Last weekend, I competed in my school’s jersey for the last time.  I ran what would probably be my last 3200m ever.  I sat in the school van over the pass to the other side of the mountains for one final ride.  I got to call someone “coach” for what may be the last time in a long time, if not ever.

I ran better than I did last year at state track.  It wasn’t perfect–35+ mile per hour wind gusts?  Not ideal PR conditions, if I do say so myself–but it was fun.  For the whole week and a half between districts and state, my coach was telling me to have fun.  I didn’t believe her.  How could another eight laps be even vaguely fun?  (After districts, the qualifiers were muttering under our breaths, only half-sarcastically, “We just did that so we can do it all again in a week and a half?”)  But then, after I got home this weekend, I realized it really was.  I’m not going to lie: laps five and six were not the most fun experience of my life, particularly because the wind kicked up from what felt like 30-35 mph to 40-45 mph.  Regardless, it was all worth it, if not for the feeling of the knowledge that I was running the last 200m of my final high school race.  In the end, it was fun.  Afterwards, I collapsed into my coach’s arms and gasped/sighed/growled, “I’m done.  It’s over”.  To have someone at the finish line for me, after three years of tumultuous coaching shifts, was an incredible blessing and a great way to finish my last track season. That in itself made all the uncertainty, pain, and frustration worth it.

And the rest of the weekend?  (My race was the second event of the first day).  Amazing.  I played not-school-appropriate MadLibs; learned how to “smoke” Smarties (from a sophomore); took crazy/awesome pictures; watched a thrower iron every single garment in her and her roommate’s bags for an hour right after we got to the hotel (Why?  “Because I really like to iron”…go figure); laughed (after the fact) with a teammate who had overslept until twenty minutes until she had to leave for her race, was awoken by her concerned roommate (the ironing thrower), swore loudly, and scrambled out faster than anyone had ever seen her move before (and she’s a sprinter, so that says a lot); screamed for intense races (and field events: state champion high jumper in the house!); and stuck Oreos to our foreheads (oh, the things you’ll do on a five-hour van ride).

Track used to just be a side-note in my running calendar.  It was just a way to train for cross country, just a way to keep myself honest, just a way to get some PRs, just the thing for runners to do (especially those interested in collegiate running…).  But over the past couple of track seasons, it’s become less of a running thing and more of a people thing.  I’ve gotten slower, been injured, overtrained, and so on.  Meanwhile, I’ve gotten more and more attached to the people on the team.  In all honesty, I ran this season mostly because I like the people.  And I’m so glad I did.  I got to know to people I didn’t really know before, and those I did know, to them I grew closer.  Perhaps some of it is just senior-year nostalgia, but even though for the past few months, I couldn’t wait for track to be finished, now I wish weren’t it over.

Last weekend proved to me that I’m going to miss these people.  I thought I might be a little sad to leave a couple of my friends, but I’m realizing that after thirteen years, there are a lot more people a lot more dear to me than I thought.

I really will miss it all next year: my amazing coaches, all-day meets (particularly the sunny ones), the overwhelming odour of Tigerbalm permeating my room, the chance to get to know people I would never otherwise know, the little black rubber pellets from the turf field getting all over my belongings, being the unofficial team mom/supply cabinet/pack rat (even when my roller stick was used to play croquet *cough* boys’ 4×100 team *cough*), the van rides, the opportunity to watch a nationally ranked high jumper from a tiny private school soar to a state record, yes, even the intervals.  I’ll miss them.

“Run often and run long, but never outrun your joy of running.” ~Julie Isphording

I thought I had lost the joy–and maybe I did, for a while.  I’ve found it again, though.  Not just in the running, necessarily, but in the people to whom it connects me.

Thank you Elizabeth, Madelyn, Danielle, Morgan, Lucas, Mark, Kerry, and Garrett, (and Kendall, Drew, Alex B., and Chris) for being awesome (and awesomely athletic) seniors, classmates, and friends.  Thank you Bridget, Holly, Jonny, Sam, Jesse, and David for carrying on the tradition in style at state.  Darryln, Alex V., Hannah, Grace, AJ, Ben, Alex C., Joey, Daniel, and anybody I forgot, I’m so glad I got to know you all a little bit better this season.  Thanks also to Laurel, Taylor, and Coach Laurel (and Vanessa and Coach Karen, even though you don’t have a track team) for being…nice people–teams don’t matter that much, after all.  Most of all, thank you Scottie, Coach D., and Brittanie for being the best coaches in the world–or, at least, in my world.


