathered enough confidence to ask permission from our school board to start our high school's participation in the National Day of Silence, a political movement that would benefit my friends who were LGBT, whose voices were constantly silenced.
As I became a better runner, I traveled more: around the state of Illinois, the Midwest, then the southern Appalachians, all for various camps and competitions. Along the way, I ran through all the awakenings I was supposed to run through as a high school girl: the first loves and the first heartbreaks, the finished forever-friendships and the parental conflict. With great relief, I can tell you I crossed over the finish line into some cliched coming-of-age understandings that made me a better person.
College running taught me a lot … about running. It taught me that if someone tells me to run at an opportunity to get to where I want to be, I’ll try to sprint through a wall to get there: knee surgeries, broken bones, the whole nine yards included. My career -- or at least, any chance of being a halfway decent runner -- was done by the time I was 20. Through college running, I learned that sometimes, the way to win is to back down. To walk away. To develop patience. To re-understand yourself as a runner, and as a person. To take on different roles on your team; instead of leading the pack, to lead through example. Lead through the choices you can make. In fact, don’t lead. Encourage others.
Mostly, running taught me not to give up on myself. I may have been done as a 1500-meter runner. But I wasn’t done as a runner.
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