The path to self discovery is not always straight. In fact, it feels more like aimlessly wandering through a forest than walking a path; but thats the thing about discovery… You aren’t really discovering something if you already know the way. This path is one that you have to blaze yourself. Your story isn’t one that anyone else can dictate, and much like its direction, it is completely unique to you. There will be obstacles along the way that require ingenuity, strength of character, and diligence to overcome; you may even find that the best way to continue on is to change direction all together. Ultimately it boils down to the timeless cliché of enjoying the journey rather than reaching the end. Although it’s a message I preach to others and have been told a thousand times myself, over the last six months I was not living this message.
After graduating in the late part of Spring 2015, I set out on my quest to run at the 2016 Olympic Trials. I had only been running for a year after my surgery, but every week I felt a bit stronger than the week before. Although I’d set a a lofty goal, I was completely focused on the process and enjoying every day. During the Fall of 2015, I had put together more than four consecutive months of 80-90 miles of running per week, while completing workouts that were comparable to the best ones I’d done even before getting sick. I felt weightless, and I looked forward to waking up every day to run; I even started a GoFundMe page in order to document my experience, a project that in my mind was sure to have a storybook ending. It was truly the best I’d ever felt while running.
Then, 2016 came around and threw me a curveball. I twisted my ankle on an easy training run and naively tried to continue running on it the next day by splinting it up. I couldn’t bear the thought of losing my momentum, so I convinced myself that
it was a calculated risk I was willing to take. In terms of my self discovery path/forest analogy, it was like stumbling upon a rapid river just upstream of a waterfall and deciding to try to swim across. The result of this decision was an abrupt plunge off the metaphorical waterfall (metaphorifalls)
– straight into an injured achilles. Every day spent injured was an eternity, and it took three full months of cross training and recovery before I could run again. By that time, it felt as though i’d lived a lifetime in my head, silently contemplating the implications of my missed training on the likelihood of making it to the Olympic Trials.
I tried my best to get myself back into shape, but it was apparent that my fitness was not where it had been, and all I could think about was an impending failure; in my mind all of the people who had generously backed my project and what I was trying to do were going to be let down. I stopped enjoying what I was doing and started panicking. When workouts arrived, insecurity and anxiety would surface and I was unable to run them to potential. Every time I stepped on the track I felt negative emotions well up in my chest; my own psyche was my biggest adversary, and it felt oddly familiar.
I started running when I was nine years old and was fairly successful right away. It was something that came naturally to me, and fueled my competitive drive. When I was eleven, I started struggling to keep up with my teammates due to growing pains in my knees, and it started causing panic attacks when I would lose. Eventually, I couldn’t finish a race without breaking down, hyperventilating, and crying – it no longer had anything to do with my knees. I wanted to win again so badly, but the harder I forced it, the more my emotions pushed back. My parents strongly suggested that I quit the sport for a while and focus on other things, and if I wanted to come back to it I could decide that later; so I did. When I came back to the sport two years later, I had relinquished my expectations and just enjoyed running again, and as a result had a very successful high school running career. It was the best thing I could have done at the time.
The parallels between the way I felt then, and the way I felt while training this season were too much for me to ignore; especially with the final race of my season ending 1,000 meters short of the finish line. I flew up to Vancouver, Canada to run in the Harry Jerome invitational steeplechase, which I had been planning to use as an opportunity to qualify for the Olympic Trials. Five laps into the race I got flustered and started hyperventilating. I was overwhelmed with emotion, frustration, and anxiety, and almost started crying mid race. I stepped off the track, walked away from the stadium, and broke down. I’d put so much pressure on myself to achieve my goals that I’d lost sight of the reasons I’d set out to accomplish them in the first place. I’d convinced myself that somehow this failure would make me a fraud. My emotional state was simply not going to allow me to get the best performance from my body, and forcing these races was causing me resent the thing I love to do most. In that moment, I knew my season was over.
Much like when I stopped running when I was younger, I needed to take a step back in order to heal; this time that meant ending a season that had lost its meaning. I changed direction in the forest. The moment I accepted that it was over, I felt better immediately; as though a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. Of course I was (and am) disappointed how things played out this season, but I learned a lot about myself this year – that I am not, and nor will ever be, invincible. That there is only so much pressure I can put on myself before it becomes unhealthy. That I am still dealing with the emotional scars of my past.
The surgery in 2013 took a pretty big toll on me, both physically and emotionally. When I was sick, my desire to run again kept me going – it was my crutch. After surgery, returning to the sport helped me regain confidence and set me on the path to use my ability to help inspire those who needed it most – it was my compass. It was when I stopped appreciating the process that it became a crux. I owe a great
deal of my personal success and happiness to the lessons running has taught and continues to teach me. I don’t know where I’ll end up on my metaphorical forrest path (metaforestical path?) and I don’t what other challenges I’ll face along the way, but you better believe I’ll be running – compass in hand.
For now and always,
No Colon, Still Rollin’
For those of you curious about the GoFundMe Project, I am still working with my videographer Von Ware (of WareStudios) to come out with documentary style video to share my story. Although I did not run the Olympic Trials, I believe that sharing my experiences through the highs and lows can still motivate and inspire others to chase their passions – and make sure to enjoy the ability to do so. I will be posting a short video to give everyone a sneak peak soon, so stay tuned! 🙂