On June 3, 2017, I did something that was so out of character, I’m fairly sure my family is still in shock. I entered a 5K race willingly AND excited to run. The irony is that my spouse, the running coach, has spent a fair amount of time over the last 2 decades or so laughing ruefully as I told him repeatedly that I only run when chased by large animals or axe-wielding mass murders.
So, what changed, you ask? Well, there is the small matter of the surgical repair to the pinched nerve in my neck that had plagued me for the previous 4 or so years. But, that was really more of a final hurdle. The true barriers existed in my head, in my heart, in my soul.
Growing up, I was surrounded by athletes. My father played baseball. My mother was a runner and essentially fitness-obsessed. My brother played on the premiere travel soccer team in our area. And then there was me. Oh, I loved swimming and riding my bike and playing on my rec soccer team. But I was also asthmatic and prone to injury. So, I was much happier losing myself in a good book or performing on a stage with my friends in show choir. Long story short; I was the ‘husky,’ geeky tag-along, never quite able to keep up, compete, or measure up.
Like so many, my home was not the happiest place. Suffice it to say that there was a lot of instability there. So I looked for love and validation in other places. Unfortunately, the same person who I thought gave me that love and validation also gave me shame, self-doubt, and a sense of unworthiness except through him. I was never going to be good enough, and I was lucky he wanted me because no one else wants the loud, geeky, fat girl.
Here’s the thing: when you are an adolescent girl growing up in a world where you are bombarded by messages about how if you just did a little more or worked a little harder, you could reach some unattainable goal – but no matter how hard you try, you never actually get there – you internalize that. It becomes an integral part of how you approach the world. For me, it gave me a bit of a chip on my shoulder, and I believed that any effort I put into trying to be better was wasted.
I was always “healthy enough”. I was an active teenager and young adult, and while I loved sports, I saw fitness as a waste of the time I could be spendind with my kids, my partner, my books…literally anything else of actual value. And then I couldn’t do those things anymore. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to run, or exercise, or play soccer, or whatever else. It was that I couldn’t. Just like that, my body went from relatively healthy to borderline functional seemingly overnight. And I hated it. I realized all of the things I no longer had the choice to do that I’d never done because I let people in my life, whether knowingly or unknowingly, take those activities away. I realized that I had been running away from the emotional hurt that I blamed my once relatively useful body for. And I swore that I would stop running away if I had the chance. I wanted to run toward something.
It has not been a quick journey, nor an easy one. When people ask how I’ve done it, I tell them the literal truth: I’ve worked my butt off. But every step toward something has been worth it. When I run, or do Zumba, or fight with an elliptical machine, I don’t do it to satisfy someone else’s standard, or to earn a pat on the back from anyone else. I do it because I’m grateful every day that I can.
Which brings us back to June 3, 2017. A year ago, I approached the Race Away from Domestic Violence with excitement and anxiety. As a survivor, the Race Away felt like the perfect way to put a symbolic journey into real-world action. For the first time in years, I ran for the pure experience of running. The voices in my head asking me why I bothered, telling me that I was just lazy and should work harder, or laughing at what I thought I’d accomplish were silent. The only voice I heard was my own singing along to Hamilton blasting through my earbuds. I finished in the middle of the pack, with a squarely decent time of 37:31.
But that wasn’t the end. It really was just another step on the journey. I’ve run five 5K’s in the last 12 months, each time getting a little faster, struggling with my breathing a little less, pushing myself a little harder. On June 2, I’ll Race Away from Domestic Violence. But, I’ll actually be running toward a future where every one of us can feel valued and supported for exactly who we are.
ICADV Training Coordinator
Learn more about the Race Away from Domestic Violence.