Maddie and I took a trip to the dog park a few days ago. We actually take trips to the dog park everyday, but this particular trip inspired me.
The park is located next to the local high school. Truth be told, the "dog park" is actually the baseball field, but since no one ever plays baseball at this high school (reasons unknown), the local dog owners have claimed it as theirs. I love this park because it's not overly crowded with pit-bulls and other aggressive dogs that scare both Mad and I. On this special day, Mad and I actually had the park to ourselves. She had freedom to zip around like the cheetah she thinks she is.
I was bored.
Until I heard the distinct sound of a gunshot in the background.
I wasn't scared, nor did I duck for cover. Because this gunshot sound is very familiar to me. When I say familiar, I mean that the hair on my forearms instantly stood and I felt goose bumps forming. I knew what I would find when I followed the sound.
A track meet.
I don't talk about it often because it causes unresolved feelings of regret and remorse to fester within my gut...I was, at one time, a very talented track runner. As early as I can remember, I was running. I totally relate to Forrest Gump in this way. My uncle played football at Villanova University and during half time, the children were allowed to play on the field. It was my genius idea to challenge all the boys to a race so that I could kick ass every time. My father tells this story often and beams with pride as he recollects upon watching his oldest daughter smoke a bunch of adolescent boys when she was 10 years old. My parents made me join a local track team within weeks of discovering my first (and probably only) talent: I was fast. Even when I wasn't racing, I was running. It made more sense to me to run to a destination than to walk to it. Who wants to walk to the bus stop? Run there and be the first in line, right? That was the way my mind worked, and still does. My family and I took a nice family trip to Hershey Park a few weeks back. I sprinted in front of the pack to get a good place in line for the roller coasters. Because I have to. And I'm not even fast anymore.
Back to my story.
There I was, 10 years old, practicing daily with a team of very gifted African American runners, and a few of the local kids from my area. I was deemed a sprinter because I had lots of speed and not so much endurance. I was fine with that. The long distance runners looked like they were on their death beds at the end of practice, while I was flying high and fancy-free when my parents came to pick me up at six.
I won nearly every race I ran in for years, made it to the Junior Olympics and won the 100-meter dash in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia Track Meet when I was in 8th grade. This accomplishment has stayed with me since it happened; there is only one other time in my life I felt as proud as I did that day. In high school, I ran in the Penn Relays every year, and broke lots of records for the 100 meter and 200 meter dash. This helped me win a scholarship to Saint Joseph's University for track. I was recruited! I'll never forget how proud this made my parents feel. My two younger siblings have gone on to play Division I sports as well and I feel that the only positive example I've left for them is that I started the trend. And that I am the definition of hilarious and they should all try to be as funny as I.
I wish I could say I went on to win tons of college accolades, or at least went on to become a Captain of the team because of my determination. But it wouldn't be true. I realized early on that I was no longer big-woman-on-campus when I reached college level track, even though I pushed myself harder than I thought was humanly possible during every practice. For a while I didn't mind because I ran with heart and I ran because it made me feel like I knew who I was. But eventually the truth got to me: I would not be winning a damn thing as a sprinter at Saint Joseph's University.
This became okay after a while because I was simultaneously learning how very talented I was at drinking. Social events, boys and the fast life became very important to me. So important, in fact, that I began to lose my love for running altogether. I stopped trying in practice even. There was a senior on my team who was a Captain, but not because she was a top runner on our team. She was a Captain because she had heart. She had drive. She had a look in her eyes when she practiced that gives me chills even writing about. No matter what, she did not give up. She finished close to last place in many meets. In four years of college track, I'm not sure she won any important races at all. But she pushed us so hard in practice and took a particular liking to me because I was a runner with heart as well. When she watched me run, she screamed my name in a pitch that sparked something inside of me every time; I instantly began running faster. But even she could not bring me around after I had begun partying like it was 1999. I was done with track. I quit halfway through my 3rd year of college.
I went on a downward spiral for a couple years following the ending of my track career. For a while I thought maybe I would never, ever put on a pair of running shoes again. I was so secretly ashamed of how easily I gave up that one gift that brought me so much joy as a child.
But it's become increasingly more important to make peace with that regret of mine. To try again. To spark that love all over.
What I miss most about track is the way a rubber track smells on a hot day. The sound of running spikes tip-toeing on gravel. The smell of Icy Hot. (How strange, I know). The announcement of my race over the loud speaker. The mental preparation for a race. The deep breaths of focus that put me in the zone. The ineffable anticipation I feel as I wait in line for my race to start. The process by which a race begins:
"Runners, to your marks." (I slowly walk to the line, swing my arms back and forth, shake the nerves out of my legs and send a quick prayer up. I then place my arms along the starting line, my one knee in front of the first step on the starting block, my other one stretched out on the second step of the starting block. I wait).
"Seeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeet." (I am now no longer myself, but a bullet. A bullet that knows it's being cocked in a gun and it's about to be rocketed).
"BANG." (Gun shot).
And I'm off. I can't feel, I can't see, I can't do a damn thing but run as fast as I can.
And sometimes I win. Sometimes I lose. If I lose, I'm usually upset unless I beat my own personal best time. If I beat myself, then I won.
I think running will always be a part of me. It's funny, even figuratively, I'm a runner. I can run away from a situation that scares me at the drop of a hat. Like a committed relationship, for example. Or someone challenging me to change. I'm off.
It's only recently that I've decided I'm ready to put the running shoes on again and get out there on the open road. I won't race, I won't sprint like I used to. That's okay. I just need to get my runner's legs back and try again because there are very few things in life that still give me goose bumps.