Athletics Reflection

I was asked to speak at my school’s end-of-the-year athletics’ banquet for student-athletes and their families.  I had about a week’s notice to write this, but honestly, I think I put more of myself into it than I did for all my college essays combined–probably because I knew that my audience included people I actually know, interact with, and/or care about. 

To give credit where credit is due, thanks to Katie for editing this for me.  It would have been a jumbled, disjointed, and probably (okay…definitely) rather weird speech without her awesome red pen-slasher skills.  Additionally, thanks to the athletics booster organization for allowing me the opportunity to speak.  I truly enjoyed the process of reflecting on the past four years, as well as the process of writing itself.  I never considered myself and English person, but for the past year or so, I’ve started to love writing more and more.  I believe that the Language and Composition I took last year–and especially our teacher, Mr. N.–is responsible for showing me the power and value of this realm and giving me the skills to utilize it.  So, thank you for sharing this gift with me.

And, as one more tangent, I’d also like to add that I got freakishly nervous right before I was called up to speak (at a very visceral level, I thought I might throw up–and I rarely feel that way, even before big races): this experience definitely gave me a massive amount of appreciation for what pastors do every single week.  They also have the additional burden of communicating what is literally the most subject matter in the world, not something so trivial as high school sports.  So, Mr. R. and Steve and Pastor Matt and Bishop Jakes and all the other pastors in the world: thank you for being brave enough to do what you do.

But now, the speech:

As some of you know, I run cross country and track.  I probably spend way too much of my life running in circles, literally.  I’m a little bit embarrassed to admit it, but for me, cross country began as a purely utilitarian undertaking: I needed P.E. credits, but I was afraid of soccer balls hurtling towards my head and I thought I was too short for basketball.

I’ve always been a student first, anything and everything else second.  After all, I have attended [school name] since kindergarten.  And, for the most part, my study-first philosophy has served me well: I have decent grades, I’m going to college next year, and I’m coming to a point where I can enjoy learning for learning’s sake.  These things notwithstanding, life as a student can be at times overwhelming, an experience to which I’m sure many of you can relate.

It’s true, exercise relieves stress.  Being in athletics also promotes better time management, since the less time you have, the less time you waste.  Yet, athletics have a still greater role in the life of a student.  When I entered the upper school athletics program four years ago, I was a student.  Since then, I haven’t become any less of a student, but I like to believe that I have grown and am growing to be more than just a student.  Running has taught me about leadership, about humility, about discipline, about friendship, about patience, about having fun: it’s taught me about me.

And so, over the past four years, I’ve come to appreciate running for more than just the sake of running (or my P.E. credits).  Athletics is about more than just awards or times or places or scores.  It’s also more than just perseverance and motivation and hard work.  Athletics is about people.  It’s the teammates who encourage you, frustrate you, work with you, and compete with you; it’s the opponents who force you to do better; it’s the coaches who help you to be better.  Athletics is not just the goals you score on the field or the state tournaments for which you qualify or the personal records you achieve: athletics is also the moments, both mundane and extraordinary, that you spend with your teammates and coaches—practicing endless drills on the court or getting ready for games in the locker room or rambling about life on long car rides to meets.  Running has changed me, but so have the people with whom I run—perhaps to an even greater degree than running itself.  It is not the running, but the people with whom I run who remind me, in both word and action, to remove my blinders and see that there is more to life than just academics or just athletics.

On your sweater vests, some of you students may still have the original [school name] crest.  Here, adjacent to the symbols for arts and humanities, honor and character, and sciences and mathematics, is a winged foot, the symbol for athletics.  The four symbols are neither ranked nor segregated.  Rather, they are united around the Cross.  Regardless of whether or not you identify yourself as a Christian, you are still more than a student, more than a musician, more than an athlete: you are a whole person.  Participating in athletics is a way to bring balance to the elements of the crest—it certainly did in my life—but more important, the experiences you have through athletics will help you, even force you, to transform a fractured, disjointed set of roles into a stronger, cohesive identity.

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